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History of radio

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The early history of radio is the history of technology that produces and uses radio instruments that use radio waves. Within the timeline of radio, many people contributed theory and inventions in what became radio. Radio development began as "wireless telegraphy". Later radio history increasingly involves matters of broadcasting.



The idea of wireless communication predates the discovery of "radio" with experiments in "wireless telegraphy" via inductive and capacitive induction and transmission through the ground, water, and even train tracks from the 1830s on. James Clerk Maxwell showed in theoretical and mathematical form in 1864 that electromagnetic waves could propagate through free space.[1][2] In 1888 Heinrich Rudolf Hertz was able to conclusively prove transmitted airborne electromagnetic waves in an experiment confirming Maxwell's theory of electromagnetism.

Electrical engineer/inventor Guglielmo Marconi with the spark-gap transmitter (right) and coherer receiver (left) he used in some of his first long distance radiotelegraphy transmissions during the 1890s.

After the discovery of these "Hertzian waves" (it would take almost 20 years for the term "radio" to be universally adopted for this type of electromagnetic radiation)[3] many scientists and inventors experimented with transmitting and detecting Hertzian waves. Maxwell's theory showing that light and Hertzian electromagnetic waves were the same phenomenon at different wavelengths led "Maxwellian" scientists such as John Perry, Frederick Thomas Trouton and Alexander Trotter to assume they would be analogous to optical light.[4][5] The Serbian American engineer Nikola Tesla (who, at the time, was developing his own earth conduction wireless power/communication system)[6][7][8] considered Hertzian waves relatively useless for his system since "light" could not transmit further than line of sight.[9] In 1892 the physicist William Crookes wrote on the possibilities of wireless telegraphy based on Hertzian waves.[10] Others, such as Sir Oliver Lodge, Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose, and Alexander Popov were involved in the development of components and theory involved with the transmission and reception of airborne electromagnetic waves for their own theoretical work.

Over several years starting in 1894 the Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi built the first engineering complete, commercially successful wireless telegraphy system based on airborne Hertzian waves (radio transmission).[11] Marconi demonstrated the application of radio in military and marine communications and started a company for the development and propagation of radio communication services and equipment.

19th century

The meaning and usage of the word "radio" has developed in parallel with developments within the field of communications and can be seen to have three distinct phases: electromagnetic waves and experimentation; wireless communication and technical development; and radio broadcasting and commercialization.

James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879), the founder of electromagnetism theory

In an 1864 presentation, published in 1865, James Clerk Maxwell proposed theories of electromagnetism, with mathematical proofs, that showed that light and predicted that radio and x-rays were all types of electromagnetic waves propagating through free space.[1][2][12][13][14] In 1886–88 Heinrich Rudolf Hertz conducted a series of experiments that proved the existence of Maxwell's electromagnetic waves, using a frequency in what would later be called the radio spectrum. Many individuals—inventors, engineers, developers and businessmen—constructed systems based on their own understanding of these and other phenomena, some predating Maxwell and Hertz's discoveries. Thus "wireless telegraphy" and radio wave-based systems can be attributed to multiple "inventors". Development from a laboratory demonstration to a commercial entity spanned several decades and required the efforts of many practitioners.

In 1878, David E. Hughes noticed that sparks could be heard in a telephone receiver when experimenting with his carbon microphone. He developed this carbon-based detector further and eventually could detect signals over a few hundred yards. He demonstrated his discovery to the Royal Society in 1880, but was told it was merely induction, and therefore abandoned further research. Thomas Edison came across the electromagnetic phenomenon while experimenting with a telegraph at Menlo Park. He noted an unexplained transmission effect while experimenting with a telegraph. He referred to this as etheric force in an announcement on November 28, 1875. Elihu Thomson published his findings on Edison's new "force", again attributing it to induction, an explanation that Edison accepted. Edison would go on the next year to take out U.S. Patent 465,971 on a system of electrical wireless communication between ships based on electrostatic coupling using the water and elevated terminals. Although this was not a radio system, Edison would sell his patent rights to his friend Guglielmo Marconi at the Marconi Company in 1903, rather than another interested party who might end up working against Marconi's interests.[15]

Hertzian waves

Heinrich Rudolf Hertz (1856-1894) discovered an important step in the process of radio development called the Hertzian waves.

Between 1886 and 1888 Heinrich Rudolf Hertz published the results of his experiments wherein he was able to transmit electromagnetic waves (radio waves) through the air, proving Maxwell's electromagnetic theory.[16][17] Thus, given Hertz comprehensive discoveries, radio waves were referred to as "Hertzian waves".[18] Between 1890 and 1892 physicists such as John Perry, Frederick Thomas Trouton and William Crookes proposed electromagnetic or Hertzian waves as a navigation aid or means of communication, with Crookes writing on the possibilities of wireless telegraphy based on Hertzian waves in 1892.[10]

In a lecture on the work of Hertz, shortly after his death, Professors Oliver Lodge and Alexander Muirhead presented a widely covered lecture on Hertzian (radio) waves in the lecture theater of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History on August 14, 1894. Lodge focused on the optical qualities of the waves and demonstrated how to transmit, reflect, and detect them (using an improved variation of French physicist Édouard Branly's detector Lodge named the "coherer").[19] During part of the demonstration radio waves were sent from the neighboring Clarendon Laboratory building, and received by apparatus in the lecture theater.[20]

Building on the work of Lodge,[21] the Bengali Indian physicist Jagadish Chandra Bose further explored the optical nature these waves. He conducted his experiments using very short wavelengths (close to visible light in the microwave range) which allowed his test equipment, antennas, reflectors, and prisms, to be much smaller. He published the paper "On polarisation of electric rays by double-refracting crystals"[22] in May 1895 followed by a second paper sent to the Royal Society of London in October 1895.[clarification needed][full citation needed] The London journal The Electrician (December 1895) noted: "Should Professor Bose succeed in perfecting and patenting his ‘Coherer’, we may in time see the whole system of coast lighting throughout the navigable world revolutionised by an Indian Bengali scientist working single handed[ly] in our Presidency College Laboratory." Bose would latter write an essay, "Adrisya Alok" ("Invisible Light") on how during 1895 he conducted a public demonstration at the Town Hall of Kolkata, India using millimeter-range-wavelength microwaves to trigger detectors that ignited gunpowder and rang a bell at a distance.[21]

In 1895, conducting experiments along the lines of Hertz's research, Alexander Stepanovich Popov built his first radio receiver, which contained a coherer. Popov further refined his invention as a lightning detector and presented to the Russian Physical and Chemical Society on May 7, 1895. A depiction of the lightning detector was printed in the Journal of the Russian Physical and Chemical Society the same year (publication of the minutes 15/201 of this session – December issue of the journal RPCS[23]). An earlier description of the device was given by Dmitry Aleksandrovich Lachinov in July 1895 in the second edition of his course "Fundamentals of Meteorology and Climatology", which was the first such course in Russia.[24][25] Popov's receiver was created on the improved basis of Lodge's receiver, and originally intended for reproduction of its experiments.

Guglielmo Marconi

British Post Office engineers inspect Guglielmo Marconi's wireless telegraphy (radio) equipment in 1897.

In 1894, the young Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi began working on the idea of building long-distance wireless transmission systems based on the use of Hertzian waves (radio waves), a line of inquiry that he noted other inventors did not seem to be pursuing.[11] Marconi read through the literature and used the ideas of others who were experimenting with radio waves but did a great deal to develop devices such as portable transmitters and receiver systems that could work over long distances,[11] turning what was essentially a laboratory experiment into a useful communication system.[26] By August 1895, Marconi was field testing his system but even with improvements he was only able to transmit signals up to one-half mile, a distance Oliver Lodge had predicted in 1894 as the maximum transmission distance for radio waves. Marconi raised the height of his antenna and hit upon the idea of grounding his transmitter and receiver. With these improvements the system was capable of transmitting signals up to 2 miles (3.2 km) and over hills.[27] Marconi's experimental apparatus proved to be the first engineering-complete, commercially successful radio transmission system.[28][29][30] Marconi's apparatus is also credited with saving the 700 people who survived the tragic Titanic disaster.[31]

In 1896, Marconi was awarded British patent 12039, Improvements in transmitting electrical impulses and signals and in apparatus there-for, the first patent ever issued for a Hertzian wave (radio wave) base wireless telegraphic system.[32] In 1897, he established a radio station on the Isle of Wight, England. Marconi opened his "wireless" factory in the former silk-works at Hall Street, Chelmsford, England, in 1898, employing around 60 people. Shortly after the 1900s, Marconi held the patent rights for radio. Marconi would go on to win the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1909[33] and be more successful than any other inventor in his ability to commercialize radio and its associated equipment into a global business.[11] In the US some of his subsequent patented refinements (but not his original radio patent) would be overturned in a 1935 court case (upheld by the US Supreme Court in 1943).[34]

20th century

Through the end of the 19th century Canadian-American inventor Reginald Fessenden worked on the possibility of making audio radio transmissions, in contrast to the early spark-gap transmissions that could only transmit Morse code messages.[35] To this end he worked on developing a high-speed alternator (referred to as "an alternating-current dynamo") that generated "pure sine waves" and produced "a continuous train of radiant waves of substantially uniform strength", or, in modern terminology, a continuous-wave (CW) transmitter.[36] While working for the United States Weather Bureau on Cobb Island, Maryland, Fessenden began research on audio transmissions via radio. Because he did not yet have a continuous-wave transmitter, initially he worked with an experimental "high-frequency spark" transmitter, taking advantage of the fact that the higher the spark rate, the closer a spark-gap transmission comes to producing continuous waves. He later reported that, in the fall of 1900, he successfully transmitted speech over a distance of about 1.6 kilometers (one mile),[37] which appears to have been the first successful audio transmission using radio signals.[38][39] Although successful, the sound transmitted was far too distorted to be commercially practical.[40] On Christmas Eve 1906, Fessenden used a synchronous rotary-spark transmitter for the first radio program broadcast, from Ocean Bluff-Brant Rock, Massachusetts. Ships at sea heard a broadcast that included Fessenden playing O Holy Night on the violin and reading a passage from the Bible.[41] This was, for all intents and purposes, the first transmission of what is now known as amplitude modulation or AM radio.

In June 1912 Marconi opened the world's first purpose-built radio factory at New Street Works in Chelmsford, England.

The first radio news program was broadcast August 31, 1920 by station 8MK in Detroit, Michigan, which survives today as all-news format station WWJ under ownership of the CBS network. The first college radio station began broadcasting on October 14, 1920, from Union College, Schenectady, New York under the personal call letters of Wendell King, an African-American student at the school.[41]

That month 2ADD (renamed WRUC in 1947), aired what is believed to be the first public entertainment broadcast in the United States, a series of Thursday night concerts initially heard within a 100-mile (160 km) radius and later for a 1,000-mile (1,600 km) radius. In November 1920, it aired the first broadcast of a sporting event.[41][42] At 9 pm on August 27, 1920, Sociedad Radio Argentina aired a live performance of Richard Wagner's opera Parsifal from the Coliseo Theater in downtown Buenos Aires. Only about twenty homes in the city had receivers to tune in this radio program. Meanwhile, regular entertainment broadcasts commenced in 1922 from the Marconi Research Centre at Writtle, England.

Sports broadcasting began at this time as well, including the college football on radio broadcast of a 1921 West Virginia vs. Pittsburgh football game.[43]

One of the first developments in the early 20th century was that aircraft used commercial AM radio stations for navigation. This continued until the early 1960s when VOR systems became widespread.[44] In the early 1930s, single sideband and frequency modulation were invented by amateur radio operators. By the end of the decade, they were established commercial modes. Radio was used to transmit pictures visible as television as early as the 1920s. Commercial television transmissions started in North America and Europe in the 1940s.

In 1947 AT&T commercialized the Mobile Telephone Service. From its start in St. Louis in 1946, AT&T then introduced Mobile Telephone Service to one hundred towns and highway corridors by 1948. Mobile Telephone Service was a rarity with only 5,000 customers placing about 30,000 calls each week. Because only three radio channels were available, only three customers in any given city could make mobile telephone calls at one time.[45] Mobile Telephone Service was expensive, costing US$15 per month, plus $0.30–0.40 per local call, equivalent to (in 2012 US dollars) about $176 per month and $3.50–4.75 per call.[46] The Advanced Mobile Phone System analog mobile phone system, developed by Bell Labs, was introduced in the Americas in 1978,[47][48][49] gave much more capacity. It was the primary analog mobile phone system in North America (and other locales) through the 1980s and into the 2000s.

The Regency TR-1, which used Texas Instruments' NPN transistors, was the world's first commercially produced transistor radio in 1954.

Following development of transistor technology, bipolar junction transistors led to the development of the transistor radio. In 1954, the Regency company introduced a pocket transistor radio, the TR-1, powered by a "standard 22.5 V Battery." In 1955, the newly formed Sony company introduced its first transistorized radio, the TR-55.[50] It was small enough to fit in a vest pocket, powered by a small battery. It was durable, because it had no vacuum tubes to burn out. In 1957, Sony introduced the TR-63, the first mass-produced transistor radio, leading to the mass-market penetration of transistor radios.[51] Over the next 20 years, transistors replaced tubes almost completely except for high-power transmitters.

By the mid-1960s, the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) were using metal–oxide–semiconductor field-effect transistors (MOSFETs) in their consumer products, including FM radio, television and amplifiers.[52] Metal–oxide–semiconductor (MOS) large-scale integration (LSI) provided a practical and economic solution for radio technology, and was used in mobile radio systems by the early 1970s.[53]

By 1963, color television was being broadcast commercially (though not all broadcasts or programs were in color), and the first (radio) communication satellite, Telstar, was launched. In the 1970s, LORAN became the premier radio navigation system. Soon, the U.S. Navy experimented with satellite navigation, culminating in the launch of the Global Positioning System (GPS) constellation in 1987.

Wavelength (meters) vs. frequency (kilocycles, kilohertz)

In early radio, and to a limited extent much later, the transmission signal of the radio station was specified in meters, referring to the wavelength, the length of the radio wave. This is the origin of the terms long wave, medium wave, and short wave radio.[54] Portions of the radio spectrum reserved for specific purposes were often referred to by wavelength: the 40-meter band, used for amateur radio, for example. The relation between wavelength and frequency is reciprocal: the higher the frequency, the shorter the wave, and vice versa.

As equipment progressed, precise frequency control became possible; early stations often did not have a precise frequency, as it was affected by the temperature of the equipment, among other factors. Identifying a radio signal by its frequency rather than its length proved much more practical and useful, and starting in the 1920s this became the usual method of identifying a signal, especially in the United States. Frequencies specified in number of cycles per second (kilocycles, megacycles) were replaced by the more specific designation of hertz (cycles per second) about 1965.

Start of the 20th century

Around the start of the 20th century, the Slaby-Arco wireless system was developed by Adolf Slaby and Georg von Arco.[55] In 1900, Reginald Fessenden made a weak transmission of voice over the airwaves. In 1901, Marconi conducted the first successful transatlantic experimental radio communications. In 1907, Marconi established the first commercial transatlantic radio communications service, between Clifden, Ireland and Glace Bay, Nova Scotia.

Donald Manson working as an employee of the Marconi Company (England, 1906)

Julio Cervera Baviera

Julio Cervera Baviera

Julio Cervera Baviera developed radio in Spain around 1902.[56][57] Cervera Baviera obtained patents in England, Germany, Belgium, and Spain. In May–June 1899, Cervera had, with the blessing of the Spanish Army, visited Marconi's radiotelegraphic installations on the English Channel, and worked to develop his own system. He began collaborating with Marconi on resolving the problem of a wireless communication system, obtaining some patents by the end of 1899. Cervera, who had worked with Marconi and his assistant George Kemp in 1899, resolved the difficulties of wireless telegraph and obtained his first patents prior to the end of that year. On March 22, 1902, Cervera founded the Spanish Wireless Telegraph and Telephone Corporation and brought to his corporation the patents he had obtained in Spain, Belgium, Germany and England.[58] He established the second and third regular radiotelegraph service in the history of the world in 1901 and 1902 by maintaining regular transmissions between Tarifa and Ceuta (across the Straits of Gibraltar) for three consecutive months, and between Javea (Cabo de la Nao) and Ibiza (Cabo Pelado). This is after Marconi established the radiotelegraphic service between the Isle of Wight and Bournemouth in 1898. In 1906, Domenico Mazzotto wrote: "In Spain the Minister of War has applied the system perfected by the commander of military engineering, Julio Cervera Baviera (English patent No. 20084 (1899))."[59] Cervera thus achieved some success in this field, but his radiotelegraphic activities ceased suddenly, the reasons for which are unclear to this day.[60]

British Marconi

Using various patents, the British Marconi company was established in 1897 by Guglielmo Marconi and began communication between coast radio stations and ships at sea.[61] A year after, in 1898, they successfully introduced their first radio station in Chelmsford. This company, along with its subsidiaries Canadian Marconi and American Marconi, had a stranglehold on ship-to-shore communication. It operated much the way American Telephone and Telegraph operated until 1983, owning all of its equipment and refusing to communicate with non-Marconi equipped ships. Many inventions improved the quality of radio, and amateurs experimented with uses of radio, thus planting the first seeds of broadcasting.


The company Telefunken was founded on May 27, 1903, as "Telefunken society for wireless telefon" of Siemens & Halske (S & H) and the Allgemeine Elektrizitäts-Gesellschaft (General Electricity Company) as joint undertakings for radio engineering in Berlin.[62] It continued as a joint venture of AEG and Siemens AG, until Siemens left in 1941. In 1911, Kaiser Wilhelm II sent Telefunken engineers to West Sayville, New York to erect three 600-foot (180-m) radio towers there. Nikola Tesla assisted in the construction. A similar station was erected in Nauen, creating the only wireless communication between North America and Europe.

Reginald Fessenden

The invention of amplitude-modulated (AM) radio, so that more than one station can send signals (as opposed to spark-gap radio, where one transmitter covers the entire bandwidth of the spectrum) is attributed to Reginald Fessenden and Lee de Forest. According to some sources, notably Fessenden's wife Helen's biography,[63] on Christmas Eve 1906, Reginald Fessenden used an Alexanderson alternator and rotary spark-gap transmitter to make the first radio audio broadcast, from Brant Rock, Massachusetts. Ships at sea heard a broadcast that included Fessenden playing O Holy Night on the violin and reading a passage from the Bible. However, Fessenden himself never mentioned that date: rather, he wrote of experiments with voice as early as 1902.[64] And some of his experiments with voice and music, which occurred in mid-to-late December 1906, were reported in the American Telephone Journal.[65]

Later 20th-century developments

Following development of transistor technology, bipolar junction transistors led to the development of the transistor radio. In 1954, Regency introduced a pocket transistor radio, the TR-1, powered by a "standard 22.5V Battery". In 1955, the newly formed Sony company introduced its first transistorized radio, the TR-55.[50] In 1957, Sony introduced the TR-63, the first mass-produced transistor radio, leading to the mass-market penetration of transistor radios.[51] It was small enough to fit in a vest pocket, and able to be powered by a small battery. It was durable, because there were no tubes to burn out. Over the next twenty years, transistors displaced tubes almost completely except for picture tubes and very high power or very high frequency uses.

In the early 1960s, VOR systems finally became widespread for aircraft navigation; before that, aircraft used commercial AM radio stations for navigation. (AM stations are still marked on U.S. aviation charts).

By the mid-1960s, the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) were using metal–oxide–semiconductor field-effect transistors (MOSFETs) in their consumer products, including FM radio, television and amplifiers.[52] Metal–oxide–semiconductor (MOS) large-scale integration (LSI) provided a practical and economic solution for radio technology, and was used in mobile radio systems by the early 1970s.[53]

In the 1970s, LORAN became the premier radio navigation system. Soon, the US Navy experimented with satellite navigation. In 1987, the Global Positioning System (GPS) constellation of satellites was launched.

Telex on radio

Telegraphy did not go away on radio. Instead, the degree of automation increased. On land-lines in the 1930s, teletypewriters automated encoding, and were adapted to pulse-code dialing to automate routing, a service called telex. For thirty years, telex was the cheapest form of long-distance communication, because up to 25 telex channels could occupy the same bandwidth as one voice channel. For business and government, it was an advantage that telex directly produced written documents.

Telex systems were adapted to short-wave radio by sending tones over single sideband. CCITT R.44 (the most advanced pure-telex standard) incorporated character-level error detection and retransmission as well as automated encoding and routing. For many years, telex-on-radio (TOR) was the only reliable way to reach some third-world countries. TOR remains reliable, though less-expensive forms of e-mail are displacing it. Many national telecom companies historically ran nearly pure telex networks for their governments, and they ran many of these links over short wave radio.

Documents including maps and photographs went by radiofax, or wireless photoradiogram, invented in 1924 by Richard H. Ranger of Radio Corporation of America (RCA). This method prospered in the mid-20th century and faded late in the century.

Radio navigation

Radio navigation plays an important role during war time, especially in World War II. Before the discovery of the crystal oscillator, radio navigation had many limits.[66] However, as radio technology expanding, navigation is easier to use, and it provides a better position. Although there are many advantages, the radio navigation systems often comes with complex equipment such as the radio compass receiver, compass indicator, or the radar plan position indicator. All of these require users to obtain certain knowledge.

Color television

Mobile phones

In 1947, AT&T commercialized the Mobile Telephone Service. From its start in St. Louis in 1946, AT&T then introduced Mobile Telephone Service to one hundred towns and highway corridors by 1948. Mobile Telephone Service was a rarity with only 5,000 customers placing about 30,000 calls each week. Because only three radio channels were available, only three customers in any given city could make mobile telephone calls at one time.[45] Mobile Telephone Service was expensive, costing US$15 per month, plus $0.30–0.40 per local call, equivalent to (in 2012 US dollars) about $176 per month and $3.50–4.75 per call.[46]

The development of metal–oxide–semiconductor (MOS) large-scale integration (LSI) technology, information theory and cellular networking led to the development of affordable mobile communications.[68] The Advanced Mobile Phone System analog mobile phone system, developed by Bell Labs and introduced in the Americas in 1978,[47][48][49] gave much more capacity. It was the primary analog mobile phone system in North America (and other locales) through the 1980s and into the 2000s.

Radio broadcasting (1919 to 1950s)

The beginning of radio broadcasting started with different creations of developing the radio receivers and transmitter including the crystal sets and the first vacuum tubes. These help to transmit the radio waves for long distance broadcasting.

Crystal sets

In the 1920s, the United States government publication, "Construction and Operation of a Simple Homemade Radio Receiving Outfit", showed how almost any person handy with simple tools could a build an effective crystal radio receiver.

The most common type of receiver before vacuum tubes was the crystal set, although some early radios used some type of amplification through electric current or battery. Inventions of the triode amplifier, motor-generator, and detector enabled audio radio. The use of amplitude modulation (AM), by which soundwaves can be transmitted over a continuous-wave radio signal of narrow bandwidth (as opposed to spark-gap radio, which sent rapid strings of damped-wave pulses that consumed much bandwidth and were only suitable for Morse-code telegraphy) was pioneered by Fessenden and Lee de Forest.[69]

The art and science of crystal sets is still pursued as a hobby in the form of simple un-amplified radios that 'runs on nothing, forever'. They are used as a teaching tool by groups such as the Boy Scouts of America to introduce youngsters to electronics and radio. As the only energy available is that gathered by the antenna system, loudness is necessarily limited.

The first vacuum tubes

The first commercial AM Audion vacuum tube radio transmitter, built in 1914 by Lee De Forest who invented the Audion (triode) in 1906

During the mid-1920s, amplifying vacuum tubes (or thermionic valves in the UK) revolutionized radio receivers and transmitters. John Ambrose Fleming developed a vacuum tube diode. Lee de Forest placed a screen, added a "grid" electrode, creating the triode.[70] The Dutch company Nederlandsche Radio-Industrie and its owner engineer, Hanso Idzerda, made the first regular wireless broadcast for entertainment from its workshop in The Hague on 6 November 1919. The company manufactured both transmitters and receivers. Its popular program was broadcast four nights per week on AM 670 metres,[71] until 1924 when the company ran into financial troubles.

On 27 August 1920, regular wireless broadcasts for entertainment began in Argentina, pioneered by Enrique Telémaco Susini and his associates, and spark gap telegraphy stopped. On 31 August 1920 the first known radio news program was broadcast by station 8MK, the unlicensed predecessor of WWJ (AM) in Detroit, Michigan. In 1922 regular wireless broadcasts for entertainment began in the UK from the Marconi Research Centre 2MT at Writtle near Chelmsford, England. Early radios ran the entire power of the transmitter through a carbon microphone. In the 1920s, the Westinghouse company bought Lee de Forest's and Edwin Armstrong's patent. During the mid-1920s, Amplifying vacuum tubes (US)/thermionic valves (UK) revolutionized radio receivers and transmitters. Westinghouse engineers developed a more modern vacuum tube.

FM and television start

In 1933, FM radio was patented by inventor Edwin H. Armstrong.[72] FM uses frequency modulation of the radio wave to reduce static and interference from electrical equipment and the atmosphere. In 1937, W1XOJ, the first experimental FM radio station after Armstrong's W2XMN in Alpine, New Jersey, was granted a construction permit by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC). In the 1930s, regular analog television broadcasting began in some parts of Europe and North America. By the end of the decade there were roughly 25,000 all-electronic television receivers in existence worldwide, the majority of them in the UK. In the US, Armstrong's FM system was designated by the FCC to transmit and receive television sound.

FM in Europe

After World War II, FM radio broadcasting was introduced in Germany. At a meeting in Copenhagen in 1948, a new wavelength plan was set up for Europe. Because of the recent war, Germany (which did not exist as a state and so was not invited) was only given a small number of medium-wave frequencies, which were not very good for broadcasting. For this reason Germany began broadcasting on UKW ("Ultrakurzwelle", i.e. ultra short wave, nowadays called VHF) which was not covered by the Copenhagen plan. After some amplitude modulation experience with VHF, it was realized that FM radio was a much better alternative for VHF radio than AM. Because of this history FM Radio is still referred to as "UKW Radio" in Germany. Other European nations followed a bit later, when the superior sound quality of FM and the ability to run many more local stations because of the more limited range of VHF broadcasts were realized.

Political interest in the United Kingdom

The British government and the state-owned postal services found themselves under massive pressure from the wireless industry (including telegraphy) and early radio adopters to open up to the new medium. In an internal confidential report from February 25, 1924, the Imperial Wireless Telegraphy Committee stated:

"We have been asked 'to consider and advise on the policy to be adopted as regards the Imperial Wireless Services so as to protect and facilitate public interest.' It was impressed upon us that the question was urgent. We did not feel called upon to explore the past or to comment on the delays which have occurred in the building of the Empire Wireless Chain. We concentrated our attention on essential matters, examining and considering the facts and circumstances which have a direct bearing on policy and the condition which safeguard public interests."[73]

Broadcast and copyright

When radio was introduced in the early 1920s, many predicted it would kill the phonograph record industry. Radio was a free medium for the public to hear music for which they would normally pay. While some companies saw radio as a new avenue for promotion, others feared it would cut into profits from record sales and live performances. Many record companies would not license their records to be played over the radio, and had their major stars sign agreements that they would not perform on radio broadcasts.[74][75]

Indeed, the music recording industry had a severe drop in profits after the introduction of the radio. For a while, it appeared as though radio was a definite threat to the record industry. Radio ownership grew from two out of five homes in 1931 to four out of five homes in 1938. Meanwhile, record sales fell from $75 million in 1929 to $26 million in 1938 (with a low point of $5 million in 1933), though the economics of the situation were also affected by the Great Depression.[76]

The copyright owners were concerned that they would see no gain from the popularity of radio and the ‘free’ music it provided. What they needed to make this new medium work for them already existed in previous copyright law. The copyright holder for a song had control over all public performances ‘for profit.’ The problem now was proving that the radio industry, which was just figuring out for itself how to make money from advertising and currently offered free music to anyone with a receiver, was making a profit from the songs.

The test case was against Bamberger's Department Store in Newark, New Jersey in 1922. The store was broadcasting music from its store on the radio station WOR. No advertisements were heard, except at the beginning of the broadcast which announced "L. Bamberger and Co., One of America's Great Stores, Newark, New Jersey." It was determined through this and previous cases (such as the lawsuit against Shanley's Restaurant) that Bamberger was using the songs for commercial gain, thus making it a public performance for profit, which meant the copyright owners were due payment.

With this ruling the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) began collecting licensing fees from radio stations in 1923. The beginning sum was $250 for all music protected under ASCAP, but for larger stations the price soon ballooned to $5,000. Edward Samuels reports in his book The Illustrated Story of Copyright that "radio and TV licensing represents the single greatest source of revenue for ASCAP and its composers […] and [a]n average member of ASCAP gets about $150–$200 per work per year, or about $5,000-$6,000 for all of a member's compositions." Not long after the Bamberger ruling, ASCAP had to once again defend their right to charge fees, in 1924. The Dill Radio Bill would have allowed radio stations to play music without paying and licensing fees to ASCAP or any other music-licensing corporations. The bill did not pass.[77]

Regulations of radio stations in the U.S

Wireless Ship Act of 1910

Radio technology was first used for ships to communicate at sea. To ensure safety, the Wireless Ship Act of 1910 marks the first time the U.S. government implies regulations on radio systems on ships.[78] This act requires ships to have a radio system with a professional operator if they want to travel more than 200 miles offshore or have more than 50 people on board. However, this act had many flaws including the competition of radio operators including the two majors company (British and American Marconi). They tended to delay communication for ships that used their competitor's system. This contributed to the tragic incident of the sinking of the Titanic in 1912.

Radio Act of 1912

In 1912, the sinking of the Titanic due to delayed emergency signals. This happened due to many uncontrolled waves from different radio stations that interfered with the emergency signal from the ship.  After this tragedy, the government passed on the Radio Act of 1912 to prevent the story to repeat itself in the future. In this act, the state took control of the waves spectrum, separating between a regular signal versus emergency signals from ships.[79]

The Radio Act of 1927

The Radio Act of 1927 gave the Federal Radio Commission the power to grant and deny licenses, and to assign frequencies and power levels for each licensee. In 1928 it began requiring licenses of existing stations and setting controls on who could broadcast from where on what frequency and at what power. Some stations could not obtain a license and ceased operations. In section 29, the Radio Act of 1927 mentioned that the content of the broadcast should be freely present, and the government cannot interfere with this.[80]

The Communications Act of 1934

The introduction of the Communications Act of 1934 led to the establishment of the Federal Communications Commissions (FCC). The FCC's responsibility is to control the industry including "telephone, telegraph, and radio communications."[81] Under this Act, all carriers have to keep records of authorized interference and unauthorized interference. This Act also supports the President in time of war. If the government needs to use the communication facilities in time of war, they are allowed to.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was the first significant overhaul in over 60 years amending the work of theThe Communications Act of 1934. Coming only two dozen years after the breakup of AT&T, the act sets out to move telecommunications into a state of competition with their markets and the networks they are a part of.[82] Up to this point the effects of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 have been seen, but some of the changes the Act set out to fix are still ongoing problems, such as being unable to create an open competitive market.

Licensed commercial public radio stations

Around 1920, radio broadcasting started to get popular. A group of women gathered around the radio at the time.

The question of the 'first' publicly targeted licensed radio station in the U.S. has more than one answer and depends on semantics. Settlement of this 'first' question may hang largely upon what constitutes 'regular' programming

  • It is commonly attributed to KDKA in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which in October 1920 received its license and went on the air as the first US licensed commercial broadcasting station on November 2, 1920, with the presidential election results as its inaugural show, but was not broadcasting daily until 1921. (Their engineer Frank Conrad had been broadcasting from on the two call sign signals of 8XK and 8YK since 1916.) Technically, KDKA was the first of several already-extant stations to receive a 'limited commercial' license.[83]
  • On February 17, 1919, station 9XM at the University of Wisconsin in Madison broadcast human speech to the public at large. 9XM was first experimentally licensed in 1914, began regular Morse code transmissions in 1916, and its first music broadcast in 1917. Regularly scheduled broadcasts of voice and music began in January 1921. That station is still on the air today as WHA.[84]
  • On August 20, 1920, 8MK, began broadcasting daily and was later claimed by famed inventor Lee de Forest as the first commercial station. 8MK was licensed to a teenager, Michael DeLisle Lyons, and financed by E. W. Scripps. In 1921 8MK changed to WBL and then to WWJ in 1922, in Detroit. It has carried a regular schedule of programming to the present and also broadcast the 1920 presidential election returns just as KDKA did.[85] Inventor Lee de Forest claims to have been present during 8MK's earliest broadcasts, since the station was using a transmitter sold by his company.[86]
  • The first station to receive a commercial license was WBZ, then in Springfield, Massachusetts. Lists provided to the Boston Globe by the U.S. Department of Commerce showed that WBZ received its commercial license on 15 September 1921; another Westinghouse station, WJZ, then in Newark, New Jersey, received its commercial license on November 7, the same day as KDKA did.[87] What separates WJZ and WBZ from KDKA is the fact that neither of the former stations remain in their original city of license, whereas KDKA has remained in Pittsburgh for its entire existence.
  • 2XG: Launched by Lee de Forest in the Highbridge section of New York City, that station began daily broadcasts in 1916.[88] Like most experimental radio stations, however, it had to go off the air when the U.S. entered World War I in 1917, and did not return to the air.
  • 1XE: Launched by Harold J. Power in Medford, Massachusetts, 1XE was an experimental station that started broadcasting in 1917. It had to go off the air during World War I, but started up again after the war, and began regular voice and music broadcasts in 1919. However, the station did not receive its commercial license, becoming WGI, until 1922.[89]
  • WWV, the U.S. Government time service, which was believed to have started 6 months before KDKA in Washington, D.C. but in 1966 was transferred to Ft. Collins, Colorado.[90]
  • WRUC, the Wireless Radio Union College, located on Union College in Schenectady, New York; was launched as W2XQ [91]
  • KQV, one of Pittsburgh's five original AM stations, signed on as amateur station "8ZAE" on November 19, 1919, but did not receive a commercial license until January 9, 1922.

Exotic technologies

See also


Many contributed to wireless. Individuals that helped to further the science include, among others:



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Primary sources

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Secondary sources

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Media and documentaries

External links