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EDITORIAL COMMENT
DECEMBER, 1999
First Century thoughts

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Radio's great century - a look back

This has been the century when radio effectively began, first as a means of communicating using code (Morse), then as an analogue wave which blossomed into the first new mass medium of the century and now seemingly on the move to another form of code transmission(digital) but overshadowed by big-Brother Television and new upstart the Internet. So it seems a good time for a look backwards with next month one to look forward.
Radio's technological roots
As with most innovations, radio's scientific and technological roots began well before it affected everyday lives. The possibility of it was first shown when Michael Faraday (1791-1867) the English scientist demonstrated that an electrical current could produce a magnetic field. He was followed by Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell ( 1831-1879) who proved mathematically that the resultant electromagneit energy could be detected over considerable distances and then by German physicist Heinrich Hertz (1857-1894 ) who in 1888 became the first person to transmit and receive radio waves.
Following their lead, Italian physicist Guglielmo Marconi ( 1874-1937) developed what became a practicable system. By 1896, after moving to England, he had filed his first patent and set up transmissions over some 15 km (10 miles) and three years later in September 1899 made news use of his equipment when he equipped two U.S. ships to report to New York newspapers the progress of the America's Cup yacht race.

Programmes for the public
As already noted Marconi had attracted publicity for radio by using it for transmitting news in Morse code but, as technology developed ( firstly with Sir John Fleming's 1904 diode and then Lee de Forest's triode in 1906), it became practicable to transmit audio as such. Home reception progressed from the sets made posssible by Greenleaf Whittier Pickard'a 1906 crystal detector (the 'Cat's Whisker') to the family ones made possibly by Edwin H Armstrong (1890-1954), whose work is central to pretty well all mass broadcasting. While still at Columbia Armstrong devised the regenerative or feedback circuit (using De Forest's three-element vacuum tube) which not only massively increased amplification so signals could be heard across a room but also turned out at its highest amplification to shift from being a receiver to being an oscillator, the radiowave generator at the heart of broadcasts to this day. He went on to invent the superheterodyne circuit, a tunable radio receiver (in 1917) and in FM radio (in 1933).As well as becoming a millionaire through selling his patent rights to the major radio corporations he met his future wife--then a secretary to David Sarnoff of RCA (see below) -through them.
The first person confident enough to advertise a programme for the public seems to have been American Professor Reginald Aubrey Fessenden who made his music broadcast from Brant Rock in Massachusets in December 1906 following some six years of experiments which moved on from badly disorted speech to acceptable classical music. Following on from these pioneers came the development of broadcasting for the masses with, by a quirk of fate, two models of broadcasting developed in the English-speaking world; the public broadcaster notably the BBC in England and the commercial one in the USA.

The British model under John, later Lord, Reith was distinguished but high-brow whilst the American one was more populist. At the centre of its development was David Sarnoff (1891-1971) who emigrated from Russia in 1900, became known worldwide in 1912 after he picked up the Titanic's distress signal and in 1916 first proposed the "radio music box".It took nine years until he was able to fully demonstrate its market potential when in 1921 as general manager of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), he broadcast the Jack Dempsey v George's Carpentier title fight. Within three years of this RCA had sold more than $80 million worth of receivers. After that one could say it was all gilding; the foundations were firm.
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