In October 1897, an Italian-born inventor named Guglielmo Marconi, building on the work of a dozen or so scientists, successfully demonstrated what he called “wireless telegraphy” by transmitting a signal through the air from England’s Salisbury Plain all the way to Bath, a distance of 55 km. On December 23, 1900, Canadian-born Reginald Fessenden began the first person to transmit audio wirelessly. Within 10 years, geeks everywhere were talking about this new thing called “radio.”
The early years of radio unfolded much like the early years of the Internet. At first, scientists and inventors worked towards industrial applications, like ship-to-shore communication. Then amateur radio-obsessed nerds and rebels took over, dominating the electromagnetic spectrum, resulting in equal parts coolness and chaos. By the 1920s, governments were stepping in with order and regulation. That’s when radio use by the general population exploded.
(It’s fun to note that musicians and composers initially hated when radio stations played records. “Recorded music is putting musicians out of work! And why would people buy our records if they can hear them on the radio for free? Radio will be the death of music!” Sound familiar?)
Radios became ubiquitous. Large consoles in the parlour. Smaller units on the kitchen counter or in the office. Fragile contraptions in cars. And when the transistor radio came on the scene in 1954, everything the airwaves delivered became completely portable.
CNN Style calls radio “one of history’s most important inventions.” Here’s more.
There are few more important inventions in the history of the world than the radio.
While in recent years it may have become less popular than television or the internet, it could be argued that the radio was the first electronic gadget to play a prominent part in people’s lives.
Radio is where the world first heard Britain declare war on Germany, where Orson Welles accidentally fooled the public into believing a real alien invasion was under way in his “War Of The Worlds” serial and where young people first heard Billy Haley’s “Rock Around The Clock,” spreading popular music around the world.
But it is not just an aural medium. Like all important pieces of technology, design has had an essential part to play in its evolution.
Within the radio’s changing form over the years you can learn plenty about 20th century modern design.
From the giant mahogany chests of the early days to the kitsch Bush models of the 1950s, Panasonic ghetto blasters to chunky Sony in-car stereos and up to today, where radio is so often just an app on a laptop or a phone.