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Page history last edited by Kate M. Fisher 14 years, 11 months ago


     Radio started off as a series of dots and dashes, which were used to relay messages. It later turned into a complete audio phenomena through wires, employing electromagnetic radiation. Signals were sent through what was known as, a “wireless telegraph." After a while, certain messages weren't able to be relayed, based on the fact, that they were located to far from a strong connection. This forced the need for a new type of communication system. Radio's purpose was to send signals across a distance, using codes that the receiver could interpret. 

The Development

      After the development of the telegraph, Alexander Graham Bell took it upon himself, to form an “electric speech machine,” in 1876. This creation was a system where information was sent through sound, allowing people to communicate over great distances. In the 1880’s, when Heinrich Hertz was demonstrating his development, based on the theory that electromagnetic waves behave in the same way as light, and that light itself is electromagnetic in nature, employing “electromagnetic radiation” thus creating sparks, he proved that wireless telegraphing was possible. His theory unfortunately failed. Hertz received help from the Italian inventor, Guglielmo Marconi. Marconi's creation of a wireless transmission system, allowed sound waves to travel over great distances, without using wires, in contrast to the type of wires that were used with Morse Code. Morse Code consisted of three "dit" sounds. That was the beginning of the theory that sound without wires couldn't exist. Soon after that development, the creators went through a process of trying to figure out the proper name to call this new technology. 

The Development of Commercial Radio (From the book Making it in Radio)

      Dan Blume stated, "Radio is an industry that reaches out to about 95 percent of Americans every week and around 75 percent everyday." [2] Blume did research and found that on average a household contains six radios, including radios found in cars.  Also, about 60 percent of the U.S. population wakes up daily by radio alarm clocks. [2]  Blume stated, "Radio reaches more people daily than television, newspapers, or magazines."  Radio affects each and every listener.  It could be a reflection in their attitude and/or their behavior.  Blume said that, "American commercial radio is a system of stations and networks that derive revenue from advertisers who wish to reach audiences with messages about their products, services, and ideas."  The stations charge the advertisers to broadcast their commericals.  They are trying to get their message out their and one of the easiest ways is by the radio.  The radio is advertisers primary marketing tool. [2] 

Radio----How it works

      Blume stated, “The development of communications by electromagnetic radiations traveling at the speed of light—radio-- is one of the most remarkable achievements of science in the 20th century.” [2]  Radio works by converting sound into electromagnetic waves. Electromagnetic waves are also known as radio waves. Radio waves have the possibility of traveling 186,000 miles per second. Blume states that all radio starts with electricity. He also stated that the electrons which are the negatively charged particles—electrons—are vital to the radio. [2] 

The Golden Age of Radio 1935-50

      In 1935 the radio served as the turning point to the "central medium" during the Depression.  [2] Only 2 out of every 3 homes during this time contained radios. There were networks everywhere in America.  There was always something interesting to be heard on the radio. They began advertising on the radio which hurt the newspapers because the radio was so popular.  The radio eventually grew to be the news cast.  If you wanted to know something you just had to turn on the radio to find out.  Blume then went into detail on the years that are in which stated now.  In 1939, broadcasting tried to balance between two factions of public sentiment.  In 1940, music was still the most popular thing on the radio.  It so happened that music took up 50% of the programming on the radio.  In 1941, the first disk jockey came along.  In New York, Maritin Block started "The Make Believe Ballroom."  He talked about bands and performers.  However, this was only playing records.  In 1943, there were only 700,000 radios that were sold.  This was a huge decrease from two years before when there were 13 million radios sold.  With the decrease in sales, it caused a decline in the production of phonograph records.  In 1944, people dedicated their radio time to the news segments which increased to 20%.  Still at that time music was the basic hit.  In 1946,  63% of people in America admitted that the radio was their main source of news.  In 1949, advertising basically took a huge part away from the radio.  There were more stations so there were more advertising.   In 1950, the radio sales jumped.  There were 40 million homes that now owned a radio.   [2]

All of the information below came from source [2]:   


Characteristics of Modern Commercial Radio Stations


     Most of the broadcasters today are sales people, reporters, or disc jockeys.  Radio stations have two basic types:  AM and FM.  They come in different classes, sizes, and shapes.  “AM and FM radio make up but two of the various bands in use within the radio spectrum.  AM is the pioneer radio system of commercial broadcasting.  Originally called the standard band.” [2]  FM basically didn’t exist until 1970.

There are 4 major classes of AM stations:

     Blume made all of these statements:

  1. Class I stations operate on clear channels with a maximum of 50 kW and minimum of 10kW of power.  These channels were made to broadcast to urban and rural sections at night throughout the country.  AM now contains 45 clear channels. [2]
  2. Class II stations are secondary clear channel facilities.  They go out to large land areas and highly populated places.  They are obtained so they will not interfere with the clear channel stations. [2]
  3. Class III stations provide broadcast service to population centers and adjacent rural areas on 41 regional channels.  More than 2,000 Class III stations now use regional channels throughout the U.S.[2]
  4. Class IV stations provide limited broadcast service. [2]


There are three classes of FM stations:

Blume made all of these statements:

  1. Class A stations are intended to provide local broadcast service.  They operate with a maximum effective radiated power of 3kW and antenna height of not more than 300 feet above average terrain [2]
  2. Class B stations operate with a maximum effective radiated power of 50 kW and antenna height of not more than 500 feet above average terrain. [2]
  3. Class C stations operate with a maximum effective radiated power of 100 kW and antenna height of not more than 2,000 feet above average terrain.  [2]


Blume stated, “Class A stations are assigned to all zones.  Class B stations are assigned to Zone I and IA, and Class C stations are assigned to Zone II. 

Documenting Early Radio

      Blume said that basically early radio, to most people, is anything before the fifties. [2]  They would look at it as programming, advertising, drama, and news.  The technology was ready to go and in place in 1930 for broadcasting.  There were so many recordings in the early radio days.  There are questions as to why are there very few today?  Well there are solutions and many explanations.  Blume said, "One is the inherent fragility of the aluminum recordings themselves.  A second factor is the reason for which the recordings were made.   A third factor was World War II.  A forth factor being OTR collectors today are unaware that the aluminum disc system had ever existed."  [2]   

Characteristics of Radio

      In Andrew Crisell's book Understanding Radio he talks amongst some of the greatest topics about radio and makes it very clear.  He said, "The oldest mode of mass communication is that of written characters-literature in its widest sense of writing, written language."  Radio can be distinguished differently from other mass communications because there is no image or text.  The medium is not visual. [1]  Crisell stated, "One of the biggest advantages radio has is people can use their imaginations."  [1]  Crisell said this is because, "it offers sound-only instead of sound and vision and the listener is compelled to supply the visual data for himself." [1] He also said, "This appeal to the imagaination gives radio and evident advantage over film and television, but it could be objected that the advantage depends upon partial notion and the imagination, that in poiint of fact it is more than a purely visual fact." [1]  It is all in the listener's hands to use their imagination while listening to the radio.  It is their job to make what they want of the radio and or the broadcaster.  Crisell said, "It lacks of a visual dimension means that radio lacks he printed words of the former, nor can it complement its sounds with the images of the latter." [1]    

Radio: Codes and Signs

      Crisell said," The noises of radio can be subdivided into words, sounds and music." [1]  Basically words are like signs.  That in which means they do not mean what they represent.  Sounds are not like words.  Crisell says, "sound is natural a form of signification which exists out there in the real world." [1] Music provides two main functions.  "It is an object of aesthetic pleasure in its own right.  Also, either by itself or in combination with words and/or sounds it performs and ancillary function in signifuing something outside itself." [1]  Context, is in fact the key to sounds and music's meanings.  

Radio Advertising

      Brassil stated, "Radio advertsing is all about making an impact on its audience." [3]  It doesn't matter if its the jingle of the advertisement they have heard on the radio or if its just the commerical itself.  Radio advertising will have you thinking or sining the jingle.  Radio advertising is the strongest medium of advertising. [3] Radio advertising is so good because everyone listens to the radio whether it be in the car or when the alarm clock goes off.  The advertisers consider radio advertising because its so powerful and has such a huge impact on people.  

The Pros and Cons of Radio Advertising

     As with everything, the radio has its pros and cons.  Advertising on the radio is good because radio ads are cheaper and reach so many more people at one time. Advertsing on the radio beats the cost of television ads and or news paper ads.[3] Impact:has a greater impact rather than any other medium of advertising.  The advertisments are recorded and replayed numerous times throughout the days. [3] Entertaining:  They are catchy.  You can't see anything or what the advertisment is.Therefore, you can picture what you want. With that being said, it is easy to make what you want of the advertisement and they will get you thinking every time. [3] Cost effective: it is great for the ones on a budget.  Radio advertising is very cost effective. [3]To go along with the pros...the cons of radio advertising are: Short life span:  unless the advertisement is something that will stick in your head like a jingle you are most likely to forget it. When you hear a jingle more than once a day and its catchy to you, it is most likely it has done its job.[3]2. Cost Flucation: the problem with radio advertising is the cost is never set. It depends on the length of the advertisement and or what order the advertiser wants it in. [3]


[1] Crisell, Andrew. Understanding Radio.  Methuen & Co. Ltd, 1986.

[2] Blume, Dan.  Making It In Radio.  Continental Media Company,1983.

[3] Brassil, Michael.  "Radio Advertising Pros and Cons."  http://www.websitemarketingplan.com/small_business/radio.htm  

"When Radio Was" -- a Documentary about the history of radio starring Dick Cavett:


Comments (7)

Jeff Martinek said

at 5:22 pm on Sep 11, 2008


Don't forget to check my links on the course website under "online resources". The section entitled "Guides to Specific Media and their history" has many links to radio (and television) sites, including:

-- AdmiN (2008-04-07 12:51:55)

Jeff Martinek said

at 12:11 pm on Sep 17, 2008

"Who Invented Radio" article at the website of C.C. Crane, one of the oldest and most respected radio supply companies in the world: http://www.ccrane.com/library/who-invented-radio.aspx

Jeff Martinek said

at 11:49 am on Nov 8, 2008

You should get Susan J. Douglas' book "Imagining Tomorrow" from interlibrary loan. We have a selection from it in our class text, but the whole book is considered a landmark in the study of radio as a cultural phenomenon.

Jeff Martinek said

at 3:11 pm on Nov 23, 2008

Megan: that large graphic doesn't really work. Could you take it out and replace it? -- JM

megan.couch said

at 4:29 pm on Nov 23, 2008

yes....i will look for another one! is it ok if i can possibly make sure i have all the words in first and then add those or no?

Jeff Martinek said

at 7:02 pm on Nov 23, 2008


Yes, don't worry about the graphic for now. I've got a lot of good radio graphics and we can go over those later and you can pick one if you like. Worry about the words right now.

Good work so far!


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