110 Years Ago This Xmas Eve, A Canadian Made the First Voice-and-Music Broadcast Using This New Thing Called “Radio”

Back in 1906, radio was still a very new medium. Transmitters were wonky and unreliable; broadcasts were all in Morse code; and receiving radio signals was difficult.

A few days before Christmas Eve 1906, a Canadian-born inventor named Reginald Fessenden informed radio operators aboard ships operated by the United Fruit Company that they should monitor their receivers at 9pm ET December 24 for something…interesting at a frequency of 42 KHz (although it might have been at 75 KHz; accounts vary, although Fessenden’s transmitter frequency probably drifted all over the place) .

Precisely at 9:00, radio operators heard something very strange through their primitive headphones. Instead of dots and dashes, they heard a human voice. It was Fessenden, broadcasting from Brant Rock, Massachusetts, using a 420-foot antenna, pushing out a signal at 1 kilowatt.

He played a little big of “O Holy Night” on the violin, singing the last verse as he played. That was followed by a Christmas reading from Luke 2 and concluded by reciting the text of “Glory to God in the highest and on Earth and peace of men to goodwill.”

Radio operators were stunned. Fessenden got reports from ships all along the Atlantic coast as far south as Norfolk, West Virgina. (He repeated the trick on New Year’s Eve and was reportedly heard all the way down to the West Indies.)

This was the start of the radio broadcasting that we know today. Every DJ and announcer can trace what they do back to Christmas Eve, 1906.


Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

One thought on “110 Years Ago This Xmas Eve, A Canadian Made the First Voice-and-Music Broadcast Using This New Thing Called “Radio”

  • September 1, 2017 at 11:11 pm

    Completely Fascinated by this, I came here looking for an old method of sending Morse Code, I knew it was used on old Fruit Company Ships, but never expected to see all this,..good job !!..An old time method was personalized “Lake Erie. Swing”Where operators would deliberatly..”drag” out the “dahs ” Dashes”..to be recognized …or “personalized”…


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