While its history is vast and still growing, it was not that long ago that the radio completely changed the world forever. It’s history dates all the way back to the 1800s, although it wasn’t until the 20th century that its significance to modern society was realized. Before we can discuss the evolution of the radio, we have to mention the founders of one of the world’s most successful inventions.
- Henirich Hertz– Proved one could transmit and receive electric waves wirelessly. This discovery is recognized as the fundamental building block of radio.
- Nikola Tesla– Discovered the basis for most alternating-current machinery although he sold the patent rights for his system of alternating-current dynamos to establish his own lab where he invented numerous technologies, such as the Tesla coil.
- Ernst Alexanderson– Developed the first alternator to make transmission of speech possible.
- Reginald Fessenden– Used Alexanderson’s alternator to make the first long-range transmission of voice from Brant Rock, MA.
- Guglielmo Marconi– Introduced numerous first uses of wireless telegraphy. His radio equipment is considered to be the reason that the Titanic (1912) had over 700 survivors.
- Lee DeForest– Credited as the “father of American radio” due to his position as the chief scientist at the U.S.’s first radio firm, American Wireless Telephone, and Telegraph (AT&T).
While the concept of radio waves had been around for a while, it wasn’t until 1906 that the first voice and music signals were transmitted. It was an hour-long experiment aimed at technical observers and radio amateurs who might be listening. Other trials took place over the next few years though none led to further services.
Throughout the WWI, the radio was primarily used to contact ships at sea and the armed forces. Once the war ended, radios became increasingly popular amongst civilians. On November 2, 1920, in Pittsburgh, PA, the U.S.’s first commercial broadcasting station was born: KDKA.
The radio played a significant role in WWII communications as well as in communications to the public. After the war, radios influence grew even further. It is noted that the ‘Golden Age’ of American radio was from about 1930 to 1955. Radio shows became a vital part of American culture as families arranged their lives around radio schedules and the public embraced repeatedly used verbal expressions. However, once television debuted and music became radio’s primary focus, new forms of music began to emerge, such as rock and roll.
Today, the traditional radio has evolved to satellite and internet radio stations. Radios are a fundamental staple of vehicles, are found in homes and cellular apps, and in addition to music, talk shows, or podcasts, have become increasingly popular.
While the future of radio may be unknown, the magnitude of how the radio has changed society in all its forms is truly compelling, and far more prominent than Tesla or Hertz could have ever foreseen.
Mitch Levy has spent nearly 30 years in radio and sports broadcasting after earning a degree in Broadcast Journalism from Syracuse. Read more of his advice for the radio industry or check out his Twitter!