InventionJames Clerk Maxwell showed mathematically that electromagnetic waves could propagate through free space. Heinrich Rudolf Hertz and many others demonstrated, on a laboratory scale, radio wave propagation.
Transmission and radiation of radio frequency energy was a feature exhibited in the experiments by Nikola Tesla which he proposed might be used for the telecommunication of information. The Tesla method was described in New York in 1897. In 1897, Tesla applied for two key United States radio patents, US 645576, first radio system patent, and US 649621. Tesla also used sensitive electromagnetic receivers, that were unlike the less responsive coherers later used by Marconi and other early experimenters. Shortly thereafter, he began to develop wireless remote control devices.
Early radio telegraphy and telephonyThe term wireless telegraphy is a historical term used today to apply to early radio telegraph communications techniques and practices, particularly those used during the first three decades of radio (1887 to 1920) before the term radio came into use. Guglielmo Marconi demonstrated application of radio in commercial, military and marine communications and started a company for the development and propagation of radio communication services and equipment. The field of radio development attracted many researchers, and bitter arguments[who?] over the true "inventor of radio" persist to this day.
Turn of the centuryAround the turn of the century, the Slaby-Arco wireless system was developed by Adolf Slaby and Georg von Arco. 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 1904, The U.S. Patent Office reversed its decision, awarding Marconi a patent for the invention of radio, possibly influenced by Marconi's financial backers in the States, who included Thomas Edison and Andrew Carnegie. This also allowed the U.S. government (among others) to avoid having to pay the royalties that were being claimed by Tesla for use of his patents. For more information see Marconi's radio work. In 1907, Marconi established the first commercial transatlantic radio communications service, between Clifden, Ireland and Glace Bay, Newfoundland.
Julio Cervera BavieraJulio Cervera Baviera developed radio in Spain around 1902.  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. 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 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))." Cervera thus achieved some success in this field, but his radiotelegraphic activities ceased suddenly, the reasons for which are unclear to this day.
British MarconiUsing various patents, the company called British Marconi was established in 1897 and began communication between coast radio stations and ships at sea. This company along with its subsidiary 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 the first seeds of broadcasting were planted.
TelefunkenThe 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. 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 FessendenThe 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. 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.
Ferdinand BraunIn 1909, Marconi and Karl Ferdinand Braun were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for "contributions to the development of wireless telegraphy".
Charles David HerroldIn April 1909 Charles David Herrold, an electronics instructor in San Jose, California constructed a broadcasting station. It used spark gap technology, but modulated the carrier frequency with the human voice, and later music. The station "San Jose Calling" (there were no call letters), continued to eventually become today's KCBS in San Francisco. Herrold, the son of a Santa Clara Valley farmer, coined the terms "narrowcasting" and "broadcasting", respectively to identify transmissions destined for a single receiver such as that on board a ship, and those transmissions destined for a general audience. (The term "broadcasting" had been used in farming to define the tossing of seed in all directions.) Charles Herrold did not claim to be the first to transmit the human voice, but he claimed to be the first to conduct "broadcasting". To help the radio signal to spread in all directions, he designed some omnidirectional antennas, which he mounted on the rooftops of various buildings in San Jose. Herrold also claims to be the first broadcaster to accept advertising (he exchanged publicity for a local record store for records to play on his station), though this dubious honour usually is foisted on WEAF (1922).
RMS Titanic sank in the northern Atlantic Ocean. After this, wireless telegraphy using spark-gap transmitters quickly became universal on large ships. In 1913, the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea was convened and produced a treaty requiring shipboard radio stations to be manned 24 hours a day. A typical high-power spark gap was a rotating commutator with six to twelve contacts per wheel, nine inches (229 mm) to a foot wide, driven by about 2000 volts DC. As the gaps made and broke contact, the radio wave was audible as a tone in a Magnetic detector at a remote location. The telegraph key often directly made and broke the 2000 volt supply. One side of the spark gap was directly connected to the antenna. Receivers with thermionic valves became commonplace before spark-gap transmitters were replaced by continuous wave transmitters.
Harold J. PowerOn March 8, 1916, Harold Power with his radio company American Radio and Research Company (AMRAD), broadcast the first continuous broadcast in the world from Tufts University under the call sign 1XE (it lasted 3 hours). The company later became the first to broadcast on a daily schedule, and the first to broadcast radio dance programs, university professor lectures, the weather, and bedtime stories.
Edwin ArmstrongInventor Edwin Howard Armstrong is credited with developing many of the features of radio as it is known today. Armstrong patented three important inventions that made today's radio possible. Regeneration, the superheterodyne circuit and wide-band frequency modulation or FM. Regeneration or the use of positive feedback greatly increased the amplitude of received radio signals to the point where they could be heard without headphones. The superhet simplified radio receivers by doing away with the need for several tuning controls. It made radios more sensitive and selective as well. FM gave listeners a static-free experience with better sound quality and fidelity than AM.
Audio broadcasting (1919 to 1950s)
Crystal setscrystal 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), with which more than one station can simultaneously send signals (as opposed to spark-gap radio, where one transmitter covers the entire bandwidth of spectra) was pioneered by Fessenden and Lee de Forest.
To this day there is a small but avid base of fans of this technology who study and practice the art and science of designing and making crystal sets as a hobby; the Boy Scouts of America have often undertaken such craft projects to introduce boys to electronics and radio, and quite a number of them having grown up remain staunch fans of a radio that 'runs on nothing, forever'. As the only energy available is that gathered by the antenna system, there are inherent limitations on how much sound even an ideal set could produce, but with only moderately decent antenna systems remarkable performance is possible with a superior set.
The first vacuum tubesDuring the mid 1920s, amplifying vacuum tubes (or thermionic valves in the UK) revolutionized radio receivers and transmitters. John Ambrose Fleming developed an earlier tube known as an "oscillation valve" (it was a diode). Lee De Forest placed a screen, the "grid" electrode, between the filament and plate electrode, creating the triode. The Dutch engineer Hanso Schotanus à Steringa Idzerda made the first regular wireless broadcast for entertainment from his home in The Hague on 6 November 1919. He broadcast his popular program four nights per week until 1924 when he ran into financial troubles.
On 27 August 1920, regular wireless broadcasts for entertainment began in Argentina, pioneered by the group around Enrique Telémaco Susini, 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.
Licensed commercial public radio stationsThe 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. (Their engineer Frank Conrad had been broadcasting from his own station since 1916.) Technically, KDKA was the first of several already-extant stations to receive a 'limited commercial' license.
- 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.
- On August 20, 1920, at least two months before KDKA, E.W. Scripps's WBL (now WWJ) in Detroit started broadcasting. It has carried a regular schedule of programming to the present.
- There is the history noted above of Charles David Herrold's radio services (eventually KCBS) going back to 1909.
Westinghouse was brought into the patent allies group, General Electric, American Telephone and Telegraph, and Radio Corporation of America, and became a part owner of RCA. All radios made by GE and Westinghouse were sold under the RCA label 60% GE and 40% Westinghouse. ATT's Western Electric would build radio transmitters. The patent allies attempted to set up a monopoly, but they failed due to successful competition. Much to the dismay of the patent allies, several of the contracts for inventor's patents held clauses protecting "amateurs" and allowing them to use the patents. Whether the competing manufacturers were really amateurs was ignored by these competitors.
These features arose:
- Commercial (United States) or governmental (Europe) station networks
- Federal Radio Commission
- Federal Communications Commission
- Birth of the soap opera
- Race towards shorter waves and FM
Dates of first radio stationsThis is a listing of radio stations in broadcast networks. The earliest radio stations were simply radio telegraph systems which did not carry audio are not listed. The included first radio station encompass AM and FM stations; these include both commercial, public and nonprofit varieties found throughout the world.
- The first claimed audio transmission that could be termed to be from a broadcast station occurred on Christmas Eve in 1906, and was made by Reginald Fessenden. Charles Herrold started broadcasting from a station in California in 1909 and was carrying audio by 1910.
- Some of the dates listed here may not be accurate. Feel free to make corrections to either of the lists.
US and Canadian territoriesThis list details the advent of radio in the United States and Canada.