Wednesday, June 24, 2020

America’s Oldest Radio School: RCA Institutes

RCA Institute
The Marconi

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 teachnicans until 1930's, when they began to work for the company.

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. Through 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.


RCA Institutes, an electronics school with 12,500 students that opened 64 years ago as the Marconi Institute, is scheduled to close

“Like other non subsidized organizations,” said a spokesman, “the institute has been faced with the increasingly serious problem of rising costs. In addition, student enrollment has been dwindling. As a result, the institute has been losing money for some time.”

News of the school's impending closing came from a suit filed yesterday in State Supreme Court in Manhattan by Odell Butler of Hempstead, L. 1.

Acting as his own counsel and process server, Mr. Booth asked the court to compel the school to live up to “an implied contract that guarantees every student that he will complete his selected course of study within the institution.”

RCA Institutes is a subsidiary of the RCA Corporation. Its principal facility is at 320 West 31st Street. Currently, about 2,500 students are enrolled there in day and night sessions.

30,000 Graduates

About 10,000 more are in home‐study programs. And 500 are enrolled in the RCA Technical Institute — a computer science program in Cherry Hill, N.J., and Upper Darby, Pa.

About 30,000 men and women have been graduated from the institution — 20,000 of them since the nineteen‐fifties, because of the increased interest in electronics.

No date has been set for an actual closing. RCA Institutes officials have been attempting to interest other corporations in buying the school and operating it. But to date, no buyer has been found.

Jack Schnepp, a spokesman for the parent corporation, said yesterday that RCA was in “the process of formulating a phaseout plan based on separate studies and reviews of each of the schools’ operations.”

“The school will be phased out in a gradual manner,” Mr. Schnepp said, “consistent with RCA's student obligations, which the corporation will endeavor to fulfill to the greatest extent possible.”

“This would include the possibility of assisting in the transfer of students to other schools with similar career programs,” he added.

The statement also said that discussions were being held with “a number of firms that have expressed an interest in purchasing all or part of the institute's operations.”

Mr. Butler, the student, said the school's impending closing “came as quite a shock” to students.

“We fervently believe,” he said, “that a contractual obligation owed to the student body is being violated by RCA by not continuing all of the courses of study projected in its catalogue until completion.”

He said RCA's “phasing out of this institution within three to six months prevents some students from graduating who have attended this institution for more than a year's duration.”

Students From Abroad

No new enrollments in either the home‐study programs or the New York City facility on West 31st Street, called the Resident School, will be permitted, school official said.

Students have come to RCA Institutes from at least 75 foreign countries. Some of them have been Arab students who came here when the United Arab Republic was boycotting the RCA Corporation because of its trade with Israel,

Courses of study run from nine months to two and a half years, according to Mr. Butler.

The school specializes in basic electronics and electronics technology, computer technology, courses for radio, television and air‐conditioning servicing, as well as its traditional courses in amateur radio‐operator skills.

The parent company announced that it would continue to run certain educational programs—principally, those it operates for Federal or state governments.

These government‐supported programs include a Job Corps center at Hazleton, Pa., and manpower‐training program at Fort Totten,

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