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History, part 1. Radio . What set the stage for radio Penny Press – mass production of newspapers, creation of a mass audience. Phonograph – provided entertainment in the home , popular demand for recorded music. Motion pictures – laid groundwork for TV.

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History, part 1

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What set the stage for radio

Penny Press – mass production of newspapers, creation of a mass audience.

Phonograph – provided entertainment in the home, popular demand for recorded music.

Motion pictures – laid groundwork for TV.


What set the stage for radio, cont.

The Telegraph – Samuel Morse, 1844; ability to electronic signals over wires.

The Telephone – Alexander Graham Bell, 1876; voice over wires.

Radio combined these elements, with wireless transmission.


What set the stage for radio, cont.

Hertzian (radio) waves – 1873, Maxwell theorized electromagetic energy; 1888, Hertz proved Maxwell’s theory.

“The Right Releasing Touch” – Guglielmo Marconi credited with developing “wireless,” 1896.*

Marconi invents wireless

* Some historians say Nikolai Tesla rightly deserves credit for wireless, but Marconi successfully defended his patent in court.


What set the stage for radio, cont.

The Vacuum Tube -- DeForest, 1906, invented the Audion, allowing for amplification of sound.*

* Many historians believe Howard Armstrong deserves credit.

Commercial Uses – At first, “wireless” was mainly of use to sea-going ships. Only telegraph signals.

Rescue of Titanic survivors, 1912.

Titanic distress call


Radio as we know it

Reginald Fessenden – first known voice/music transmission, 1906.

Government control averted Congress decided not to allow the U.S. Navy to maintain control of wireless after World War I.

From this point, U.S. radio and TV stations would remain under private control (although regulated).


The First Radio Station – KDKA, Pittsburgh, widely accepted as the first U.S. radio station (again, disputes).

Dr. Frank Conrad, Westinghouse engineer, began experimental broadcasts in 1919.

Westinghouse wanted to motivate people to buy home radios.

KDKA’s first broadcast , Nov. 2, 1920; presidential election coverage.



WEAF in NYC aired first commercial, 1922.

“Toll broadcasting;” 10 minutes promoting an apartment house.

Many considered advertising on radio “scandalous.”

“Indirect” advertising – advertiser’s name was attached to the program (“Eveready Hour,” click image).

Advertising gradually became more blatant.


Radio Conferences


Public vs. private system debate

Technical operations planning

Herbert Hoover, Secretary of State

‘Hoover Conferences’ (link)

Set the stage for commercial operation

Set the stage for federal regulation


Network broadcasting

Radio Corporation of America (RCA) – originally American Marconi.

David Sarnoff’s “music-box memo;” envisioned broadcasting.

David Sarnoff


Branch of RCA, the first radio network, 1926.

NBC “Red” and “Blue” networks (more later).


Began as Columbia Phonograph Broadcasting System, in 1927.

NBC and CBS, of course, eventually evolved into television networks.


Government Regulation

1912 Radio Act –presumed wireless telegraphy would continue.

Not adequate to control the growth of radio broadcasting.

Sec. of Commerce Herbert Hoover –organized radio conferences.

1927 Radio Act – established Federal Radio Commission.

Defined AM radio band. FM came later.

Broadcasting must serve “public interest, convenience, and necessity.” (PICON principle)


Radio in the Depression

Entertainment in the home – relief from grim reality. Radio became as popular as TV would become.

President Franklin Roosevelt

“Fireside Chats” – FDR used radio to his political advantage; skill in broadcasting became crucial to candidates.

FDR Fireside Chat

Communications Act of 1934 – FRC became Federal Communications Commission (FCC).


Golden Age of Radio -- 1940s

News coverage from Europe during WWII

Soap operas

Radio drama

Before ‘format radio’

Before introduction of TV

Old Time Radio archives