What is Live Radio?
Live radio is radio broadcast without delay. Before the days of television, audiences listened to live dramas, comedies, quiz shows, and concerts on the radio much the same way that they now do on TV. Most talk radio is live radio where people can speak (anonymously) about their opinions/lives. Live radio is sound transmitted by radio waves, as the sound happens. Modern live radio is probably most used to broadcast sports but it is also used to transmit local news and traffic updates. Most radio that we listen to today is recorded music, and the days of solely live broadcast music are generally not as present.
According to Encyclopaedia Brittanica, the first transmission sent over radio waves were voice and music signals transmitted in December 1906 from Brant Rock, Massachusetts. Canadian experimenter Reginald Fessenden produced approximately an hour of talk and music that was heard by radio amateurs before radio’s popularity exploded. Other experiments in radio before it became part of widespread culture were transmitted including those by Charles (“Doc”) Herrold in San Jose, California in 1908.
Radio hobbyists continued to experiment, and popularity grew during the decade before World War I, a time before loudspeakers, where listeners would “listen in” with headphones. The first instrument used to access radio signals were crystal sets which used a tiny piece of galena (lead sulfide) called a “cat’s whisker” to detect signals. The challenge with these sets were tuning into specific stations, though they were inexpensive and easy to make. These devices would have more than likely became more widespread, but in 1917 federal government placed restrictions on radio transmissions.
After the war, in the years 1920 to 1945 radio became the first electronic mass medium by utilizing radio waves to broadcast to a vast audience. In its early years radio introduced the masses to immediate news and entertainment. In 1920-1921 about 30 radio stations took to the air, mostly developed from amateur operations. In 1921, the first live sporting event aired -- a boxing match with play-by-play by reporter Florent Gibson. In 1922, over 550 new stations began to fill the available frequencies though many disappeared because they couldn’t afford the costs of operation. Radio stations had simplistic studios composed of walls covered in burlap for sound proofing, a microphone, and occasionally a piano to fill interludes. Everything on air was live, because in these early years recordings were such poor quality.
According to the U.S. House of Representatives archives, congress was slow to embrace radio technology. Up until the 1930’s radio reporters were denied recording access during congressional proceedings. The first attempt to transmit radio from the Capitol was in January of 1921 during the inaugural address of President Warren G. Harding, but it was unsuccessful. In 1922, President Harding successfully delivered an Annual Address that was broadcast via radio on the public address system and a house debate about tax-exempt securities became the first ever congressional proceeding to be broadcast. The resistance between congress and radio broadcasting companies continued over the next couple of years. Broadcasters were banned, secretly planting microphones to listen in on proceedings, until March of 1939 more than 400 radio stations broadcast the 150th anniversary of the first session of Congress using microphones in the House Chamber. Finally, September of 1944, Representative John Coffee introduced H.J. Res. 311 which called for live radio broadcasts of all House proceedings. In this way, radio kept the nation informed and connected in the goings on in politics.
The Golden Age of Radio
The radio era, known as “the shortest golden age in history” lasted from 1930 to 1955. Radio during the Golden Age began to fully develop programs with sound effects, music, dialogue, and narration. Some voice actors would play multiple characters in a story performed live on the air, and some radio shows were performed in front of a live audience. This allowed the show to gauge real audience reaction like applause and laughter for comedy shows. Programming during the Golden Age included comedies, dramas, westerns, horror and suspense shows, science fiction, soap operas, sports, and news.
In the heyday of radio, NBC and CBS built their empire using the mass media and emphasizing the value of liveness. These companies and supporters of the “American system of broadcasting” defined radio as “commercial, national, live, and network on economic, technological, aesthetic, and legislative levels.” As of 1929, NBC announced its pride and superiority among radio program companies stating that live broadcast was superior to recorded programs. Live broadcast brought about a sense of spontaneity and immediacy, and in cases of live music intimacy as you hear the artist as you would live in concert. NBC asserted that the imperfections of live radio added to its authenticity and the pleasure of listening.
As popularity of radio grew, networks found that listeners preferred transcription programs recorded on discs more than locally produced live shows. The end of 1930 marked the beginning of the Golden Age of Radio, but also marked the end of many live broadcasting content. At this time, Variety estimated that 75 percent of radio stations used transcriptions. RCA was a major player in manufacturing transcriptions as live radio eventually dissipated, as even NBC who took pride in their live aesthetic caved to broadcasting sound from transcriptions.
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- "radio | Definition, History, & Facts". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2018-11-26.
- "Radio and Congress:Connecting the House to the Home | US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives". Retrieved 2018-11-26.
- Russo, Alexander (2004). "Defensive Transcriptions: Radio Networks, Sound-on-Disc Recording, and the Meaning of Live Broadcasting". The Velvet Light Trap. 54 (1): 4–17. doi:10.1353/vlt.2004.0018. ISSN 1542-4251.