America’s Oldest Radio School: RCA Institutes

In order to become an RCA technician, people needed to learn the fundamentals of electronics. For this, students studied at the RCA Institute.

RCA Institutes:

In 1909, the United Wireless Telegraph Company founded the first radio training school in the United States. This institute, later renamed the Marconi Institute, was originally only one small 15 x 30-foot classroom on the top floor of a building on 42 Broadway in New York City. After the passage of the Wireless Ship Act of 1910, which mandated that all US ships traveling over 200 miles off the coast and carrying more than 60 passengers carry wireless radio equipment, there was an influx of students, but they were still easily accommodated by the existing space.

This changed in 1912 with the sinking of the Titanic, and the passage of the Radio Act of 1912. That act required that all seagoing vessels continuously monitor distress frequencies, and that radio operators be licensed, and it enacted penalties for non-compliance. Even experienced radio operators had to get certified. To accommodate the greater number of students who were now required to have formal instruction in wireless technology, Marconi Institute moved to a larger building on 24 Cliff Street, and appointed several new instructors.

When RCA was formed in 1919 from a reorganization of the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America, it also acquired the Marconi Institute. In 1929, they renamed it the RCA Institute and restructured the curriculum. In 1936, they created more specialized courses for radio work, and by 1938, they added television technology to their classes. At the Institute, students take courses to become a television and radio repair technician, a wireless operator, or a television camera operator. They even offered laboratory courses that would prepare them for careers in electronics research. In 1938, they opened another RCA Institute in Chicago, and later opened other vocational colleges in Philadelphia and Boston.

Ms. Fix-It

In the 1940s, RCA began to publish a pamphlet called "RCA: What it is" that gave information about the company's various operations in a question-and-answer format. One of the questions posed in the section about RCA Institutes was whether or not women were allowed to take courses. The answer was a resounding yes. While enrollment records do not exist for the early years of the Institutes, there were no institutional blocks against it, so it's likely that at least a few women were educated in radio repair in the 1930s and early 40s.  

The United States’ entry into World War II brought about a shortage of trained personnel as former technicians went abroad to fight, and it also led to an increased demand for repair technicians for the electronic devices crucial to the war effort. The RCA Service company sent hundreds of service technicians to the war front, leaving a shortage back at home. To combat the loss, RCA established a program at Purdue University called the RCA Cadettes, an accelerated 44-week program that qualified women to work as engineering technicians. However, after the war and the return of men from the front , most of these women moved back into less prestigious production roles, or left the workforce completely. 

Also, graduates from the RCA Cadette program worked inside of RCA plants, not in the service company. RCA Service Company did not hire its first female repair teachnican until [DATE], when [NAME] began to work for the company. 

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Home Study Courses:

After the war, many men took advantage of the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944 (more commonly known as the G.I. Bill) to take courses at the RCA Institutes. In the 1945 academic year, of the 1,000 new students who entered the New York school, more than 600 of them were returning veterans with their tuition covered by the G.I. Bill. By 1948, the student body grew so large that the New York RCA Institute moved into a newly built 400,000 square foot teaching center to accommodate the more than 1,500 students (most of them returning veterans) that applied each year.

That was not enough to meet the huge demand for both training and for trained repair technicians. In 1951, RCA Institutes, in collaboration with the RCA Service Company, developed a specialized home study course to train television servicing technicians. Over the next few years, RCA Institutes transitioned more and more to correspondence courses, and began to offer a greater range of courses. Eventually, the whole two-year general course for a television and radio technician could be done entirely through correspondence courses.  By 1973, when the New York location stopped accepting new applicants, more than 30,000 people had graduated from the original New York City Institute, and thousands more took the correspondence courses. Thought both its physical locations and its correspondence courses, RCA Institutes graduated hundreds of technicians a year, many of whom went on to repair the consumer electronics that helped make RCA a household name.

America’s Oldest Radio School: RCA Institutes