The History of Radio

Early beginnings                                                                                             

Radio, like any other great invention, has begginings submerged in politics. Nikola Tesla, who invented the basic idea didn’t get recognition for his idea until 1943, 28 years after he first went to court to claim his right as the actual inventor of the radio. Gugliemo Marconi was, until then, known as the ‘inventor of radio’.

Marconi was great in his own right, he saw the potential radio had as a medium and went on to transform it from its basic model into what we have now. From introducing voice over air in 1921 to shortwave in 1922, Marconi however had also been accused of copying other peoples designs and as we can already tell from his aforementioned altercation with Tesla we couldn’t put it past him. Earlier Indian scientist J.C. Bose had demonstrated the radio transmission in 1896 in Calcutta in front of the British Governor General. He had also solved the problem of ‘hertz’ making it easier to penetrate walls mountains or water.

Marconi was present in the meeting of the Royal Society and it is thought that he stole the notebook of Bose that included the drawing of the ‘Mercuri Coherer with a telephone detector’. Marconi’s Coherer, which he used in 1901, was the exact copy of that of Bose. Apparently Marconi was unable to explain how he got to the design. He said that an Italian Navy engineer called Solari had developed it, but Solari later denied it. Marconi then said that Italian Professor Timasina did, which later was exposed as a lie by another Italian professor, Angelo Banti, who claimed that the design was invented by signalman Paolo Castelli.

Marconi its seemed was very self seeking, there was another scientist, Nathan B. Stubblefield, a farmer from Murray, Kentucky, made a voice transmission four years before Marconi transmitted radio signals. Even Bose wasn’t as self seeking as he was! Bose did not apply for a patent on his design because he believed in the free flow of inventions in science! Later though,  under pressure from American friends, he applied for the patent in September 1901. He was awarded the US patent for the invention of the radio in 1904. By that time Marconi had received his patent and international recognition.

Lets go back a little bit shall we? As we trace the history of the radio. Its important to remember that radio was initially created as a form of communication – telegraph messages- which were then called wireless telegraphs. Its also very important considering the subject matter to remember that radio as a form of communication and radio as media is two different things.  Now lets talk about the history of Radio as media.

Radio was the first ‘modern’ media form, and had a huge impact on the history of the 20th century. For the first time information could be broadcast… it could be received by anyone with the right equipment, without wires and the birth of radio really ushered in the era of mass communications. Many people likened the explosion of radio in the 1920s to what is happening with the internet today .

                                      Humorous accolades and fun Trivia

  • 1/4 of media use in a day is to radio; 1 out of 6 minutes spent w/ESPN done through radio.
  • iPod/mp3 players have no impact on time spent listening to radio for 8 in 10 consumers
  • Radio has a higher percent of adults 25-54 using it from 5am-5pm than any other media
  • The News/Talk format captures nearly half of all public radio listening
  • All Sports stations attract a far higher percentage of male listeners (almost 87%) than any other radio format
  • 63% of consumers turn to radio first over internet, television, and newspapers to learn about new music


Where we are now

Today, there are more than 33,000 radio stations around the world, with more than 12,000 in the US alone. Worldwide there are more than 2 billion radio sets in use, or about one radio for every 3 persons; proof that video never killed the radio star.


The above was written for a journalism class at USIU


Electronic or Print?

When I think of journalism as a whole I think of the wheels of a clock, all winding together to help each other wind together. Like a well oiled machine made from perfectly rounded bolts and screws with everything else fitting into its space with exactness and precision. My machine however allows for innovation. Making space for smaller machines that can still work within the physics of the larger machine. In this way, print, electronic and broadcast Medias work together…. Grinding…Have I lost you already? Well imagine what it would be like trying to explain Facebook to your grandmother let alone a computer! Explaining Facebook to my mother is hard enough she has just gotten over trying to understand what texting is!
Imagine the technological progress we have made as a race in less than a century! Imagine the possibilities the future holds… the big question now is will technology take precedence over the tangible? And if it does, how will that affect us? Will it be a change in the right direction or will we be regressing?
Look around, a lot of us have forgotten how to type, even more of us have forgotten how to spell. Why? Because now, we have computers that do that for us. Once the few of us left figure out how to use an online thesaurus we won’t even try and think up the words we need to describe things ourselves! Whatever happened to good old fashioned journalism where you would sit and write an article and then applaud yourself for the sheer voracity of emotion it elicited? Whatever happened to the love of poetry? Of language? Whatever happened to getting joy out of composing sentences worthy of awards, our love of the spoken word? Whatever happened to us? As Giuseppe Caramazza points out ‘words are a precious form of communicating facts, events, feelings, hopes and sorrows. Words provide paint for the painter.’2
Now we are too lazy to try forgetting that the pioneers that created the computers we are typing on that now guess everything for us spent a lot of sleepless nights, time and effort reading, researching, studying to make it all possible. And now what have they created? A society that’s quickly losing brain cells because of their inventions? Do you think they would have wanted that? But I digress. Let’s go back to the subject matter shall we?

What is Journalism?
We would have to start at the beginning, by defining journalism. According to the dictionary,’ journalism is the activity or profession of writing for newspapers or magazines or broadcasting news on radio or television.’ 1 but is that it? Is that all?
This is the question here. Where does electronic media fit into it all? As UNESCO notes ‘The newspaper has today become a medium of mass communication, facilitating both the spread of information and the revival of cultures. The independent press is an essential tool in the democratic process, providing both access to, and a plurality of, information sources. ‘Humans are prone to being scared of what they don’t understand. In this case they are scared of what the consequences of accepting embracing and allowing for electronic media to be considered a form of journalistic practice… and they have every right to be. Just because you can write an article doesn’t mean you can be a journalist.
There are ways of preserving and respecting print media and journalistic talent. As Sehgal points out, ‘ with respect to purely formal communication, most electronic journals currently available on the world wide web were launched as electronic versions of existing journals.’
This however doesn’t remove from the fact that journalistic talent should be applauded and acknowledged. The argument however begins where a trained journalist and an untrained blogger lock horns. The trained journalist will always have the upper hand because of his/her training. It’s a no brainer. The untrained journalistic wannabe might have ‘potential’ but so does every newborn baby in our hospitals today but how many of them actually live up to it. They just won’t have the longevity, or the constant creativity a trained journalistic has. To have that ‘edge’ you need that training, it’s just a cold hard fact.

What social changes has electronic media created?
Everything is on the web! Everything. We no longer need phonebooks anymore they have been completely phased out and now they are available online. When I was younger you couldn’t get internet on your phone now you can send messages using Facebook to a radio station. Even CNN has a Facebook page! It’s interesting to note how quickly and completely everything has shifted from ‘hardcopy’ to the ‘world wide web’.

Does that mean we are embracing technology? Are we getting too excited too quickly? Does this mean we are ready? I think it’s too soon to say, like most subjects this delicate if we wait a few years it will probably make or break itself and then nobody can say I speculated and was wrong! Take Caramazza for instance, he said ‘today radio and TV can replace the newspapers or books for many people, these means touch the world in an instant for better or worse. The devastating events of Rwanda 1994 demonstrate this only too well. We have moved into a new culture often without realizing it. We can create ‘Pentecost’ or ‘Babel’ in an instant.’ He is right and then considering how young the internet was back then and adding a little bit of foresight, he is right again. His book, News reporting and broadcasting, was published in 2002.
This is only 10 years later and the internet has overhauled our way of living completely. How many ‘Pentecost’ and ‘Babels’ have they been since? And how many of them have broken on the internet? When Michael Jackson died there was an outcry and the internet shut down for a few seconds. Wait, how many people would it take to shut down the internet? According to CNN, they received 20 million page views in the hour the story broke. Several other websites crashed and then for a few seconds, the net went blank… Funny how those four words can actually make your heart stop now, imagining the sheer voracity of numbers it would take for the net to crash… But for Caramazza that was the television. What can I say; electronic media is all about sheer numbers.
As Barton Points out ‘The argument that entertainment programs on both radio and television exist only as a vehicle to deliver commercial messages to large numbers of potential consumers has been advanced by numerous media critics over the years; it’s hard to argue with such a point.’5. It’s important to note, like Caramazza, his book was published in 1993. Before the internet. I wouldn’t be surprised if the generation that follows mine begins to use ‘before the internet’ as a catch phrase, you know like before Christ…but I digress.
The potential for print media supported by electronic media is great though! Now we not only have social networking sites but we have apps on our phones that allow us to be omnipresent so to speak. if we used electronic media to support print and had all accredited newspapers, magazines and radio stations with both paper and web presence… Oh wait! We do! The question just is, will the camel’s back break?

What is it all about?
That’s the million dollar question. It is all about advertising! That’s what pays the bills. Now once we remember that perhaps we can put it in perspective, naturally that makes the second question, who generates more revenue from advertising? And this again is a no brainer, hint world wide web. Now if the money is anything to go by then, unless something drastic happens (or like I suggested, print media is supported by electronic media) then print media is in trouble. As white notes, ‘any advertisement placed anywhere within a newspaper is, by definition, a onetime impression.’4
Now let’s talk about advertising and the internet. Just imagine the sheer numbers of people on pornsites at one go. Now imagine hosting your advertisement at the top of that page. Can you hear the ka-ching ching? That’s money flowing into your pockets. The internet is the biggest intangible cash cow yet and the problem is, it’s only getting bigger. There are no limits to the internet, there are no limits to the money you can make, there are no limits to the new innovative ways you can think up to make that money. I mean, who would have thought that a social networking site like Facebook could gross over…….. in profits! Not to mention how many doors the internet has opened for humans as far as communication is concerned.

Can print media compare? NO WAY! Not unless it’s both digital and in print. We need to remember that people hardly write anymore, in fact in first world countries people don’t even carry money anymore. You leave your house with your keys your ipad and your credit card. This being said we either need to evolve or revolt but something’s got to give.

I wrote the above for a journalism class at USIU