In modern society, radios are common technology in the car and in the home. In fact, in today’s world one would be hard pressed to find anyone who has not heard of, seen, or used a radio during his or her life, regardless of how old or young they may be. This was not always the case, however. Before the 19th century, wireless radio communication in everyday life was a thing of fantasy. Even after the development of the radio in the late 1800s, it took many years before radios went mainstream and became a household fixture. The history of the radio is a fascinating one that changed how the world connected and communicated from distances both far and near.
While the radio enjoys a long and interesting history, its earliest beginnings are still quite controversial. There’s some debate as to who actually invented the radio. While we may not know with certainty who put together the first radio device, we do know that in 1893 the inventor Nikolai Tesla demonstrated a wireless radio in St. Louis, Missouri. Despite this demonstration, Guglielmo Marconi is the person most often credited as the father and inventor of the radio. It was Marconi that was awarded the very first wireless telegraphy patent in England in the year 1896, securing his spot in radio’s history. A year later, however, Tesla filed for patents for his basic radio in the United States. His patent request was granted in 1900, four full years after Marconi’s patent was awarded. Regardless of who created the very first radio, on December 12, 1901, Marconi’s place in history was forever sealed when he became the first person to transmit signals across the Atlantic Ocean.
Before and During World War I
Prior to the 1920s, the radio was primarily used to contact ships that were out at sea. Radio communications were not very clear, so operators typically relied on the use of Morse code messages. This was of great benefit to vessels in the water, particularly during emergency situations. With World War I, the importance of the radio became apparent and its usefulness increased significantly. During the war, the military used it almost exclusively and it became an invaluable tool in sending and receiving messages to the armed forces in real time, without the need for a physical messenger.
Radio and the 1920s
In the 1920s, following the war, civilians began to purchase radios for private use. Across the U.S. and Europe, broadcasting stations such as KDKA in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and England’s British Broadcasting Company (BBC) began to surface. In 1920, the Westinghouse Company applied for and received a commercial radio license which allowed for the creation of KDKA. KDKA would then become the first radio station officially licensed by the government. It was also Westinghouse which first began advertising the sale of radios to the public. While manufactured radios were finding their way into the mainstream, home-built radio receivers were a solution for some households. This began to create a problem for the manufacturers who were selling pre-made units. As a result, the Radio Corporation Agreements, RCA, was sanctioned by the government. Under RCA, certain companies could make receivers, while other companies were approved to make transmitters. Only one company, AT&T, was able to toll and chain broadcast. It was AT&T that, in 1923, released the first radio advertisement. In the late 20s, CBS and NBC were created in response to AT&T being the sole station with rights to toll broadcasting.
In Britain, radio broadcasts began in 1922 with the British Broadcasting Company, or BBC, in London. The broadcasts quickly spread across the UK but failed to usurp newspapers until 1926 when the newspapers went on strike. At this point the radio and the BBC became the leading source of information for the public. In both the U.S. and the U.K. it also became a source of entertainment in which gathering in front of the radio as a family became a common occurrence in many households.
World War II and Changes Following the War
During World War II, the radio once again fulfilled an important role for both the U.S. and the U.K. With the help of journalists, radio relayed news of the war to the public. It was also a rallying source and was used by the government to gain public support for the war. In the U.K. it became the primary source of information after the shut-down of television stations. The way in which radio was used also changed the world after World War II. While radio had previously been a source of entertainment in the form of serial programs, after the war it began to focus more on playing the music of the time. The «Top-40» in music became popular during this period and the target audience went from families to pre-teens up to adults in their mid-thirties. Music and radio continued to rise in popularity until they became synonymous with one another. FM radio stations began to overtake the original AM stations, and new forms of music, such as rock and roll, began to emerge.
The Present and Future of Radio
Today, radio has become much more than Tesla or Marconi could have ever imagined. Traditional radios and radio broadcasting have become a thing of the past. Instead, radio has steadily evolved to keep up with current technology, with satellite and streaming internet stations gaining popularity. Radios are found not only in homes, but they are also a staple in vehicles. In addition to music, radio talk shows have also become a popular option for many. On the two-way radios front, newer digital two-way radios allow for one-to-one communication that is typically encrypted for improved security. Short-range radios have improved communications at worksites and handheld radios have become essential in sports, television production and even commercial airline operations.
The Development of Radio
Think about radio, and what often comes to mind is the crystal clear music and spoken words broadcast by FM stations across America. But radio wasn’t always so advanced — or so popular. Like many technologies, it evolved gradually and gained acceptance slowly. Today, radio continues to evolve as it competes with other technologies to attract and hold an audience.
The first steps toward inventing radio involved discovering electromagnetic waves and their potential. Hans Christian Oersted was the first to proclaim, in 1820, that a magnetic field is created around a wire that has a current running through it. In 1830, English physicist Michael Faraday confirmed Oersted’s theory, and established the principle of electromagnetic induction.
In 1864, James Clerk Maxwell, an experimental physics professor at Cambridge University, published a theoretical paper stating that electromagnetic currents could be perceived at a distance. Maxwell also boldly postulated that such waves travelled at the speed of light. In the late 1880s, German physicist Heinrich Hertz tested Maxwell’s theory. He succeeded in producing electromagnetic waves, and confirmed Maxwell’s prediction about their speed.
Not long after, Guglielmo Marconi, an Italian inventor, brought electromagnetic waves out of the laboratory and into the world.
He began with short-distance broadcasts in his own back yard. In September, 1899, he astounded the world by telegraphing the results of the America’s Cup yacht races from a ship at sea to a land-based station in New York. By the end of 1901, Marconi had founded his own commercial wireless company and broadcast the first transatlantic signal.
For a time, wireless broadcasts were limited to coded dots and dashes. But on December 24, 1906, Canadian-born physicist Reginald Fessenden changed that by sending the first long-distance transmission of human voice and music from his station at Brant Rock, Massachusetts. His signal was received as far away as Norfolk, Virginia. The stage for commercial voice and music broadcasts was set.
A steady stream of inventions pushed radio forward. In 1907, American inventor Lee De Forest introduced his patented Audion signal detector–which allowed radio frequency signals to be amplified dramatically. Another American inventor, Edwin Armstrong, developed the superheterodyne circuit in 1918, and in 1933 discovered how FM broadcasts could be produced. FM provided a clearer broadcast signal than AM, but RCA’s top executive, David Sarnoff, was pushing for the development of television. Sarnoff withheld FM from the public for more than a decade.
Still, the public demand for radio grew exponentially. Entertainment broadcasting began in about 1910, and included De Forest’s own program, which he aired from the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. An entertainment broadcasting venture based in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, became the first commercial radio station, KDKA, in 1920. The station WWJ, in Detroit, Michigan, also one of the firsts, began commercial broadcasting in the same year. Among the early proponents of entertainment broadcasting was Sarnoff, who used radio to create corporate empires at RCA and NBC.
The period between the late 1920s and the early 1950s is considered the Golden Age of Radio, in which comedies, dramas, variety shows, game shows, and popular music shows drew millions of listeners across America. But in the 1950s, with the introduction of television, the Golden Age faded. Still, radio remained a pop-culture force. Developments like stereophonic broadcasting, which began in the 1960s, helped radio maintain its popularity.
Among contemporary developments in radio is Digital Audio Broadcasting, or DAB. In the works since the late 1980s, it had not received FCC approval as of early 1999. According to proponents, DAB provides compact disc-quality sound without interference at any distance. DAB listeners can also become watchers: information such as programming schedules, and traffic and weather information, can be digitally displayed–on stereo «monitors» or LCD screens.
Already more than 100 years old, radio is still a powerful force in American life. According to a 1998 Arbitron report, over 95 percent of Americans listen to radio at least once a week. And with new technologies like DAB, the humble radio wave will likely retain its power for some time to come.
The History of Radio Technology
The term «radio» can refer to either the electronic appliance that we listen with or to the content that plays from it. In any case, it all started with the discovery of radio waves—electromagnetic waves that have the capacity to transmit music, speech, pictures, and other data invisibly through the air. Many devices work by using electromagnetic waves, including radios, microwaves, cordless phones, remote controlled toys, televisions, and more.
The Roots of Radio
Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell first predicted the existence of radio waves in the 1860s. In 1886, German physicist Heinrich Rudolph Hertz demonstrated that rapid variations of electric current could be projected into space in the form of radio waves, similar to light waves and heat waves.
In 1866, Mahlon Loomis, an American dentist, successfully demonstrated «wireless telegraphy.» Loomis was able to make a meter connected to a kite cause a meter connected to another nearby kite to move. This marked the first known instance of wireless aerial communication.
But it was Guglielmo Marconi, an Italian inventor, who proved the feasibility of radio communication. He sent and received his first radio signal in Italy in 1895. In 1899, he flashed the first wireless signal across the English Channel, and two years later received the letter «S,» which was telegraphed from England to Newfoundland (now part of Canada). This was the first successful transatlantic radiotelegraph message.
In addition to Marconi, two of his contemporaries, Nikola Tesla and Nathan Stubblefield, took out patents for wireless radio transmitters. Nikola Tesla is now credited with being the first person to patent radio technology. The Supreme Court overturned Marconi’s patent in 1943 in favor of Tesla’s.
The Invention of Radiotelegraphy
Radiotelegraphy is the sending by radio waves of the same dot-dash message (Morse code) used by telegraphs. Transmitters, at the turn of the century, were known as spark-gap machines. They were developed mainly for ship-to-shore and ship-to-ship communication. This form of radiotelegraphy allowed for simple communication between two points. However, it was not public radio broadcasting as we know it today.
The use of wireless signaling increased after it was proved to be effective in communication for rescue work at sea. Soon a number of ocean liners even installed wireless equipment. In 1899, the United States Army established wireless communications with a lightship off Fire Island, New York. Two years later, the Navy adopted a wireless system. Up until then, the Navy had been using visual signaling and homing pigeons for communication.
In 1901, radiotelegraph service was established between five Hawaiian Islands. In 1903, a Marconi station located in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, carried an exchange between President Theodore Roosevelt and King Edward VII. In 1905, the naval battle of Port Arthur in the Russo-Japanese war was reported by wireless. And in 1906, the U.S. Weather Bureau experimented with radiotelegraphy to speed up notice of weather conditions.
Robert E. Peary, an arctic explorer, radiotelegraphed «I found the Pole» in 1909. A year later, Marconi established regular American-European radiotelegraph service, which several months later enabled an escaped British murderer to be apprehended on the high seas. In 1912, the first transpacific radiotelegraph service was established, linking San Francisco with Hawaii.
Meanwhile, overseas radiotelegraph service developed slowly, primarily because the initial radiotelegraph transmitter was unstable and caused a high amount of interference. The Alexanderson high-frequency alternator and the De Forest tube eventually resolved many of these early technical problems.
The Advent of Space Telegraphy
Lee de Forest was the inventor of space telegraphy, the triode amplifier, and the Audion, an amplifying vacuum tube. In the early 1900s, the development of radio was hampered by the lack of an efficient detector of electromagnetic radiation. It was De Forest who provided that detector. His invention made it possible to amplify the radio frequency signal picked up by antennae. This allowed for the use of much weaker signals than had previously been possible. De Forest was also the first person to use the word «radio.»
The result of Lee de Forest’s work was the invention of amplitude-modulated or AM radio, which allowed for a multitude of radio stations. It was a huge improvement over the earlier spark-gap transmitters.
True Broadcasting Begins
In 1915, speech was first transmitted by radio across the continent from New York City to San Francisco and across the Atlantic Ocean. Five years later, Westinghouse’s KDKA-Pittsburgh broadcasted the Harding-Cox election returns and began a daily schedule of radio programs. In 1927, commercial radiotelephony service linking North America and Europe was opened. In 1935, the first telephone call was made around the world using a combination of wire and radio circuits.
Edwin Howard Armstrong invented frequency-modulated or FM radio in 1933. FM improved the audio signal of radio by controlling the noise static caused by electrical equipment and the earth’s atmosphere. Until 1936, all American transatlantic telephone communication had to be routed through England. That year, a direct radiotelephone circuit was opened to Paris.
In 1965, the first Master FM Antenna system in the world, designed to allow individual FM stations to broadcast simultaneously from one source, was erected on the Empire State Building in New York City.
The Impact of Radio Invention on Humanity
It is very easy in our very modern world where everything, such as entertainment, news and other informational content is just a few clicks away. In fact, the roots of information broadcast and making it public was laid by a massively impactful technology that is still actively used – radio.
For most of us, we are now confined to using the radio in the car when we are out and about without even thinking how old, reliable, and fundamental that technology is.
If you’ll look back at its history, you’ll realize how intense and eventful it is and that it took dozens of great minds to make the radio signal travel great distances.
In the following post, to help us all garner a greater appreciation for radio, we’re going to highlight some of the key ways radio has impacted humanity and look at some radio broadcasting facts that were key in the technology development.
When It All Began
There were several different inventors around in 1895 who could send electrical signals covering long distances. Guglielmo Marconi, however, is the name most associate with its invention.
Even if Tesla received a patent for his almighty radio later in 1943. Before it was used for entertainment purposes, radiotelegraphy was proving its worth in other ways in shipping. For instance, 711 survivors were saved when the Titanic crashed and sunk because other ships received its distress signals.
Full audio came to radios a little later, when the first commercial radio station opened in 1919 in The Netherlands. The rest of the world followed suit and stations were popping up everywhere during the 20s and 30s. This was ideal for delivering education, as college lectures and textbooks were previously the only way you could learn new things. Radio changed that by bringing education into people’s homes.
As a Social Medium
Before social media, the original social medium was radio. During the high points in its history, that is the 20s to 50s, more shows were broadcasted every week than ever before and it brought people together, whether it was to just listen and dance to music, listen to something funny, or a sports event broadcast.
During the Great Depression is a fine example of this, because even when people were very poor, they could still afford this form of entertainment.
It also had a profound impact on the music industry, as it meant people had access to a greater variety of music throughout the country and across the world. Much of the fame and popularity that recording artists such as Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald was down to the exposure they gained through the radio.
Even today, one of the best things about radio is that there are a wide variety of stations, often focused on one genre or even period, that not only allows the artists themselves to get exposure but allows listeners to enjoy their favorite types of music.
Radio became essential during World War II, as it was used to inform citizens about what was happening in the efforts of the Allied Forces. Interestingly It was both feared and loved in equal measures because the authorities used radio to promote their propaganda and scaremonger.
This in turn motivated people to set up their own pirate radio stations and broadcasts.
So, although television and the internet are now the main sources of entertainment and communication, it is important to realize that none of these other mediums would have been possible if the radio hadn’t been invented.
It paved the way for many of the technological advancements we see today and its fascinating that even though the internet has really brought us closer together, radio is still used, and people still engage with it and listen to it regularly. It leaves us wondering if the internet will maintain its popularity, prevalence, and relevance in the same way.
The role of radio in society
Radio stations play a critical role in modern society and form part of the critical communication channels that are used to consume information. Looking back to evolution, communication is one of the key ingredients that fueled our development. Through critical thinking, and exchange of information, we built societies, improved our standards of living, and even now as we speak, communication is facilitating the next invention.
Back to radio, you might be wondering why it holds any significance, well if you have any doubts, we hope to put them to rest by taking a look at the role it plays in modern society.
Importance of radio in society
A reasoning platform
Every day, hundreds of calls are made to radio stations, mainly to share ideas and contribute to nation-wide discussions. A lot of people listen to radio, primarily because it is affordable, hence making it the perfect platform to discuss pressing issues. It brings everyone together, both the young, old, poor, and rich. Everyone can share their opinions, and through that create understanding and tolerance among communities and individuals.
Education is the reason why you are reading this article on the internet. Through learning and research, humans have been able to make a lot of progress. Radio is one of the top places that people learn and get rid of ignorance. While not all radios are an education center, some of them make an effort to educate, especially on matters concerning society as a whole.
Entertainment is a part of every social group. It plays a key role in socializing and helps people find happiness, especially during hard times. By playing music, and talking about interesting topics, radios provide high-quality entertainment that is free of charge and fulfilling to the listeners.
The radio industry provides a lot of employment, helping people grow their careers and live a comfortable life. To ensure that people are useful members of society, it is crucial to avail jobs, and give them an opportunity to do their part in development. It is for this reason that radio is important, as it employs a lot of people.