The History of Communication Technology


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By Logan Wyman,


The radio has been the first device to allow for mass communication. It has enabled information to be transferred far and wide, not only nationally wide but internationally as well. The development of the radio began in 1893 with Nikolai Tesla’s demonstration of wireless radio communication in St. Louis, Missouri. His work laid the foundation for those later scientists who worked to perfect the radio we now use. The man most associated with the advent of the radio is Guglielmo Marconi, who in 1986 was awarded the official patent for the radio by the British Government.

Old Time Radio

The early uses of the radio were mainly for maintaining contact between ships out a sea. However, this initial radio was unable to transmit speech, and instead sent Morse code messages back and forth between ships and stations on the land. During time of distress, a sinking ship would use a radio messaged nearby vessels and stations on the land to ask for aid. The radio saw a surge of use during the First World War. Both sides used the radio to relay messages to troops and top officials as well as people not on the battle front. At the end of the war, President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points was sent to Germany via use of the radio. After the war’s end, with the growth of radio receivers, broadcasting began in Europe and The United States.

Europe’s most famous broadcasting station, the British Broadcasting Company or BBC, began following in 1922. In fact, Marconi was one of the founding members along with other prominent leaders in the field of wireless manufacturers. Broadcasts began locally in London, but by 1925 it has spread to most of the United Kingdom. The station aired plays, classical music and variety programs. However, the newspaper industry maintained a strong hold over the new. In 1926 this all changed due to a newspaper strike in England. With no news being published it fell on the BBC to supply the information for the public. In 1927 the BBC became the British Broadcasting Corporation when it was granted it a Royal Charter. When the Second World War began all the television stations shut down and it fell on the shoulders of the radio to cover the war.

The Radio Act of 1912 required all land radio stations and ship stations to be staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Following the war radio saw its greatest advancements and a turn towards its more modern form. The devastation of Britain made its citizens look for an outlet in radio entertainment. People enjoyed listening to the music, plays and discussion that the BBC played. During the 1960s with the expansion of radio to FM more programs were played and local BBC stations opened up across England. Radio in Europe continued to expand and in the 1990s new radio stations, like Radio 1, 4 and 5 began broadcasting with genres like sports and comedy appealing to new audiences. As the BBC entered into the new millennium its popularity continued to grow. Its broadcasts of “The Century Speaks”, an oral history of the 20th century and a reading of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” helped to gain more listeners. In 2002 the BBC expanded to the digital market and saw its greatest expansion as new stations like 1Xtra, 5 Live, Sports Extra, 6 Music and BBC 7 were launched and World Service were made available to domestic listeners. The history of radio broadcasting in the United States followed a similar path.

Radio broadcasting in the United States started with the Westinghouse Company. The company asked Frank Conrad, one of their engineers, to start regularly broadcasting of music, while they would sell radios to pay for the service. Westinghouse applied for a commercial radio license in 1920, and started their station KDKA, the first officially government licensed radio station. The station’s first broadcast was the election returns of the Harding-Cox presidential race. Westinghouse also took out ads in the newspaper advertising radios for sale to the public. Soon, thousand of radio stations emerged that played a wide variety of broadcasts and reached people across the country that had bought or built their own receivers. The home building of receivers created a problem in the market, since people could simply build their own radios rather than going out to buy them and the government was forced to step in. To curb this a government-sanctioned agreement created the Radio Corporation Agreements, RCA, was formed to manage the patents for the technology of the receiver and transmitter. Companies like General Electric and Westinghouse were allowed to make receivers while Western Electric was allowed to build transmitters. Also in the agreements, AT&T was made the only station that was allowed to engage in toll broadcasting and chain broadcasting. This paved the way for the next step in radio development in America, radio advertising.

KDKA - The first offically licensed radio station in Pittsburgh, Pa.


WEAF, an AT&T station in New York broadcasted the first radio advertisement in 1923. Even with the RCA agreements, other station began radio advertising. Most of the other radio stations were owned by private businesses and were used exclusively to sell that company’s products. The RCA agreements did create a problem though, it gave AT&T a monopoly over toll broadcasting and therefore radio advertisements. To break the monopoly, NBC and CBS were created and became the first radio networks in the late 1920s era. Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow became the first radio journalists, and by the end of the decade the radio had become an important source for news in America. In the next decade war in Europe again broke out and it fell on the radio to cover it. The radio acted to pacify and assuage the worries of a confused and scared public. More importantly the radio helped to pull together the nation’s moral and backing of the war effort. With the end of the war in 1945 television saw its rise to prominence and radio began to go on a slow but steady decline. But in the 1950’s thanks to Rock and Roll the radio saw new life.

Following the Second World War the radio turned into its more recognizable for of musical entertainment. AM stations played a top-40 time and temperature format, which meant they played popular three minute songs in constant rotation. All programming and music became aimed at a target audience of ages twelve to thirty five, newly emerging “middle class”. The sixties and seventies also saw the rise of FM radio. The new music that FM aired began to pose a threat to the old top-40 music AM stations still played in rotation, and the growing music of the hippie and psychedelic generation took over the FM airwaves. Through the 80s and 90s radio broadcasting continued to expand. Thousands of more stations sprung up playing all different kinds of music, world, pop, rock, jazz, classical, etc… However, in the 21st century the radio has reached its greatest heights.
With the year 2000 the radio expanded into the satellite and internet markets. The need for live DJ’s is dwindling since everything can be done via a computer all the editing and broadcasting can be done using hard drive of a computer. Jobs that used to take hours to do can now be done with the simple click of a mouse. Car companies have paired up with satellite radio stations like XM radio to offer special deals on satellite radios which offer every kind of music, news, and entertainment stations one could ask for.

XM Radio is a popular form of entertainment in the United States.

From a tiny receiver that could transmit only sounds to a complex device with satellites in space and wireless systems in cars, the radio has seen tremendous development. The purpose of the radio, however, has remained constant. From its inception the radio was created to communicate messages in mass for. Whether it be strictly news stories like in its early days, or binging new music to fans across the nation information is always being shared via this device. In almost every country radios are present, and in some it is a primary means for communication. Without its invention our world would be vastly different, it offered the first true means of mass communication and allowed leaders and people alike to impart valuable information to each other with the ease and efficiency.


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