The story of radio began over
a hundred years ago. In 1895, Guglielmo Marconi is generally
credited with having conducted the first wireless transmission of a Morse code
telegraph message over a distance of just over a mile! Wireless telegraphy
was born, and from there it was just a short hop to adapting the
"speaker" and "microphone" technology from the telephone to
transmit the human voice and music invisibly through the air without
Commercial broadcasting did not begin, however, until some
years later. Until that time, "radio telegraphy", as it was
called, was thought only to be useful for communicating Morse code to and from
ships at sea. The Titanic was the first disaster at sea, in 1912, that was
able to utilize the new medium to demonstrate the importance of wireless
communication. Soon after that, radio telegraph stations were required on all
It was considered a miracle when the first voice and music
transmissions were heard, at first over very short distances. In 1915, the
first trans-Atlantic radio telephone conversation took place. The first
radio "programs" were readings of the news of the day over
ship-to-shore radio telephone stations.
Isolated farming communities, too far from cities to have
phone lines into their towns, relied only on printed weather reports that were
often up to a day old before they reached them. They were among the first
to experience radio as we have come to know it. The first regular radio
broadcasts were daily government weather reports directed toward these
Finally, after a quarter century, radio evolved from it's
infancy into mainstream culture. The first radio station, KDKA, signed on
the air in 1920 with the broadcast of the presidential election results.
Radio caught on quickly from that point. Amateur broadcasters set up
stations in their homes and garages to broadcast musical programs of Victrola records through their neighborhoods. Radio was soon adopted as a form of
entertainment. Everyone wanted to buy a radio in the 1920's, especially as
amateur stations started popping up everywhere.
Soon, so many stations were broadcasting that many were
broadcasting over the same frequency and crowding the airwaves with noise.
At that point, the government had to step in to regulate the industry and assign
broadcasting frequencies. This is when the term "clear channel"
broadcast came into being. With these clear channels, new stations were
able to optimize the quality of their broadcast, and with rapidly increasing
technology they were able to service large areas with their powerful
Big business entered the radio world at this point, when
radio proved to have commercial selling value. Large companies sponsored
radio programs to benefit from the commercial advertising. The public
enjoyed listening to the music and variety programming that emanated from this
speaker and glowing tubes in a box....and they bought the products that were
advertised on the programs they would listen to.
personal radio collection......My Philco console (1942)
Detrola Radio/Phonograph/Recorder..........This machine did it all in the
1940's! Designed for portability and function, this machine had the
ability to not only deliver your favorite radio program and play your favorite
records, but it was also one of the very first portable recording devices that
enabled the ordinary audio enthusiast to preserve sound events on record.
book, originally published in 1940, explains how to make a home recording and
what type of record to use for your home recording equipment!
are some illustrations from the book, which demonstrate how "easy" it
is to make recordings at home.
General Electric Console Phonograph/Radio was one of the first electric console
models to have FM radio and a record changer! The radio also receives
standard AM broadcast as well as Short-Wave. The phonograph pulls out of a
drawer and can be concealed by closing the drawer.
an advertisement for a similar model made by General Electric around the same
time. The concept of a console unit was not new. Wind-up phonographs
from the early 1900's were fashionable as a floor unit and served as a piece of
furniture. They were marketed as furniture because of their practicality
cathedral-style table model radio was popular throughout the 1930's.
left is my World War Two era RCA Victor bakelite table model with AM
band. On the right is a similar style model in wood. I can picture
either of them sitting on a kitchen table tuned in to the latest war bulletins!
one of my vintage plastic models, a General Electric made for the table or
my classic Channel Master refrigerator radio, circa 1950's.
Trans-Oceanic multi-band radio.
interesting pieces from my collection . . . A Zenith AM-FM and a Motorola
clock Radio. The Zenith is on the bench awaiting some
reconditioning. It was a $2 flea market find. The Motorola has been
in the family for years!
Annual Conference of the Antique
Wireless Association Meets in Rochester, NY
of the Antique Wireless Association gathered at the Thruway Marriott in
Rochester to participate in seminars designed to share knowledge of the
history of the radio industry and to promote the preservation of antique
Highlights for members attending each year's function include an annual
flea market and auction as well as a theme that features the history of a
radio manufacturing company. For
more information on the AWA and antique radios, including how to listen to old time
radio shows on your computer, check out our links on this page.
Research Radio History
- Learn more about the invention of radio and broadcasting!