Over the years radio has adapted, like all mass media, to the wants of the people. Radio has changed for the better, and the changing landscape of entertainment has only made it more successful. But to understand how it is today, we have to understand how it was back then. Here is the history of radio and how it demassified over time.
European experimenters like Heinrich Hertz, which the radio frequency unit hertz is named after, had made contributions to radio history in the late 1800s by doing experiments with electromagnetic waves. In the 1890s, the vertical antenna was invented by Guglielmo Marconi. The vertical antenna transmitted signals of ever-increasing distance, and by the year 1901, he could send messages from England across the Atlantic Ocean to Newfoundland. In December 1906 Reginald Fessenden, a Canadian inventor, was able to arrange a holiday broadcast to operators off the Atlantic seaboard. He sang, played the violin and read biblical verses to people on ships that were heard from New England to Virginia.
Despite the ban of amatuer radio broadcasting in World War 1, the United States made radio licenses available to broadcasters in 1922, thus leading to several hundred stations being founded. The 1920s showed audiences that radio had a faster means of receiving updates than waiting for the newspaper. The War of the Worlds, by Orson Welles is an excellent example of how much faster radio is than newspapers.
As more events aired on the radio, more fans built and bought sets. The number of radio sets in America increased from 60,000 to 1.5 million, just between the years of 1922 to 1923. In 1922, there were 28 stations in operation and in just two years the number grew to 1,400. Among the biggest commercial broadcasters were the National Broadcasting Company and the Columbia Broadcasting System, which formed in 1926. They are now known as television networks NBC and CBS.
In 1931, radio’s “Golden Age” had begun. Half of the country had radios in their homes. Mothers would listen in the morning, children did after school, and fathers did with their families during the prime time broadcasts. People could listen to sermons and gospel music from their homes. During World War II, 90% of families owned a radio, and they listened to an average of three to four hours of programming a day, using it as their main source of news. By 1940, over 25% of American automobiles came with radios, ready for the early equivalent of today’s “driveway moments.”
The first time radio demassified was in the 1950s, this was due to the television era beginning. Radio created dramas, sitcoms, and soap operas. These are the same broadcasting genres that television took for itself. Radio could have let television win, but they didn’t. The transistor allowed radios to become smaller and more mobile. Radio stations started to study demographic data, which then they were able to cater more specialized programming to their audiences. It has been said that the emergence of a new type of music, rock ‘n’ roll, created the youth culture in America, and as the music took to the airwaves, so did listeners under 21. Talk radio began to dominate the AM broadcast band, with music shifting to the clear FM band.
The second time radio demassified was more recent, this was due to the internet era. Smartphones are able to download music which people started using more frequently rather than radios. Resulting in apps being created to stream radio on our smartphones. We now have Pandora, Spotify, and much more. Podcasts are being used more frequently than radio now days because it is easier to share to others, easier to get them started, and not regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). According to Merriam-Webster, a podcast is a program (as of music or talk) made available in digital format for automatic download over the Internet. There is also a new type of radio; satellite radio. Wikipedia states that, satellite radio has little to no commercials, has a clearer sound, can listen to the same station going long distances, and is not regulated by the FCC.
Seeing the major changes radio has made since it was first invented is unbelievable. It started out as communication during the World Wars to communication to the people to entertainment for the people. What is next in the future for radio? What will it adapt to next? radio is here to stay, no matter what it faces next.
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