History of broadcasting


Guglielmo Marconi.
The Marconi Company was formed in England in 1910. The photo shows a typical early scene, from 1906, with Marconi employee Donald Manson at right.
Lee DeForest broadcasting Columbia phonograph records on pioneering New York station 2XG,in 1916.[1]
The British Broadcasting Corporation's landmark and iconic London headquarters, Broadcasting House, opened in 1932. At right is the 2005 eastern extension, the John Peel wing.

It is generally recognized that the first radio transmission was made from a temporary station set up by Guglielmo Marconi in 1895 on the Isle of Wight. This followed on from pioneering work in the field by a number of people including Alessandro Volta, André-Marie Ampère, Georg Ohm and James Clerk Maxwell.[2][full citation needed][3][full citation needed][4]

The radio broadcasting of music and talk intended to reach a dispersed audience started experimentally around 1905–1906, and commercially around 1920 to 1923. VHF (very high frequency) stations started 30 to 35 years later. In the early days, radio stations broadcast on the longwave, mediumwave and shortwave bands, and later on VHF (very high frequency) and UHF (ultra high frequency). However, in the United Kingdom, Hungary, France and some other places, from as early as 1890 there was already a system whereby news, music, live theatre, music hall, fiction readings, religious broadcasts, etc., were available in private homes [and other places] via the conventional telephone line, with subscribers being supplied with a number of special, personalised headsets. In Britain this system was known as Electrophone, and was available as early as 1895 or 1899 [sources vary] and up until 1926.[4] In Hungary, it was called Telefon Hírmondó [1893-1920s], and in France, Théâtrophone [1890-1932]). The Wikipedia Telefon Hírmondó page includes a 1907 program guide which looks remarkably similar to the types of schedules used by many broadcasting stations some 20 or 30 years later.

By the 1950s, virtually every country had a broadcasting system, typically one owned and operated by the government. Alternative modes included commercial radio, as in the United States; or a dual system with both state sponsored and commercial stations, introduced in Australia as early as 1924, with Canada following in 1932. Today, most countries have evolved into a dual system, including the UK. By 1955, practically every family in North America and Western Europe, as well as Japan, had a radio. A dramatic change came in the 1960s with the introduction of small inexpensive portable transistor radios which greatly expanded ownership and usage. Access became practically universal around the world.

Early broadcasting


Argentina was a world pioneer in broadcasting, being the third country in the world to make its first regular broadcasts in 1920, having been the first Spanish-speaking country in Latin America to offer daily radio broadcasts. The main stations were in Buenos Aires and Córdoba. Among the historical facts related to Argentine radio, it can be mentioned that the first radio broadcast was made with the live broadcast of Richard Wagner's opera Parsifal from the Teatro Coliseo in Buenos Aires, on August 27, 1920, in charge of the Radio Argentina Society of Enrique Susini, César Guerrico, Miguel Mugica, Luis Romero and Ignacio Gómez, who installed a transmitting device on the roof of the building, for which they are remembered as "The crazy people on the roof".

In 1921, the transmission of classical music became a daily occurrence. The following year, the assumption of President Marcelo Torcuato de Alvear was broadcast live. In September 1923 the famous "fight of the century" was issued between Luis Ángel Firpo and Jack Dempsey from the Polo Grounds in New York, and in October of the following year the match between the Argentine and Uruguayan national teams was broadcast. Also at that time the first advertisements, called "reclames", were put on the air. At the end of the decade the radio drama was born. In those years several radio stations arose, Argentina (originally Radio Argentina), Culture, Excelsior, Mitre (originally South American), Splendid (originally Grand Splendid), Belgrano (originally National), Prieto (originally Broadcasting Critic), Del Pueblo - (originally Quilmes Broadcasting ), America-, Antartida (originally Fénix), Municipal, Rivadavia (originally Muebles Díaz), Porteña and Stentor (originally Sarmiento).

The introduction of the loudspeakers substantially modified the listening conditions. The receiving apparatus was gaining an important place in the home, gathering around the family. Meanwhile, the multiplication of the stations generated the first conflicts over the airwaves, which led to the first regulations on emission frequencies at the end of the 20s.


The History of broadcasting in Australia has been shaped for over a century by the problem of communication across long distances, coupled with a strong base in a wealthy society with a deep taste for aural communications. Australia developed its own system, through its own engineers, manufacturers, retailers, newspapers, entertainment services, and news agencies. The government set up the first radio system, and business interests marginalized the hobbyists and amateurs. The Labor Party was especially interested in radio because it allowed them to bypass the newspapers, which were mostly controlled by the opposition. Both parties agreed on the need for a national system, and in 1932 set up the Australian Broadcasting Commission, as a government agency that was largely separate from political interference. The first commercial broadcasters, originally known as "B" class stations, were on the air as early as 1925. The number of stations (commercial and national) remained relatively dormant throughout World War II and in the post-war era.

Formative years

Australian radio hams can be traced to the early 1900s. The 1905 Wireless Telegraphy Act[5] whilst acknowledging the existence of wireless telegraphy, brought all broadcasting matters in Australia under the control of the Federal Government.[6] In 1906, the first official Morse code transmission in Australia was by the Marconi Company between Queenscliff, Victoria and Devonport, Tasmania.

Experiments with broadcasting music

The first broadcast of music was made during a demonstration on 13 August 1919 by Ernest Fisk (later Sir Ernest) of AWA – Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia). A number of amateurs commenced broadcasting music in 1920 and 1921.[3] Many other amateurs soon followed. 2CM was run by Charles MacLuran who started the station in 1921 with regular Sunday evening broadcasts from the Wentworth Hotel, Sydney. 2CM is often regarded as Australia's first, regular, non-official station.[3][7]

Sealed set system

It was not until November 1923 when the government finally gave its approval for a number of officially recognised medium wave stations.[3][6] All stations operated under a unique Sealed Set system under which each set was sealed to the frequency of one station. Part of the price of the set went to the government via the Postmaster-General's Department (PMG), with money also going to the broadcaster. Apart from extremely limited advertising, this was the broadcasters' only source of income. From the outset problems with the system came to the fore. Many young people built their own sets, which could receive all the stations.[6] The sealed set system was devised by broadcasting pioneer Ernest Fisk of AWA – Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia).

Categories in Australia from 1924

As quickly as July 1924, the Sealed Set system was declared to be unsuccessful and it was replaced by a system of A Class and B Class stations. There were one or two A Class stations in each major market and these were paid for by a listener's licence fee imposed on all listeners-in. The five former sealed set stations became A Class stations, and they were soon joined by stations in other State capitals.[6]

Emil Voigt, founder of 2KY on behalf of the Labor Council of New South Wales. This photo was taken in earlier days when Voight was a prominent British athlete, and winner of the Gold Medal for the five mile race at the 1908 Summer Olympics in London.

From 1929, all A Class stations received all their programs from the one source, the Australian Broadcasting Company which was made up of the following shareholders: Greater Union Theatres (a movie theatre chain), Fuller's Theatres (a live theatre chain) and J. Albert & Sons (music publishers and retailers). A number of B Class stations were also licensed. These did not receive any government monies and were expected to derive their income from advertising, sponsorship, or other sources. Within a few years B Class stations were being referred to as "commercial stations".

Amateur broadcasters continued to operate in the long wave and short wave bands.[3]

A national service, the Australian Broadcasting Commission, was formed in July 1932, when the Australian Broadcasting Company's contract expired.[4] The Corporation took over the assets of all A Class stations. It still exists as the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. The Australian Broadcasting Co changed its name to the Commonwealth Broadcasting Company and later the Australian Radio Network. It soon purchased Sydney commercial station 2UW and now has an Australia-wide network of commercial stations.

Types of programs

As with most countries, most Australian stations originally broadcast music interspersed with such things as talks, coverage of sporting events, church broadcasts, weather, news and time signals of various types. Virtually all stations also had programs of interest to women, and children's sessions. From the outset, A Class stations' peak-hour evening programs often consisted of live broadcasts from various theatres, i.e. dramas, operas, musicals, variety shows, vaudeville, etc. The first dramas especially written for radio were transmitted in the mid-1920s. By the 1930s, the ABC was transmitting a number of British programs sourced from the BBC, and commercial stations were receiving a number of US programs, particularly dramas. However, in the 1940s, war-time restrictions made it difficult to access overseas programs and, therefore, the amount of Australian dramatic material increased. As well as using original ideas and scripts, there were a number of local versions of overseas programs. Initially, much of the music broadcast in Australia was from live studio concerts. However, the amount of gramophone (and piano roll) music soon increased dramatically, particularly on commercial stations.

In the late 1930s, the number of big production variety shows multiplied significantly, particularly on the two major commercial networks, Macquarie and Major. After World War II the independent Colgate-Palmolive radio production unit was formed. It poached most major radio stars from the various stations. Until the 1950s, the popular image of the whole family seated around a set in the living room was the most accepted way of listening to radio. Therefore, most stations had to be all things to all people, and specialised programming was not really thought about at this stage (it did not come in until the late 1950s). Because of this, programming on most stations was pretty much the same.

Early experiments with television

As early as 1929, two Melbourne commercial radio stations, 3UZ and 3DB were conducting experimental mechanical television broadcasts – these were conducted in the early hours of the morning, after the stations had officially closed down. In 1934 Dr Val McDowall[8] at amateur station 4CM Brisbane[9] conducted experiments in electronic television.

Mobile stations

Two of Australia's most unusual medium wave stations were mobile stations 2XT and 3YB. They both operated in eras prior to the universal establishment of rural radio stations. 2XT was designed and operated by AWA within the State of New South Wales, from a NSW Railways train, between November 1925 and December 1927. 2XT, which stood for experimental train, visited over 100 rural centres. Engineers would set up a transmitting aerial and the station would then begin broadcasting. This led to the further sales of AWA products. 3YB provided a similar service in rural Victoria between October 1931 and November 1935. Initially, the station operated from a Ford car and a Ford truck, but from 17 October 1932 they operated from a converted 1899 former Royal Train carriage. Whilst the engineers were setting up the station's 50-watt transmitter in the town being visited, salesmen would sign up advertisers for the fortnight that 3YB would broadcast from that region. The station was on the air from 6.00 and 10.00 pm daily, and its 1,000-record library was divided into set four-hour programs, one for each of 14 days. In other words, the music broadcast from each town was identical. The station was operated by Vic Dinenny, but named after announcer Jack Young from Ballarat. On 18 January 1936, Dinenny set up 3YB Warrnambool, followed on 18 May 1937 by 3UL Warragul.[3][4]

The merchant vessel MV Kanimbla is believed to be the world's only ship built with an inbuilt broadcasting station. The Kanimbla was constructed in Northern Ireland in 1936 and was primarily designed for McIlwraith, McEacharn & Co to ply passengers between Cairns and Fremantle. The broadcasting station was constructed and operated by AWA and was initially given the ham radio callsign VK9MI but was later 9MI. (At this time, the "9" in the callsign was aberrationary [see "Call Signs, above].) The station made an experimental broadcast before leaving Northern Ireland, and a number of such broadcasts at sea, on the way to Australia. 9MI's first official broadcast in April 1939 was made from the Great Australian Bight.[4] The station broadcast on short wave, usually a couple of times per week, but many of its programs were relayed to commercial medium wave stations that were also owned by AWA. The 9MI manager and announcer (and probably the only member of staff) was Eileen Foley.[10] 9MI ceased broadcasting at the commencement of World War II in September 1939. The Kanimbla was commissioned as a Royal Navy (later Royal Australian Navy) vessel with the name HMS/HMAS Kanimbla. It had an extremely prominent and successful war-time career. [11]


The history of broadcasting in Canada begins as early as 1919 with the first experimental broadcast programs in Montreal. The Canadiens were swept up in the radio craze and built crystal sets to listen to American stations while The Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of Canada offered its first commercially produced radio-broadcast receiver (Model "C") in 1921, followed by its "Marconiphone" Model I in 1923. Main themes in the history include the development of the engineering technology; the construction of stations across the country and the building of networks; the widespread purchase and use of radio and television sets by the general public; debates regarding state versus private ownership of stations; financing of the broadcasts media through the government, license fees, and advertising; the changing content of the programming; the impact of the programming on Canadian identity; the media's influence on shaping audience responses to music, sports and politics; the role of the Québec government; Francophone versus Anglophone cultural tastes; the role of other ethnic groups and First Nations; fears of American cultural imperialism via the airwaves; and the impact of the Internet and smartphones on traditional broadcasting media.[12][13]

Radio signals carried long distances, and a number of American stations could easily be received in parts of Canada. The first Canadian station was CFCF, originally an experimental station from the Marconi Company in Montreal.[14] Civilian use of Wireless Telegraphy had been forbidden in Canada for the duration of World War I. The Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of Canada was the only one to retain the right to continue radio experiments for military use. This proved instrumental in giving the company a lead in developing an experimental radio broadcasting station immediately after the war. The first radio broadcast in Canada was accomplished by The Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of Canada in Montreal on December 1, 1919 under the call sign XWA (for "Experimental Wireless Apparatus") from its Williams Street factory. The station began regular programming on May 20, 1920 and its call letters were changed to CFCF on November 4, 1920.[15] In Toronto, the first radio station was operated by the Toronto Star newspaper. Station CKCE began in April 1922 and was so well received that the Star pushed forward with its own studios and transmitting facilities, returning to the air as CFCA in late June 1922. In Montreal, another newspaper, La Presse, put its own station, CKAC on the air in late September 1922. Because there were governmental limitations on radio frequencies back then, CKAC and CFCF alternated—one would broadcast one night, and the other would broadcast the night after that.[16] For a time, CKAC was broadcasting some programs in French, and some in English: in 1924, for example, the station rebroadcast fifteen Boston Bruins hockey games from station WBZ in Boston. Meanwhile, in other Canadian provinces, 1922 was also the year for their first stations, including CJCE in Vancouver, and CQCA (which soon became CHCQ) in Calgary.

As radio grew in popularity during the mid-1920s, a problem arose: the U.S. stations dominated the airwaves and with a limited number of frequencies available for broadcasters to use, it was the American stations that seemed to get most of them. This was despite an agreement with the US Department of Commerce (which supervised broadcasting in the years prior to the Federal Radio Commission) that a certain number of frequencies were reserved exclusively for Canadian signals. But if a US station wanted one of those frequencies, the Department of Commerce seemed unwilling to stop it, much to the frustration of Canadian owners who wanted to put stations on the air. The Canadian government and the US government began negotiations in late 1926, in hopes of finding a satisfactory solution.[17] Meanwhile, in 1928, Canada got its first network, operated by the Canadian National Railways. CNR had already made itself known in radio since 1923, thanks in large part to the leadership of CNR's president, Sir Henry Thornton. The company began equipping its trains with radio receivers, and allowed passengers to hear radio stations from Canada and the US. In 1924, CN began building its own stations, and by 1928, it was able to create a network.[18] In 1932, the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission was formed, and in 1936, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the country's national radio service, made its debut.


There was interest in radio almost from broadcasting's earliest days. Due to the proximity of Cuba to the U.S. state of Florida, some Cubans would try to listen to the American stations whose signals reached the island. But there was no radio station in Cuba until 1922. The arrival of the first radio station, PWX, was greeted with enthusiasm.[19] PWX, owned by the Cuban Telephone Company, was located in Havana. It was a joint venture with the International Telephone and Telegraph Company of New York. PWX debuted on the air on October 10, 1922.[20] PWX broadcast programs in both English and Spanish, and its signal was easily received at night in a number of American cities.[21] Another early station in Cuba was owned by Frank Jones, an American amateur radio operator and Chief Engineer of the Tuinucu Sugar Company. The station used amateur call letters, and went on the air as 6KW.[22] In late 1928, PWX began using the call letters CMC. Its slogan was "If you hear 'La Paloma,' you are in tune with CMC."[23] As with many other countries, interest in radio expanded, and by 1932, Cuba had more than thirty stations, spread out in cities all over the island.[24]


Radio Paris began operations in 1922, followed by Radio Toulouse and Radio Lyon. Before 1940, 14 commercial and 12 public sector radio stations were in operation. The government exerted tight control over radio broadcasting. Political debate was not encouraged. In the 1932 election campaign, for example, the opposition was allowed one broadcast while the incumbent made numerous campaign broadcasts.[25] Radio was a potentially powerful new medium, but France was quite laggard in consumer ownership of radio sets, With 5 million radio receivers in 1937, compared to over 8 million and both Britain and Germany, and 26 million in the United States. The government imposed very strict controls on news dissemination. After 1938, stations were allowed only three brief daily bulletins, of seven minutes each, to cover all the day's news. The Prime Minister's office closely supervised the news items that were to be broadcast. As war approached, Frenchmen learned little or nothing about it from the radio. The government thought that policy wise, because it wanted no interference in its policies. The unexpected result, however, was the Frenchman were puzzled and uncertain great crises erupted in 1938–39, and their morale and support for government policies was much weaker than in Britain.[26]


The first civilian radio broadcast was a Christmas concert at December 22, 1920.[27] While its reception was confirmed from all over Europe, reception in Germany was still a punishable offense, as a result of the Treaty of Versailles.[28]

The first radio station in Germany went on the air in Berlin in late 1923, using the call letters "LP."[29] Before 1933, German radio broadcasting was Conducted by 10 regional broadcasting monopolies, each of which had a government representative on its board. The Post Office Provided overall supervision. A listening fee of 2 Reichsmark per receiver paid most costs, and radio station frequencies were limited, which even restricted the number of amateur radio operators. Immediately following Hitler's assumption of power in 1933, Joseph Goebbels became head of the Ministry for Propaganda and Public Enlightenment and took full control of broadcasting. Non-Nazis were removed from broadcasting and editorial positions. Jews were fired from all positions.[30]

Germany was easily served by a number of European mediumwave stations, including the BBC, but the Nazis made it illegal for Germans to listen to foreign broadcasts. During the war, German stations broadcast not only war propaganda and entertainment for German forces dispersed through Europe, as well as air raid alerts. There was heavy use of short wave for "Germany Calling" programmes directed at Britain and Allied forces around the world. Goebbels Also set up numerous Nazi stations that pretended to be from the Allied world.[31] Germany experimented with television broadcasting, using a 180-line raster system beginning before 1935. German propaganda claimed the system was superior to the British mechanical scanning system.


The first radio station in Japan was JOAK, which opened in Tokyo in March 1925. It was founded by Masajiro Kotamura, an inventor and engineer. It was unique in that at least one of its announcers was a woman, Akiko Midorikawa.[32] JOAK was followed soon after by JOBK in Osaka and JOCK in Nagoya. The National Broadcasting Service, today known as NHK (Nippon Hoso Kyokai), began in August 1926. All stations were supported by licensing fees: in 1926, for example, people wishing to receive a permit to own a radio set paid a fee of one yen a month to the government.[33] Programming on Japanese stations of the 1920s included music, news, language instruction (lessons were offered in English, French and German) and educations talks. These early stations broadcast on average about eight hours of programs a day.[34]


Amateur radio was very popular in Mexico; while most of the hams were male, notably Constantino de Tarnava, acknowledged in some sources as Mexico's first amateur radio operator,[35] one of the early ham radio operators was female—Maria Dolores Estrada.[36] But commercial radio was difficult to achieve, due to a federal regulation forbidding any broadcasts that were not for the benefit of the Mexican government. Still, in November 1923, CYL in Mexico City went on the air, featuring music (both folk songs and popular dance concerts), religious services, and news. CYL used as its slogans "El Universal" and "La Casa del Radio", and it won over the government, by giving political candidates the opportunity to use the station to campaign.[37] Its signal was so powerful that it was even received in Canada sometimes.[38] Pressure from listeners and potential station owners also contributed to the government relenting and allowing more stations to go on the air.[39] In 1931, the "C" call letters were all changed to "X" call letters (XE being reserved for broadcasting), and by 1932, Mexico had nearly forty radio stations, ten of which were in Mexico City.[40]


On 6 November 1919, the Dutch radio pioneer Hans Henricus Schotanus à Steringa Idzerda started regular radio transmissions from The Hague. As these were regular transmissions and the program was announced beforehand in the newspaper NRC, this is seen as the start of commercial broadcasting.


Interest in amateur radio was noted in the Philippines in the early 1920s.[41] There were radio stations operating in the Philippines, including one owned by American businessman named Henry Hermann, as early as 1922, according to some sources; not much documentation about that period of time exists. In the autumn of 1927, KZRM in Manila, owned by the Radio Corporation of the Philippines, went on the air.[42] The Radio Corporation of the Philippines was a subsidiary of American company RCA (Radio Corporation of America).[43] By 1932, the island had three radio stations: KRZC in Cebu, as well as KZIB (owned by a department store) and KZFM, the government-owned station in Manila. Of the stations listed by Pierre Key, KZFM was the strongest, with 50,000 watts.[44] Two radio networks were ultimately created: one, the Manila Broadcasting Company, began as a single station, KZRH in Manila, in July 1939, and after World War II, in 1946, the station's owners began to develop their network by buying other radio properties. As for the Philippine Broadcasting Company, it too began with one station (KZFM), and received its new name in mid-1946, after the Philippines became an independent country. At the end of 1946, the new network had six stations.[45] Both KZRH and KZFM also affiliated with American networks; the stations wanted to have access to certain popular American programs, and the American networks wanted to sell products in the Philippines.[46]

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has the oldest radio station in Asia (world's second oldest). The station was known as Radio Ceylon. It developed into one of the finest broadcasting institutions in the world. It is now known as the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation. Sri Lanka created broadcasting history in Asia when broadcasting was started in Ceylon by the Telegraph Department in 1923 on an experimental footing, just three years after the inauguration of broadcasting in Europe. Gramophone music was broadcast from a tiny room in the Central Telegraph Office with the aid of a small transmitter built by the Telegraph Department engineers from the radio equipment of a captured German submarine.[47] This broadcasting experiment was successful; barely three years later, on December 16, 1925, a regular broadcasting service came to be instituted. Edward Harper who came to Ceylon as Chief Engineer of the Telegraph Office in 1921, was the first person to actively promote broadcasting in Ceylon. Sri Lanka occupies an important place in the history of broadcasting with broadcasting services inaugurated just three years after the launch of the BBC in the United Kingdom. Edward Harper launched the first experimental broadcast as well as founding the Ceylon Wireless Club, together with British and Ceylonese radio enthusiasts on the island. Edward Harper has been dubbed ' the Father of Broadcasting in Ceylon,' because of his pioneering efforts, his skill and his determination to succeed. Edward Harper and his fellow Ceylonese radio enthusiasts, made it happen.

United Kingdom

Caricature of Sir John Reith, by the artist, Wooding.

The first experimental music broadcasts, from Marconi's factory in Chelmsford, began in 1920. Two years later, in October 1922, a consortium of radio manufacturers formed the British Broadcasting Company (BBC); they allowed some sponsored programs, although they were not what we would today consider a fully commercial station. Meanwhile, the first radio stations in England were experimental station 2MT, located near Chelmsford, and station 2LO in London: both were operated by the Marconi Company. By late 1923, there were six stations broadcasting regularly in the United Kingdom: London's 2LO, Manchester's 2ZY, and stations in Birmingham (5IT), Cardiff, Newcastle, and Glasgow.[29] As for the consortium of radio manufacturers, it dissolved in 1926, when its license expired; it then became the British Broadcasting Corporation, a non-commercial organization. Its governors are appointed by the British government, but they do not answer to it. Lord Reith took a formative role in developing the BBC, especially in radio.[48] Working as its first manager and Director-General, he promoted the philosophy of public service broadcasting, firmly grounded in the moral benefits of education and of uplifting entertainment, eschewing commercial influence and maintaining a maximum of independence from political control.

Commercial stations such as Radio Normandie and Radio Luxembourg broadcast into the UK from other European countries. This provided a very popular alternative to the rather austere BBC. These stations were closed during the War, and only Radio Luxembourg returned afterward. BBC television broadcasts in Britain began on November 2, 1936, and continued until wartime conditions closed the service in 1939.

United States

Reginald Fessenden, the father of radio broadcasting in the US.

Reginald Fessenden did ground-breaking experiments with voice and music by 1906.[49] Charles "Doc" Herrold of San Jose, California sent out broadcasts as early as April 1909 from his Herrold School electronics institute in downtown San Jose, using the identification San Jose Calling, and then a variety of different call signs as the Department of Commerce began to regulate radio.[50] He was on the air daily for nearly a decade when the World War interrupted operations.

"Doc" Herrold is shown at the microphone of KQW, early 1920s.
Charles Logwood broadcasting at station 2XG, New York City, circa November, 1916.[51]

Pioneer radio station 2XG, also known as the "Highbridge station", was an experimental station located in New York City and licensed to the DeForest Radio Telephone and Telegraph Company. It was the first station to use a vacuum tube transmitter to make radio broadcasts on a regular schedule. From 1912 to 1917 Charles Herrold made regular broadcasts, but used an arc transmitter. He switched to a vacuum tube transmitter when he restarted broadcasting activities in 1921. Herrold coined the terms broadcasting and narrowcasting.[52] Herrold claimed the invention of broadcasting to a wide audience, through the use of antennas designed to radiate signals in all directions. David Sarnoff has been considered by many as "the prescient prophet of broadcasting who predicted the medium's rise in 1915", referring to his radio music box concept.[53]

Broadcasting pioneer Frank Conrad in a 1921 portrait.

A few organizations were allowed to keep working on radio during the war. Westinghouse was the most well-known of these. Frank Conrad, a Westinghouse engineer, had been making transmissions from 8XK since 1916 that included music programming.[54] A team at the University of Wisconsin–Madison headed by Professor Earle M. Terry was also on the air.[55] They operated 9XM, originally licensed by Professor Edward Bennett in 1914, and experimented with voice broadcasts starting in 1917.


By 1919, after the war, radio pioneers across the country resumed transmissions. The early stations gained new call signs. A few early stations, notably 8MK (later known as WWJ in Detroit) were started by newspapers, but in those early years, radio and newspapers regarded each other as competitors. One early station, 8XK in Pittsburgh, became KDKA in 1920; its ownership has asserted that it was the first radio station in the US, but that claim is controversial [56] There were other stations on the air around the same time as KDKA, including a station at Union College in Schenectady, New York that became known as WRUC; 8MK in Detroit; 1XE in Medford Hillside, Massachusetts; and several others. KDKA received a commercial license and began broadcasting on November 2, 1920.

Madison Avenue early on recognized the importance of radio as a new advertising medium. Advertising provided the major funding for most stations. The United States never had a licensing fee for set users.[57] The National Broadcasting Company began regular broadcasting in 1926, with telephone links between New York and other Eastern cities. NBC became the dominant radio network, splitting into Red and Blue networks. The Columbia Broadcasting System began in 1927 under the guidance of William S. Paley.

Radio in education began as early as April 1922, when Medford Hillside's WGI Radio broadcast the first of an ongoing series of educational lectures from Tufts College professors. These lectures were described by the press as a sort of "wireless college."[58] Soon, other colleges across the U.S. began adding radio broadcasting courses to their curricula; some, like the University of Iowa, even provided what today would be known as distance-learning credits.[59] Curry College, first in Boston and then in Milton, Massachusetts, introduced one of the nation's first broadcasting majors in 1932 when the college teamed up with WLOE in Boston to have students broadcast programs. This success led to numerous radio courses in the curriculum which has taught thousands of radio broadcasters from the 1930s to today.[60]

By 1931, a majority of U.S. households owned at least one radio receiver.[61] In 1934, several independent stations formed the Mutual Broadcasting System to exchange syndicated programming, including The Lone Ranger and Amos 'n' Andy. Prior to 1927, U.S. radio was supervised by the Department of Commerce. Then, the Radio Act of 1927 created the Federal Radio Commission (FRC);[62] in 1934, this agency became known as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). A Federal Communications Commission decision in 1939 required NBC to divest itself of its Blue Network. That decision was sustained by the Supreme Court in a 1943 decision, National Broadcasting Co. v. United States, which established the framework that the "scarcity" of radio-frequency meant that broadcasting was subject to greater regulation than other media. This Blue Network network became the American Broadcasting Company (ABC). Around 1946, ABC, NBC, and CBS began regular television broadcasts. Another TV network, the DuMont Television Network, was founded earlier, but was disbanded in 1956; later in 1986 the surviving DuMont independent stations formed the nucleus of the new Fox Broadcasting Company.[63]

1950s and 1960s


Australian radio sets usually had the positions of radio stations marked on their dials. The illustration is a dial from a transistorised, mains-operated Calstan radio, circa 1960s. (Click image for a high resolution view, with readable callsigns.)

Norman Banks was one of Melbourne's (and Australia's) most prominent broadcasters at 3KZ (1930-1952) and 3AW (1952-1978). He is remembered for founding Carols by Candlelight, as a pioneer football commentator, and for hosting both musical and interview programs. In later years he was one of Melbourne's first and most prominent talk back hosts. At the commencement of his career, Banks was known for his double entendres and risque remarks; as a talk back host he was outspoken in his conservative views, especially regarding the White Australia policy and Apartheid. In 1978 his 47-year career in radio was hailed as the longest in world history.[64] Not including the early television experiments (see above), mainstream television transmission commenced in Sydney and Melbourne in the latter part of 1956, that is, in time for the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games in November/December 1956. It was then phased in to other capital cities, and then into rural markets. Many forms entertainment, particularly drama and variety, were considered more suited to television than radio, and many such programs were gradually deleted from radio schedules.

Naomi ("Joan") Melwit and Norman Banks at the 3KZ microphone, in the late 1930s.

The transistor radio first appeared on the market in 1954. In particular, it made portable radios even more transportable. All sets quickly became smaller, cheaper and more convenient. The aim of radio manufacturers became a radio in every room, in the car, and in the pocket. The upshot of these two changes was that stations started to specialise and concentrate on specific markets. The first areas to see specialised stations were the news and current affairs market, and stations specialising in pop music and geared toward the younger listener who was now able to afford his/her own radio. Talk back ("talk radio") became a major radio genre by the end of the 1960s, but it was not legalised in Australia until October 1967.[65] The fears of intrusion were addressed by a beep that occurred every few seconds, so that the caller knew that his/her call was being broadcast. There was also a seven-second delay so that obscene or libelous material could be monitored. By the end of the 1960s, specialisation by radio stations had increased dramatically and there were stations focusing on various kinds of music, talk back, news, sport, etc.


When the Federal Republic of Germany was organized in 1949, its Enabling Act established strong state government powers. Broadcasting was organized on a state, rather than a national, basis. Nine regional radio networks were established. A technical coordinating organization, the Arbeitsgemeinschaft der öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunkanstalten der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (ARD), came into being in 1950 to lessen technical conflicts. The Allied forces in Europe developed their own radio networks, including the U.S. American Forces Network (AFN). Inside Berlin, Radio in the American Sector (RIAS) became a key source of news in the German Democratic Republic.[66] Germany began developing a network of VHF FM broadcast stations in 1955 because of the excessive crowding of the mediumwave and shortwave broadcast bands.

Sri Lanka

Radio Ceylon ruled the airwaves in the 1950s and 1960s in the Indian sub-continent.[67] The station developed into the most popular radio network in South Asia. Millions of listeners in India for example tuned into Radio Ceylon. Announcers like Livy Wijemanne, Vernon Corea,[68] Pearl Ondaatje, Tim Horshington, Greg Roskowski, Jimmy Bharucha, Mil Sansoni, Eardley Peiris, Shirley Perera, Bob Harvie, Christopher Greet, Prosper Fernando, Ameen Sayani (of Binaca Geetmala fame),[69]Karunaratne Abeysekera, S.P.Mylvaganam (the first Tamil Announcer on the Commercial Service) were hugely popular across South Asia. The Hindi Service also helped build Radio Ceylon's reputation as the market leader in the Indian sub-continent. Gopal Sharma, Sunil Dutt Ameen Sayani, Hamid Sayani, were among the Indian announcers of the station. The Commercial Service of Radio Ceylon was hugely successful under the leadership of Clifford Dodd, the Australian administrator and broadcasting expert who was sent to Ceylon under the Colombo Plan. Dodd hand picked some of the most talented radio presenters in South Asia.[70] They went on to enjoy star status in the Indian sub-continent. This was Radio Ceylon's golden era.

United Kingdom

Radio Luxembourg remained popular during the 1950s but saw its audience decline as commercial television and pirate radio, combined with a switch to a less clear frequency, began to erode its influence. BBC television resumed on June 7, 1946, and commercial television began on September 22, 1955. Both used the pre-war 405-line standard. BBC2 came on the air on April 20, 1964, using the 625-line standard, and began PAL colour transmissions on July 1, 1967, the first in Europe. The two older networks transmitted in 625-line colour from 1969. During the 1960s there was still no UK-based commercial radio. A number of 'pirate' radio ships, located in international waters just outside the jurisdiction of English law, came on the air between 1964 and 1967. The most famous of these was Radio Caroline, which was the only station to continue broadcasting after the offshore pirates were effectively outlawed on August 14, 1967 by the Marine Broadcasting Offences Act. It was finally forced off air due to a dispute over tendering payments, but returned in 1972 and continued on and off until 1990. (The station subsequently broadcast legally, initially under 28-day Restricted Service Licences and subsequently via satellite (since closed), internet streams, and (since 2017) a local AM transmitter.)

United States

By 1955, a majority of U.S. households owned at least one television set.[71] Television began to replace radio as the chief source of revenue for broadcasting networks. Although many radio programs continued through this decade, including Gunsmoke and The Guiding Light, by 1960 networks had ceased producing entertainment programs. As radio stopped producing formal fifteen-minute to hourly programs, a new format developed. "Top 40" was based on a continuous rotation of short pop songs presented by a "disc jockey." Famous disc jockeys in the era included Alan Freed, Dick Clark, Don Imus and Wolfman Jack. Top 40 playlists were theoretically based on record sales; however, record companies began to bribe disc jockeys to play selected artists, in a controversy that was called "payola". In the 1950s, American television networks introduced broadcasts in color. The Federal Communications Commission approved the world's first monochrome-compatible color television standard in December 1953. The first network colorcast followed on January 1, 1954, with NBC transmitting the annual Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California to over 20 stations across the country. An educational television network, National Educational Television (NET), predecessor to PBS, was founded. Shortwave broadcasting played an important part of fighting the cold war with Voice of America and the BBC World Service, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty transmitting through the "Iron Curtain", and Radio Moscow and others broadcasting back, as well as "jamming" (transmitting to cause intentional interference) the Western stations in the Soviet bloc.

1970s, 1980s, and 1990s


The Australian Broadcasting Corporation logo, first introduced in 1975 and based on the Lissajous curve.

After much procrastination on the part of various federal governments, FM broadcasting was eventually introduced in 1975. (There had been official experiments with FM broadcasting as far back as 1948.) Only a handful of radio stations were given new licences during the 1940s, 50s & 60s but, since 1975, many hundreds of new broadcasting licences have been issued on both the FM and AM bands. In the latter case, this was made possible by having 9 kHz between stations, rather 10 kHz breaks, as per the Geneva Frequency Plan. The installation of directional aerials also encouraged more AM stations. The type of station given FM licences reflects the policies and philosophies of the various Australian governments. Initially, only the ABC and community radio stations were granted FM licences. However, after a change of government, commercial stations were permitted on the band, as from 1980. At first, one or two brand new stations were permitted in each major market. However, in 1990, one or two existing AM stations in each major market were given FM licences; the stations being chosen by an auction system. Apart from an initial settling-in period for those few stations transferred from AM to FM, there has been no simulcasting between AM and FM stations. In major cities, a number of brand new FM licences were issued in the 1990s and 2000s. All rural regions which traditionally had only one commercial station now have at least one AM and one FM commercial station. In many cases, the owner of the original station now has at least two outlets. The number of regional transmitters for the ABC's five networks also increased dramatically during this era.


Commercial radio (re-)legalisation in most European countries occurred in this era, starting with United Kingdom in 1973 (see Independent Local Radio) and ending with Austria in 1995.
In 1987, stations in the European Broadcasting Union began offering Radio Data System (RDS), which provides written text information about programs that were being broadcast, as well as traffic alerts, accurate time, and other teletext services.[72]

Sri Lanka

The Government of Sri Lanka opened up the market in the late 1970s and 1980s allowing private companies to set up radio and television stations. Sri Lanka's public services broadcasters are the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC), Independent Television Net Work (ITN) and the affiliated radio station called Lak-handa. They had stiff competition on their hands with the private sector. Broadcasting in Sri Lanka went through a transformation resulting in private broadcasting institutions being set up on the island among them Telshan Network (Pvt) Ltd (TNL), Maharaja Television – TV, Sirasa TV and Shakthi TV, and EAP Network (Pvt) Ltd – known as Swarnawahini – these private channels all have radio stations as well. The 1990s saw a new generation of radio stations being established in Sri Lanka among them the 'Hiru' radio station. In the 1980s public service broadcasters like the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation set up their own FM arm. Sri Lanka celebrated 80 years of broadcasting in December 2005. In January 2007 the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation celebrated 40 years as a public corporation.

United Kingdom

A new pirate station, Swiss-owned Radio Nordsee International, broadcast to Britain and the Netherlands from 1970 until outlawed by Dutch legislation in 1974 (which meant it could no longer be supplied from the European mainland). The English service was heavily jammed by both Labour and Conservative Governments in 1970 amid suggestions that the ship was actually being used for espionage. Radio Caroline returned in 1972 and continued until its ship sank in 1980 (the crew were rescued). A Belgian station, Radio Atlantis, operated an English service for a few months before the Dutch act came into force in 1974. Land-based commercial radio finally came on air in 1973 with London's LBC and Capital Radio. Channel 4 television started in November 1982. Britain's UHF system was originally designed to carry only four networks. Pirate radio enjoyed another brief resurgence with a literal re-launch of Radio Caroline in 1983, and the arrival of American-owned Laser 558 in 1985. Both stations were harassed by the British authorities; Laser closed in 1987 and Caroline in 1989, since then it has pursued legal methods of broadcasting, such as temporary FM licences and satellite. Two rival satellite television systems came on the air at the end of the 1980s: Sky Television and British Satellite Broadcasting. Huge losses forced a rapid merger, although in many respects it was a takeover of BSB (Britain's official, Government-sanctioned satellite company) by Sky. Radio Luxembourg launched a 24-hour English channel on satellite, but closed its AM service in 1989 and its satellite service in 1991.

The Broadcasting Act 1990 in UK law marked the establishment of two licensing authorities – the Radio Authority and the Independent Television Commission – to facilitate the licensing of non-BBC broadcast services, especially short-term broadcasts. Channel 5 went on the air on March 30, 1997, using "spare" frequencies between the existing channels.

United States

The rise of FM changed the listening habits of younger Americans. Many stations such as WNEW-FM in New York City began to play whole sides of record albums, as opposed to the "Top 40" model of two decades earlier. In the 1980s, the Federal Communications Commission, under Reagan Administration and Congressional pressure, changed the rules limiting the number of radio and television stations a business entity could own in one metropolitan area. This deregulation led to several groups, such as Infinity Broadcasting and Clear Channel to buy many stations in major cities. The cost of these stations' purchases led to a conservative approach to broadcasting, including limited playlists and avoiding controversial subjects to not offend listeners, and increased commercials to increase revenue. AM radio declined throughout the 1970s and 1980s due to various reasons including: Lower cost of FM receivers, narrow AM audio bandwidth, and poor sound in the AM section of automobile receivers (to combat the crowding of stations in the AM band and a "loudness war" conducted by AM broadcasters), and increased radio noise in homes caused by fluorescent lighting and introduction of electronic devices in homes. AM radio's decline flattened out in the mid-1990s due to the introduction of niche formats and over commercialization of many FM stations.

The 2000s

The "Kerbango Internet Radio" was the first stand-alone product that let users listen to Internet radio without a computer.

The 2000s saw the introduction of digital radio and direct broadcasting by satellite (DBS) in the USA. Digital radio services, except in the United States, were allocated a new frequency band in the range of 1.4 GHz. Regular shortwave broadcasts using Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM), a digital broadcasting scheme for short and medium wave broadcasts have begun. This system makes the normally scratchy international broadcasts clear and nearly FM quality, and much lower transmitter power. This is much better to listen to and has more languages.


In Australia, from August 2009, digital radio was phased in by geographical region. Today, the ABC, SBS, commercial and community radio stations operate on the AM and FM bands. Most stations are available on the internet and most also have digital outlets. By 2007, there were 261 commercial stations in Australia.[65] The ABC currently has five AM/FM networks and is in the process of establishing a series of supplementary music stations that are only available on digital radios and digital television sets. SBS provides non-English language programs over its two networks, as do a number of community radio stations.


In Canada, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission plans to move all Canadian broadcasting to the digital band and close all mediumwave and FM stations.[citation needed]


European stations have begun digital broadcasting (DAB). Digital radios began to be sold in the United Kingdom in 1998.

Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka in 2005 when Sri Lanka celebrated 80 years in Broadcasting, the former Director-General of the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation, Eric Fernando called for the station to take full advantage of the digital age – this included looking at the archives of Radio Ceylon. Ivan Corea asked the President of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapakse to invest in the future of the SLBC.[73]

United States

In the United States, this band was deemed to be vital to national defense, so an alternate band in the range of 2.3 GHz was introduced for satellite broadcasting. Two American companies, XM and Sirius, introduced DBS systems, which are funded by direct subscription, as in cable television. The XM and Sirius systems provide approximately 100 channels each, in exchange for monthly payments. In addition, a consortium of companies received FCC approval for In-Band On-Channel digital broadcasts in the United States, which use the existing mediumwave and FM bands for transmission. However, early IBOC tests showed interference problems with adjacent channels, which has slowed adoption of the system.

See also


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Further reading

  • Ceylon, Radio. – Standards of Broadcasting Practice – Commercial Broadcasting Division. – Radio Ceylon, 1950.
  • Donders, Karen, Caroline Pauwels, and Jan Loisen, eds. The Palgrave handbook of European media policy (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014)
  • Crook; Tim. International Radio Journalism: History, Theory and Practice Routledge, 1998 online
  • Griffen-Foley Bridget. Changing Stations: The Story of Australian Commercial Radio (UNSW Press, 2009).
  • Hendy, David. Radio in the global age (Wiley, 2013)
  • Hendricks, John Allen, ed. The Palgrave handbook of global radio (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012)
  • Lommers, Suzanne. Europe-on air: interwar projects for radio broadcasting (Amsterdam University Press, 2012)
  • Keith, Michael C. and Christopher H. Sterling, eds. Encyclopedia of Radio (3 vol 2004), Worldwide coverage with 670 articles by experts
  • Lovell, Stephen. Russia in the Microphone Age: A History of Soviet Radio, 1919-1970 (2015)
  • Moran, Albert, and Chris Keating. The A to Z of Australian Radio and Television (Scarecrow Press, 2009)
  • Newcomb, Horace, ed. Encyclopedia of Television (3 vol. 2nd ed. 2004); Comprehensive global coverage by experts Excerpt; 2700pp
  • Peers Frank W. The Politics of Canadian Broadcasting, 1920- 1951 (University of Toronto Press, 1969).
  • Rugh, William A. Arab Mass Media: Newspapers, Radio, and Television in Arab Politics (Praeger, 2004) online
  • Schramm Wilbur, ed. Mass Communications (University of Illinois Press, 1960), wide-ranging articles by experts
  • Schwoch James. The American Radio Industry and Its Latin American Activities, 1900-1939 (University of Illinois Press, 1990).
  • Smith, Anthony, and Richard Paterson, eds. Television: an international history (Oxford UP, 1998) online
  • Sterling Christopher H. Encyclopedia of Radio (3v 2004); Comprehensive global coverage excerpt
  • Sterling Christopher H. Electronic Media, A Guide to Trends in Broadcasting and Newer Technologies 1920-1983 (Praeger, 1984).
  • Walker R. R. The Magic Spark: 50 Years of Radio in Australia. (Hawthorn Press, 1973).
  • Wavell, Stewart. – The Art of Radio – Training Manual written by the Director Training of the CBC. – Ceylon Broadcasting Corporation, 1969.

Great Britain

  • Briggs Asa. The BBC—the First Fifty Years (Oxford University Press, 1984).
  • Briggs Asa. The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom (Oxford University Press, 1961).
  • Crisell, Andrew An Introductory History of British Broadcasting. (2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2002)
  • Scannell, Paddy, and Cardiff, David. A Social History of British Broadcasting, Volume One, 1922-1939 (Basil Blackwell, 1991).
  • Street, Sean. A Concise History of British Radio, 1922-2002 (Kelly Publications, 2002)

United States

  • Aitkin Hugh G. J. The Continuous Wave: Technology and the American Radio, 1900-1932 (Princeton University Press, 1985).
  • Barnouw Erik. The Golden Web (Oxford University Press, 1968); The Sponsor (1978); A Tower in Babel (1966). Comprehensive history of American broadcasting
  • Catsis, John. Sports Broadcasting (1996)
  • Covert Cathy, and Stevens John L. Mass Media Between the Wars (Syracuse University Press, 1984).
  • Cox, Jim. Radio Journalism in America: Telling the News in the Golden Age and Beyond (McFarland, 2013)
  • Craig, Douglas B. Fireside Politics: Radio and Political Culture in the United States, 1920-1940 (2005)
  • Dunning, John. On The Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio, Oxford University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-19-507678-8
  • Ewbank Henry and Lawton Sherman P. Broadcasting: Radio and Television (Harper & Brothers, 1952).
  • Gibson George H. Public Broadcasting; The Role of the Federal Government, 1919-1976 (Praeger Publishers, 1977).
  • Jackaway; Gwenyth L. Media at War: Radio's Challenge to the Newspapers, 1924-1939 (Praeger, 1995)
  • Lackmann, Ron. Encyclopedia of American Radio (2nd ed. 2000), Over 1000 short articles; not much changed from first edition which was entitled Same Time...Same Station (1995).
  • Lazarsfeld Paul F. The People Look at Radio (University of North Carolina Press, 1946).
  • McChesney; Robert W. Telecommunications, Mass Media, and Democracy: The Battle for the Control of U.S. Broadcasting, 1928-1935 Oxford University Press, 1994
  • Maclaurin W. Rupert. Invention and Innovation in the Radio Industry (The Macmillan Company, 1949).
  • McCourt; Tom. Conflicting Communication Interests in America: The Case of National Public Radio (Praeger Publishers, 1999) online
  • Meyers, Cynthia B. A Word from Our Sponsor: Admen, Advertising, and the Golden Age of Radio (2014)
  • Ray William B. FCC: The Ups and Downs of Radio-TV Regulation (Iowa State University Press, 1990); on USA
  • Rosen Philip T. The Modern Stentors; Radio Broadcasting and the Federal Government 1920-1934 (Greenwood Press, 1980).; on USA
  • Slater Robert. This . . . is CBS: A Chronicle of 60 Years (Prentice Hall, 1988).
  • Smith, F. Leslie, John W. Wright II, David H. Ostroff; Perspectives on Radio and Television: Telecommunication in the United States Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1998
  • Sies, Luther F. Encyclopedia of American Radio: 1920-1960 (2d ed. 2 vol 2014)
  • Sterling, Christopher, and Kittross John M. Stay Tuned: A Concise History of American Broadcasting (Wadsworth, 1978).
  • White Llewellyn. The American Radio (University of Chicago Press, 1947).

Primary Sources

  • Kahn Frank J., ed. Documents of American Broadcasting, fourth edition (Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1984).
  • Lichty Lawrence W., and Topping Malachi C., eds. American Broadcasting: A Source Book on the History of Radio and Television (Hastings House, 1975).