© 2012

Lee de Forest

King of Radio, Television, and Film

  • Clarifies the debate over the invention of sound in movies

  • Coverage of the history and progress of audio technology in cinema

  • Demonstrates how scientific technical standards are derived and integrated into the film industry

  • Includes primary source historical material and richly-illustrated photos of Lee de Forest’s experiments

  • Includes supplementary material:


Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xvii
  2. Mike Adams
    Pages 1-39
  3. Mike Adams
    Pages 41-84
  4. Mike Adams
    Pages 85-123
  5. Mike Adams
    Pages 125-166
  6. Mike Adams
    Pages 167-202
  7. Mike Adams
    Pages 203-252
  8. Mike Adams
    Pages 253-303
  9. Mike Adams
    Pages 305-347
  10. Mike Adams
    Pages 349-387
  11. Mike Adams
    Pages 389-427
  12. Back Matter
    Pages 429-553

About this book


Lee de Forest, Yale doctorate and Oscar winner, gave voice to the radio and the motion picture. Yet by the 1930s, after the radio and the Talkies were regular features of American life, Lee de Forest had seemingly lost everything. Why? Why didn’t he receive the recognition and acclaim he sought his entire life until years later in 1959, when he was awarded an Oscar?

A lifelong innovator, Lee de Forest invented the three-element vacuum tube which he developed between 1906 and 1916 as a detector, amplifier, and oscillator of radio waves. As early as 1907, he was broadcasting music programming. In 1918, he began to develop a system for recording and playing back sound by using light patterns on motion picture film. In order to promote and demonstrate his process he made hundreds of short sound films, found theatres for their showing, and issued publicity to gain audiences for his invention. While he received many patents for this technology, he was ignored by the film industry.

Lee de Forest, King of Radio, Television, and Film is about the process of invention—how inventors really get ideas and how every inventor learns that they must know the work of those who came before, and why the myth of the lone inventor and the “Aha! moment” is largely a fiction.

Through his inventions, Lee de Forest made possible the mass entertainment media we enjoy today. This is his story.


Lee De Forest audio technology in movies audio track film history of sound cinema history of talkies light valve science cinema sound cinema sound-on-film synchronized sound cinema vacuum tube amplifier

Authors and affiliations

  1. 1., Department of Television, Radio, Film anSan José State UniversitySan JoséUSA

About the authors

Mike Adams has been a radio personality and a film maker. Currently he is a professor of radio, television, and film at San Jose State University, where he has been a department chair and an associate dean. As a researcher and writer of broadcast and early technology history, he created two award-winning documentaries for PBS, “Radio Collector,” and “Broadcasting’s Forgotten Father.” He has had published numerous articles and three books, the most recent of which is Charles Herrold, Inventor of Radio Broadcasting. More information about the author and his work can be found at and

Bibliographic information


From the reviews:

“‘Lee de Forest: King of Radio, Television and Film’ – Author Mike Adams, a media professor at San Jose State University, knows radio and film: he brings those worlds together in his discussion of de Forest, including the inventor’s role in the film industry. This is a well-documented history book that media and technology history fans will appreciate.” (Radio World, September, 2012)

“Lee de Forest: King of Radio, Television, and Film … is the first full biography of the once-famous inventor to appear in years. Adams, a longtime San Jose State University faculty member and historian, has plumbed the de Forest archive for this study which brings to light many new details of a complex and sometimes maddening man. … An appendix provides details of many key patents. … This is an important book for the too-thin shelf on radio’s pioneers.” (Chris Sterling, CBQ Communication Booknotes Quarterly, Vol. 43 (2), April-June, 2012)

“We have a new and insightful biography of Lee de Forest, by long-term radio-history author Mike Adams. … the reader gets ‘basic training’ in motion-picture history and production theory, a helpful addition. … Adams treats the personality of de Forest with realism … . he had his admirers, especially himself, and did perform useful (!) work. This book is a real contribution to de Forest lore, well organized and satisfyingly written.” (Ludwell Sibley, Tube Collector, February, 2012)

“This book is well written, flows well and is easy to read. … I enjoyed the book very much. There are many very interesting images from the de Forest papers that I had not seen before … . The book and the images therein provide an opportunity for further research and insights into the real history of de Forest. … I certainly recommend this thought-provoking book to anyone interested in de Forest’s contributions to the evolution of radio … .” (Eric Wenaas, Antique Wireless Journal, Vol. 53 (1), January, 2012)

“At long last we have a biography of Lee de Forest, the self-proclaimed ‘father of radio.’ Mike Adams brings to life the story of a great inventor. … the reader will discover that Lee de Forest’s contributions went well beyond radio’s sound technology. … The book is organized into ten chapters walking the reader through life, controversies, inventions, and contributions. … a very significant contribution to the history of electronic media and motion pictures and to the scholarship and classrooms of both disciplines.” (Donald G. Godfrey, Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, Vol. 56 (2), 2012)