10 Important Firsts In The History Of Radio

We recently shared some of the facts behind the invention of the telephone, and introduced you to some of the people responsible for the phone's evolution from an idea to an American staple.

Another iconic product that had a very similar trajectory is the radio.  Born from the telegraph and the telephone, the radio became an American sensation and truly changed daily life for millions. 

But even if you don't listen to commercial radio anymore, radio technology is still all around you.  It's inside your cellphone.  It's also in the WiFi you're probably using to read this.   

It's important to look back on where it all began. 

1
Guglielmo Marconi sends and receives the first the radio signal in 1895

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Guglielmo Marconi, c. 1909. Print Collector / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Guglielmo Marconi sent and received his first radio signal in Italy in 1895. By 1899, he sent a wireless signal across the English Channel and in 1902, he received the letter "S", telegraphed from England to Newfoundland. This was the first successful transatlantic radiotelegraph message. 

Learn more about Guglielmo Marconi. 

2
Reginald Fessenden makes and first radio broadcast in 1906

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Reginald Fessenden.

In 1900, Canadian inventor Reginald Fessenden transmitted the world's first voice message. On Christmas Eve, 1906, he made the first radio broadcast in history. 

More about Reginald Fessenden →

3
Lee DeForest invents the Audion in 1907

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Lee DeForest holding his invention. Hulton Archive / Stringer / Getty Images

In 1907, Lee DeForest patented an electronic device named the audion. DeForest's new invention boosted radio waves as they were received and allowed the human voice, music, or any broadcast signal to be heard loud and clear.  His work would also lead to the first AM "radio", that would allow transmitters to receive multiple radio stations.

Learn more about Lee DeForest →

4
In 1912, radio stations got call letters for the first time

Ever wonder why United States radio (and now television) stations start with W and K?  

Beginning in 1912, every country approved of and received designated letters to begin radio station call letters with.  This was to avoid confusion with other country's radio stations.  Think of it like how a domain name works today. 

In the United States, the letters "W" and "K" were selected for use. In 1923, The Federal Communications Commission ordained that all new radio stations east of the Mississippi River would use "W" as the first letter and stations west of the Mississippi would use "K".

More about radio call letters →

5
The Sinking of the Titanic in 1912 mandates the use of radio at sea

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Titanic Senior Wirless Officer Jack Phillips, who was lost when Titanic sank.

At the time, the radio telegraph on the Titanic was one of the most powerful telegraph systems in the world. The radio telegraph was operated by the Marconi Company, and was designed more for the convenience of their wealthy passengers than for the needs of the ship employees.

During the sinking, the radio was used to reach nearby ships in order to rescue the passengers. The steamer ship Californian was closer to the wreck than the ship that would eventually reach her (the Carpathia), but the ship's wireless operator had already gone to bed, the Californian was unaware of any distress signals from theTitanic until the morning. By then the Carpathia had already picked up all the survivors. 

After the sinking, in 1913, the International Convention for Safety of Life at Sea was organized. This produced a set of rules for ships, including having lifeboats for the entire manifest and maintaining twenty four hour radio use. 

More about the role the Titanic's radio operators played on that fateful night →

10 Facts About the Titanic That You Don't Know →

6
Edwin Armstrong invented FM Radio in 1933

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Edwin Armstrong.

Edwin Armstrong's work on Frequency modulation or FM improved the audio signal of by controlling the noise static caused by electrical equipment and the earth's atmosphere.  Armstrong's life would take a tragic turn, as after years of fighting over FM patents with RCA, he would commit suicide in 1954.  FM radio would become the predominant form for broadcasting music in the last half of the 20th Century. 

Read more about inventor Edwin Armstrong →

7
Detroit's 8MK becomes first radio station in 1920

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August 31, 1920 announcement of inaugural public broadcast over station 8MK. Detroit News via Wikimedia Commons

On August 20, 1920, Detroit, MI's 8MK (today known as WWJ 950 AM) goes on the air as America's first radio station, eventually offering the first news broadcast, sports play-by-play, and religious broadcast. 

8
Pittsburgh's KDKA makes first Commercial Broadcast in 1920

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KDKA's first broadcast in 1920. via KDKA / http://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/station/newsradio-1020-kdka/

A few months after 8MK's broadcast, on November 6, 1920, Pittsburgh's KDKA made the commercial broadcast in the United States.  The first program? The Presidential election returns in the race between Warren G. Harding and James Cox. 

9
The first car stereos were invented in the 1930s

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The first car radio may have found itself in a Model T like this. SuperStock / Getty Images

The true car radios weren’t introduced until the 1930s. Motorola offered one of the first car radios, which retailed for about $130. Philco also introduced an early head unit around that time.  Adjusted for inflation, $130 is about $1800 today, or 1/3 the price of an entire Model T. 

Follow more of the history of the car radio here 

10
Satellite Radio is launched in 2001

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Adam Gault / OJO Images / Getty Images.

Satellite radio began in 1992 when the FCC allocated a spectrum for nationwide broadcasting of satellite-based Digital Audio Radio Service. Of the 4 companies that applied for a license to broadcast, 2 of them (Sirius and XM) received approval to broadcast from the FCC in 1997. XM would launch in 2001, and Sirius in 2002 and the two would later merge to form Sirius XM Radio in 2008. 

Read more about Sirius XM Radio →

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