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Radio As One of the Longest Standing Media: Analysis of Evolution

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Radio is one of the longest standing mediums to come to our generation. As technology changes so does the world around us. In radio, this change has been seen with the push for analog/terrestrial radio to move toward HD radio. Traditional radio has been limited to amplitude modulations was the main frequencies used in the early years. This is followed by the main use of frequency modulations coming into the market. To understand the power of HD radio along with the techniques of AM and FM, you need to understand where radio started, and how far it’s come in these last 100 years. Radio has been able to overcome some challenging obstacles in the building of this competitive industry.

In the beginning of the 1900s, radio would start with several different inventions to help spark the birth of a soon to be industry. This new era of communication would start with a few new inventions by the creators of radio and wireless voice communication, Lee de forest and Reginald A Fessenden. These individuals both played key roles in this forward movement of the industry. De forest would be one of the key contributors in the building of modern day radio, television and coast to coast telephone service. All of these wouldn’t be possible without his invention of the audion, (The editors). This invention would be the kick starter for wireless communication, however it would be replaced by a transistor as technology would further develop. Fessenden also help invent the wireless telephone to build radio broadcasts by having the first radio broadcast on December 24th 1906 (K.A.) This broadcast would use amplitude modulation airwaves to broadcast from Plymouth Massachusetts in a town called Black Mans Point. This was a huge jump for the future of radio broadcast with this Christmas themed broadcast. This show consisted of a small speech and a few songs and prayers to the nearby US navy crew in the Atlantic Ocean. After the program Fessenden wished everyone a Merry Christmas and closed the program. The broadcast would run again on New Year’s Eve to confirm that all different crews had heard the broadcast. Between 1906-1912 tons of small stations would pop up and start transmitting music or talk shows. (The Editors)

Charles Herrold is one of the more remarkable names in the broadcast industry for his passion to build the first radio broadcast stations for amateur radio. Herrold would operate a wireless transmission from his radio school with talk and music shows for people nearby. This amateur radio started to spark interest among the American people until the year of 1917, because of World War I. The 1906 broadcast would help lead the way World War I was fought. The war caused the government to shut down all wireless stations for military defense purposes (Skretvedt).

During the war people allowed for the strength of the vacuum tube to develop to military standards. The military wanted to make a reliable communication service during serious times of war. The first world war was the first time AM radio had been used for communication purposes, and started to catch popularity as a reliable communication source. The ability to connect with the Navy ships and different sets of troops around the world help change the warfare. After the war, there was still no regulations over the radio, so the people would just broadcast whenever they felt it was needed.

The 1920s would be the decade of the first regular scheduled commercial broadcast, starting in 1922 in Montreal Canada. The original first scheduled broadcast was located in the Netherlands around 1919 (100 Years.) The radio became the American family way to connect with the world’s problems, People reliable on the radio for updates. The 1920s were filled with tons of first time events in the radio industry. All of these events would allow the industry to enter the consumer market. Conrad’s research and development of radio would continue going forward as his company Westinghouse would ask him to play music on a regular basis as the electric company would begin to sell radios to the public. (The Editors)

By using advertisement in the newspaper, the consumers started to desire a home radio system. This stations (KDKA) would be the first to receive a government license, and the dark years of the war would now give way for freedom of speech and a future of entertainment. All of this entertainment sparked creativity among the people. The next few years the American people have covered the airwaves with hundreds of different broadcast stations. During the year of 1922 almost 550 different stations existed by people who also owned different businesses such as music, retail stores or even hotels (Skretvedt). These stations would have a short life span due to the lack of advertisement based on radio during this time. Most of the content of these pop up stations would be promotions for the owner’s business. Most of the equipment during this time was hand-built from parts around the house, and this was the reason for so many different stations popping up.

The government had to create the Radio Corporations of America (RCA) to regulating the technology and airwaves for the public people. The transmitter, a receiver would be produced by certain people such as Western Electrics, General Electric, and Westinghouse. AT&T would dominate the market by using the toll broadcasting which allows people to use the AT&T radio station to broadcast any message (100 Year). This idea would be similar to a radio log today. The rate of each spot would depend on the amount of time on air, and what time during the day the message would run. AT&T would also gain the first radio ad” in 1923. This is the official advertisement station because it followed the RCA agreement as well as being produced on the only recognized station of AT&T. The AT&T monopoly would soon come to an end as the toll broadcasting leader?? By the end of the decade, NBC and CBS would be the first full radio network. The technology development would be a key tool in the rapid growth of the radio broadcasting industry. In the early days, radio people would use homemade crystal sets and headphones, most of these items could be found around the house. Within a few years speakers would be formed into home furniture with a full functioning speaker. The items become center pieces of the American living room only having a few small dials and large battery -operated speakers. With so many people running in to the radio airways, everyone wanted to have their opinion published across the airways. This would cause some issues with overlapping frequencies causing some programs to be interfere out with other stations. This issue would need to have some sort of moderator for radio to continue to grow.

Something needed to happen to help fix this issue, the federal radio commission was formed and The Radio Act of 1927 was passed. This was the first step of cleaning up the airways. This act would make the radio operate in the public interest allowing for the 1920s to end with radio as a fully formed industry. As time went on, radio would become a mature industry and grow as a big business. The radio shows would be a key in uplifting American citizens during these hard economic times. President Roosevelt was able to use his “Fireside chats” to help and motivate the American people in these dark times. The 30’s would highlight a few key issues involved with radio and cause some restructuring to be done.

In 1933 a new invention would change the way America used radio. The frequency modulation was invented. This new way of transmission of audio would change the way people listened to music and news. The FM side of radio would not grow until the 70’s, but started a new way for people to hear clear audio by removing the static from the traditional AM broadcast. Only the engineers would enjoy this invention, because station owners where makings a good amount of money on the AM frequencies and wanted to avoid another competitor ( K.A )

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The following year the Federal Communications Commission would be formed and replace the Federal Radio Commission. These would become the “Radio Supervisors” and start cleaning up the public airways. The radio was no longer seen as a free for all, but rather a controlled industry. During cleaning of the radio airways, a few other challenges would be faced for the FCC, such as the battles between radio stations and newspapers. This would cause some issues till CBS radio would finally form its own news department. The newspaper felt like radio was going to push the news industry out of the market. While radio was battling with newspaper owners, the musician unions would start to fight for the rights of musical performances over airways. As the issues would be worked out, radio became the main source of information going into the 40’s.

During World War II, people would rely for updates and new information on the war from the radio giving it a huge role in the American household. In June of 1941, the NTSC would determine the television transmission code with the specify amount of lines and frames. However, after the attacks on pearl harbor the industry would be converted to support the war. (100 Years). Television would later develop after the war giving the radio its next major struggle. Since the funding had to go to the war, the radio had an opportunity to be the medium for WW2 information. As the baby boomer generation began to develop so did the radio of pictures. Television would affect movies, radio, and the way people consumed their entertainment. Radio would stay needed during this time credited to a new music genre, rock and roll. The rock and roll music industry would allow for radio to move towards a formatted system like we see today. Radio was now filled with disc jockey partners with spot radio allowing for sponsors to no longer own a station but rather involve themselves with a station. Sponsors could now purchase 30 or 60 seconds advertisement spots.

The 60’s would be a decade that would change the way terrestrial radio is consumed. Music such as the Top-40 format along with bands such as The Beatles allowed for AM radio to make tons of money (100 Year). The sound quality of AM would never improve and become a main reason for people making the change to the FM signal. Audio home system had improved greatly over the last few decades causing the need for FM signal to be broadcasted. The FM signal offered serval different opportunities that AM was unable to compete with, such as less static. The AM signal was known for having poor signal from interface of things in the city; atmosphere, structures such as, buildings could cause signal to be lost. With FM radio this static issue was gone, giving the FM transmission popularity in the music industry. This popularity would lead FM radio to be the main resource of broadcast news and entertainment. The music industry enjoyed the FM frequency for the ability to be heard in the city in which AM signal was not able to. The music industry benefited from FM because more people were able to absorb the music. FM signal was still not useful for people in rural areas due to the transmission distance issues.

The FCC would also develop a few different changes to allow for more public airways during the 60’s. The FCC would change frequency requirements giving the FM radio a huge jump moving into the 70’ s. Some of the largest laws passed from FCC included the limited amount of co-owned AM and FM Systems (Skretvedt). The Radio would be changed by these FCC laws and allow for the FM stations to start appearing in major markets. The 70’s would be a time filled with several different genres of music. The format fragmenting would cause each station to localize themselves. New genres began to pop up all thought the radio, such as disco, young soul, Latino, or even rock and roll. Years would continue and radio would begin to remain stagnant. Radio would strive for servals years but soon become predictable. The small playlist on repeat would bore the people and cause radio to face a new challenge of employment. By the end of the 70’s, radio would start to turn to network automation style productions. This allowed smaller markets to produce content similar to the larger market at the fraction of the cost.

The next huge challenge the industry faced would be due to regulations from the Reagan administration (100 Year.) This would cause the news and public affair shows to suffer dramatically because it no longer required stations to produce news for the public airways. The FCC would try to bring AM radio back by expanding the AM band however, this would not be enough to bring AM back to the top of the market. As radio moved into the 90’s serval things would change and become the way radio industry is conducted today.

Automation would be a major key in the success; less people more work. This automation was able to occur thanks to the computer technologic revolution. No longer did disc jockeys need to cut tape and store the tapes on a cart. All of the productions could be saves on a computer memory and share through the internet. The AM signal will gain its place in the market with All talk radio, such as a political format would give the AM signal revival. It wouldn’t be till present day when people had discovered the power of HD radio used to kill the analog AM signal. This would allow people to enjoy the traditional AM talk shows without any static (Riismandel).

Radio had the chance to go fully digital after 2003 when WDMK in Detroit released the first digital broadcast. This was only heard by a few people given there was only one HD radio receiver sold two days prior to this broadcast (Riismandel). Compared to TV, which was demanded to go fully digital on June 2 of 2009. The FCC would require that all US Household Television be transmitted digital instead of analog. At this time almost 98% of US households where prepared for the change to digital TV (The Switch). Although many people have thought about the idea of changing radio, no information has been released prior to the last few years. The HD radio is a cleaner radio experience.

The millennial generation has an issue with instant gratification. HD radio was created to provide additional information for the consumer today, while being totally free. During the 2000’s, FM and AM would be filled with syndicated programs that are prevalent today. The industry had to learn to face a challenge with live streaming services such as Pandora. The app would give listeners cover art along with limited commercial breaks. Pandora was also able to allow the listener to pick and choose which songs they liked and disliked. This allowed the program to start forming a playlist created specifically for them. HD radio is able to provide this service and serval other opportunities to change the listening experience. HD radio had been around for more than a decade and people are still being educated on all the capabilities. The “HD” in HD radio was designed as the brand name of the premium radio service created by IBiquity. digital corporation. People can find confusion with the HD because HD television standing for high definitions, but the Idea of HD radio is to provide a new listening experience. The current demographic generation is consumed by cellphones and the desire for more information compared to other generations prior (Why HD). One of the huge things that will separate HD radio from AM/FM analog signals is its ability to make all signals sound the same. The traditional AM radio dissolved because of the sound quality compared to FM signal. Now with HD radio the quality of either FM or AM signal will be crystal clear. This change allows for a fair playing field for each station. Another key factor that is not offered by analog radio is the ability to share weather and traffic updates in real time. Another great feature offered by HD radio is the opportunity to pause live radio shows and resume program on the listener’s desire. This was one of the biggest factors of radio by hearing the information once on AM and FM signals. Now with HD radio listeners can rewind, fast forward, or even pause a program during any point of the show. The HD radio does separate themselves from Satellite radio by offering the same local signal as analog, but without static and no monthly subscription fees. People are only able to take advantage of this free service by upgrading their current radio system to a compatible HD radio receiver. Most Americans are unaware of what radio revisers are considered a HD radio compatible, however most new cars today offer this radio service. HD radio is filled with tons of different bells and whistles to change the listening experiences (WhyHD). The main thing that’ll separate HD radio from any other audio streaming service, is the ability to use the same signal to generate three different programs. The same dial position can now offer three different formats on the stations format. Using codes such as HD1, HD 2, and HD 3. In East Texas, we have three major different formats all located on the same dial position 88.9. The HD 1 is filled with news and entertainment while HD 2 is only classic music and HD 3 is NPR based news cast. This is useful in building a station’s image by offering serval different formats, without taking up the airways with three different dial positions. This ability now gives limitless opportunities for stations to build content (Why HD).

HD radio has a great opportunity to allow radio to be in market for the long haul. With new streaming services, cable T.V. is starting to face some serious challenges of people cutting the cord. HD radio may kill the analog Am signal, however this maybe the saving grace for AM entertainment. People now have little reason to not tune into Am signals for the quality viewership can be based on content. I think HD radio will be able to outlast many other mediums just like Am/FM signals have done in the last century. The issue will still be in the educations for people with HD radio and all the great qualities it can offer the consumer.

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Radio As One of the Longest Standing Media: Analysis of Evolution. (2022, August 12). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 9, 2023, from
“Radio As One of the Longest Standing Media: Analysis of Evolution.” Edubirdie, 12 Aug. 2022,
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