Those Great Days Of Early Radio
It is hard for us nowadays, with our access to television, the internet, and radio, to imagine a time when none of these things was available. There were no music programs, discussions, or game shows. Entertainment had to be created by the people in each household, so it is not hard to imagine that many homes were fairly silent. Concerts were fairly few and far between, and those living in rural areas might not have the opportunity to hear much music except at infrequent dances. This all changed when radio began to be broadcast during the beginning of the 20th century. The time between the 1920s and 1950s is often referred to as the Golden Age of Radio, and even today, many people look back nostalgically at the old shows.
A Doorway To The World
The first news broadcast on the radio was heard in 1920, and soon other stations began broadcasting not only news, but music and various programs. While early programming tended to be fairly sketchy, is was not long before more professionally produced shows began to appear. There were many comedy programs that undoubtedly took the place of the old vaudeville performances, and brought entertainment to those who lived far from cities. Comedy shows such as ‘Fibber McGee and Molly’, ‘Amos and Andy’, and ‘The Goon Show’ undoubtedly lifted spirits during the Great Depression.
Mystery shows abounded, too, and families turned in regularly to hear the latest exploit of ‘The Shadow’ and follow the tribulations of Sgt. Friday on ‘Dragnet’. Perhaps one of the greatest gifts of radio was that it stimulated the imagination. Just as when reading a book, you form your own mental images of the characters and locations, so it was with radio. Rather than having the pictures presented to you, as happens with television and the internet, everyone was free to imagine exactly what they wished. Besides, news, comedy, concerts, and mysteries, early radio also introduced the soap opera (you will have to decide for yourself whether this was good or not).
Radio Still Has A Place
While it is quite true that much of radio’s audience switched to television when that became available in the 1950s, even with the internet today, radio still has a place in the lives of most people. It is possible to experience radio programs from all parts of the world, and if you are learning a foreign language, you can pick up programming from a faraway place to help hone your skills. It is unlikely that you would be able to listen to folk music from Thailand or a concert given in Chelyabinsk anywhere else.
Radio is also extremely important during emergencies and disasters. When electric power is lost, a battery powered, solar, or crank radio can be the only means by which to keep in touch with the ongoing situation. Once the lines are down, television and internet will not be available. A small radio can also be taken along on camping or hiking trips, and a battery radio should always be kept in with emergency supplies.
The Start of Radio
The Nineteenth Century saw the beginning of investigation into electromagnetic waves and their possible application. We who have benefitted from the discoveries of those early times can only marvel that these scientists, both amateur and professional, were able to uncover what they did with the primitive tools at hand. So many men contributed to the development of radio, that it is impossible to give credit to any one individual. While Guglielmo Marconi is considered the father of radio, as with most inventions, he also relied up the work of many others.
Giants on the Shoulders of Giants
Interest in electromagnetism was what ultimately led to radio as we know it today. Very early in the 19th century, experiments were being conducted by a number of people around the world. The invention of the telegraph by Samuel Morse was what really stimulated this interest, and soon after telegraphy become known, others began trying to understand electromagnetic fields. As telegraph needed wires to transmit sound, a way to transmit signals without the need of expensive wires was sought. James Maxwell, in Scotland, had a theory that light and sound travelled in waves, and this theory has since proven to be true, and is the basis for radio and all wireless transmissions.
Two other important pioneers in radio waves were Dr. Loomis, a dentist from Washington DC, who was able to set up a transmitter and receiver using two kites and copper wires. When his experiments proved that he could send and receive a message sent from a distance, he was awarded a research grant. However, a very important step was taken by Heinrich Hertz when he was able to make a real, if simple spark transmitter and receiver. We still measure radio wave frequency using Hertz’s name.
The Work Advances
Work exploring the possibilities of electromagnetic waves continued with Nicola Tesla, Reginald Fessenden, and Alexander Fleming, and these discoveries all helped to make audio radio a possibility. In 1906, a Christmas Eve broadcast of music was made available to listeners on the East Coast of the United States, and after World War I, the idea that there should be a radio in every home caught on.
Guglielmo Marconi was responsible for further building on the theories and work of others and eventually built up a system of transmitters in Europe, Canada, and the United States. While Marconi did not invent radio, he evidently had the means and scope to extend its reach and help it to develop into a commercial possibility.
Radio stations began to spring up in the early years of the 20th Century and it was not long before radio began to take on the face we know today. Radio has brought music, thoughts, and dreams into millions of homes since it began, and even today, with competition from television and the internet, radio still has a place. Besides being there reliably every hour of the day and night, radio helps to make long automobile trips more pleasant. Important information is also spread by means of radio.
Radio Is There When You Need It
From its inception, radio has always been a reliable means of communication. The first broadcasts brought music that most people would otherwise never have heard into their homes to make their lives more rich and meaningful. Radio has been used in wartime and in peace, and as such, has impacted the lives of almost every person on the globe. Even in these days of internet communication, radio still has a place.
Radio was extremely new when World War I broke out, but even so, it was quickly deployed for use in the battlefield. Prior to this time, sending messages was problematic as such methods as signal flags, pigeons, and runners had to be used for communication on the battlefield. The telephone was still in its infancy and had little place on the field, but radio soon found a home there. Whereas messages ordinarily would take a certain amount of time to be delivered, and were dependent on the messenger actually reaching its target alive, information and instructions sent by radio could be delivered instantly.
World War II made even greater use of radio, and not only on the battleground. Relatives were able to follow the course of battle and troop movements back home. Radio was also used to provide entertainment for the troops and as a means of propaganda, and this last was definitely used by both sides in the conflict.
Before the advent of television, millions of people would gather around the radio in the evening to listen to a wide variety of programs. There were comedies and mysteries and educational programs besides concerts, theatre performances, and lectures. Many people bemoan the coming of television as those who listened to radio had to use their imaginations to flesh out the stories or skits they had tuned in to.
One of the most famous radio programs was the 1938 Halloween performance ‘War of the Worlds’. Although it was meant only as fiction, many people thought that it was an actual news broadcast. Some people evacuated the areas in which they lived and even thought that poison gas had been released near them. Although the station and H.G. Welles, who broadcast the event, came under heavy criticism, the storm blew over in time, especially as events in Europe were becoming more serious.
When serious disasters and emergencies occur, very often electric power will be lost. Our means of communication are basically dependent upon electricity, and once there is an outage, our computers, televisions, and most radios will not function. Battery powered or wind up radios, however, will always be there to provide needed information during a crisis. Not only are these radios valuable in the home, but they are also indispensible when hiking or camping in the wilderness, during an evacuation, or when sheltering in a safe room during a tornado.
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