Something to celebrate

At this time of year it is customary to look back at the events of the past and look ahead to the possible future. Like most industries, radio has had its share of setbacks and successes, from a near stifling of Internet radio (thanks to the DMCA and the RIAA and AFTRA actions) to the inspiration of renewed spirit with IBOC and satellite radio. As we look to what is ahead, we need to stop and look at where this all started.

Radio today is a result of the early wireless tests of the late 19th Century. Originally intended solely as a messaging system, radio quickly gained acceptance as a means to broadcast information and entertainment to a wide audience. The development and eventual invention of radio is the result of the work of many people, including Michael Faraday for his work in magnetism, James Clerk Maxwell for his work in electromagnetic mathematics, and Heinrich Hertz for his application of Maxwell's theories to create Hertzian vibrations. But when we think of one person to bestow with the title of the Father of Radio, that person is Guglielmo Marconi. This month marks a special anniversary for radio and the work of Marconi.

Marconi first began experimenting with radio wave transmissions in 1894 in Bologna, Italy. His early tests were over a range of about two miles and consisted of transmitting the Morse Code for the letter “S.” In 1896 Marconi moved to London, where he filed a patent for his work. In July 1897, the Wireless Telegraph Trading Signal Company was formed, with its first factory started in 1898.

By the end of 1901, Marconi erected a transmitting station at Poldhu in Cornwall, on a peninsula in the Atlantic Ocean. His first North American receiving station was built in Cape Cod. This receiving station was damaged during a storm, and a newer station was built at Signal Hill in St. John's, Newfoundland. This is when Marconi began testing reception of signals across the Atlantic Ocean by experimenting with various antennas, all of which were suspended from kites.

The daily transmission tests were conducted from 1:00am to 3:00am and from noon to 1:00pm. Again, the Morse Code letter “S” was used for the test. The transmitter operator was John Ambrose Fleming, who, in 1904, would invent the thermionic diode tube.

A triumph came on December 12, 1901, just after 12:00pm, when the signal was received across the distance of more than 2,000 miles. Marconi showed that radio waves could be used to cover great distances by receiving a signal transmitted across the Atlantic Ocean. Previously, most transmissions were made over short ranges of a few miles at most. This test set the path for radio to be accepted as a viable means of communication over great distances, and the event spurred a great interest in the further development of radio's capabilities.

These early radio efforts led to significant advances, including the work of such pioneers as Deforest, Sarnoff, Armstrong and others. Radio continues to grow and develop today, and while some changes are more dramatic than others, the work of radio's modern pioneers continues the spirit of innovation and ingenuity that was seen 100 years ago in radio's infancy.

Take a moment and consider how far radio has advanced from the spark-gap transmitters to the enhanced version of terrestrial, Internet and satellite radio we have today. When you celebrate the New Year, toast the innovators, like Marconi, who made our industry possible. Since technology advances on a curved scale, who knows what radio will be like in the next 100 years. Undoubtedly, it will change and adapt to serve the needs of the listeners.


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