The Battle of the Century: RCA and the Dawn of the Radio Age

How did radio come to be a mainstay in American homes? In the early 1920s, this new technology was the realm of fringe amateur build-it-yourselfers, but by the end of that decade, radios were standard household commodity. Learn how a fated boxing match and a massive publicity campaign revolutionized the way people lived and learned about the world around them.

Even when it was being promoted, the 1921 boxing match between American Jack Dempsey and Frenchman George Carpentier was was being hailed as "The Fight of the Century." Carpentier was a war hero-- a pilot who had bravely served France as a pilot and had been awarded that nation's highest military honor. Dempsey, on the other hand, had been roiled by a recent scandal. He had recently divorced his wife, and the resulting trial brought with it all manner of salacious gossip, including the suggestion that his war deferment had been undeserved. Carpentier had recently won the world light heavyweight championship, and Dempsey was the reigning champion of the world heavyweight title. Promoter Tex Richard recognized the enormous potential for the fight, and with massive paydays for both men, arranged for the two to battle over Dempsey's heavyweight title. The eventual fight, scheduled on a 4th of July weekend, brought about a lot of firsts: it was Dempsey's first serious fight against a European challenger, it was the first boxing match to bring in over $1 dollars in revenue, and, thanks to a massive publicity stunt by the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), it was the first time ever that an event had been broadcast over the radio to a mass audience. 

In this public lecture, Sarnoff Collection curator Florencia Pierri will trace the history of this famous fight, and highlight the role that the Radio Corporation of America-- and its chairman David Sarnoff-- had in its radio broadcast. For more information, see out Facebook event.

 

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