The History of Radio – A Brief Walk Through the Waves

With such incredibly advancements in today’s technology, it’s hard to believe a time without radio as a communication tool ever existed. However, that time wasn’t so long ago. As recently as the 19th century, it was thought nearly impossible to create a means of sound and communication that could travel through wireless waves.

It was Nikolai Tesla, in 1893, that first demonstrated a wireless radio in St. Louis, Missouri. However, Tesla isn’t often considered to be a big name in radio. As we dive a little deeper into its rich history, we’ll learn exactly why.

From the Beginning

It is actually Guglielmo Marconi who is often referred to as the ‘father of radio.’ He patented the original wireless telegraphy, and from Britain, he became the first person ever to transmit radio signals across the ocean. That took place in 1901.

Radio wasn’t originally used for entertainment purposes of any kind. Rather, it took lives into account, and was used to contact ships on the ocean through means of morse code. During the first World War, radio reached a sudden peak in popularity as it was used almost solely as the means of communication between troops in battle. Never had there been such a quick, effective, and efficient way to send messages, and receive them just as clearly.

It was obvious that radio had a lot of growing to do, thanks to this kind of powerful potential.

Bringing Radio to the Masses

Following WWI, radio stations began to pop up in Europe, and North America, and the units became more readily available to citizens. The British Broadcasting Company (BBC), and KDKA in Pennsylvania were two of the biggest pioneers in radio broadcasting at the time, deep into the 1920s. It didn’t take long for radio, and radio transmitters, to become regulated by the government.

As more and more people began to create their own receivers, the government stepped in to sanction radio as a whole, creating the Radio Corporation Agreements (RCA). This allowed only certain companies to create transmitters, and certain companies to create receivers.

Once all the ‘hardware’ was fully sanctioned, broadcasting was the next issue to tackle. It was AT&T who created the first broadcasted radio advertisement, in 1923. CBS and NBC were quick to follow, not to be outdone by the telephone giant. It didn’t take long for radio in the UK, and in the United States, to become a solid source for news, and entertainment. In fact, by 1926, the BBC came the main source of news and information in the UK, as the newspapers went on strike. This, no doubt, had a great impact on the popularity and credibility of radio in Europe.

The Impact of Radio on WWII

The importance of radio during WWI was almost strictly for the military. The importance during WWII spread to the public. Not only was radio used as a service for the soldiers, but it was a main source of news for people ‘at home.’ Journalists on the line, doing their research, would use radio as a means to quickly broadcast news and updates on the war at any given time. People looked at radio as a credible source more than ever before, and hearing news from the waves became a source of comfort to families dealing with the impacts of war.

After WWII, the face of radio shifted again. The entertaining programs and stories of the 1920s began to slowly fade, in favor of broadcasting music. The term ‘Top 40’ originated in radio, as popular songs of the day were broadcast in hopes of drawing in teens and young adults to listen in. Different forms of music began to shine through radio, and eventually, FM stations (music stations) took over in popularity, above the mostly talking-based AM frequencies.

Radio Today

Today, most of us tend to automatically connect radio with music, but it wasn’t always the case. In fact, as you can see, it wasn’t until the 1950s and 1960s that the two really synced with one another.

It’s hard to imagine the rudimentary uses radio first started out with. It’s also amazing to consider that some of those ‘rudimentary’ uses are still extremely popular today, albeit more advanced, thanks to changes in technology. Today, we have everything from satellite radio to Internet radio. We take it with us on our phones, our computers, in our cars, etc. It continues to evolve and change, while still holding onto the same basic, yet powerful, means of communication it originated with.

Whether you use radio for educational purposes, for communication, or for entertainment, there’s no denying that as a medium, it will continue to grow and adapt with the ever-changing technology provided to the world. The future of radio is likely wireless and expansive, and will be able to move with us wherever we go.

Leave a Comment