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History Of Radio

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The invention of the wireless brought a revolution in communication, information and entertainment. The history of radio is a complicated one as many people contributed to its development. In 1896, Marconi was awarded a British patent for the invention, as was Tesla some time later. 

Marconi established the first radio station in the world on the Isle of Wight and he opened the first wireless manufacturers in the world in Chelmsford in the UK. One of the first uses of this modern wonder was to pass morse code messages between ships and land. The military took advantage of the technology too, in World War I.

The first sets were crystal sets and then the vacuum tube was used from the mid-1920s. KDKA in Pittsburgh was given the first license for a commercial broadcasting station in1920. Radio used to be the major form of entertainment and news in the home before the invention of television. The whole family would gather round to listen to their favorite comedy show or cliffhanger serial. When Orson Welles made his War of the Worlds program, people ran into the streets in panic, thinking that it was a real broadcast and that the Martians had landed! However, the history of radio is full of memorable broadcasts about real life events. The technology continues to evolve and the late 1990s saw the introduction of digital transmissions.

There are several interesting books on the subject, which look at the technical aspects and the cultural impact of radio. Very Early History of Radio from Faraday to Marconi by G.R.M. Garratt looks at the work done on electromagnetic waves to Marconi's and other's practical demonstrations. Old Radio Sets by Jonathan Hill is a fascinating history of radio from the very beginnings to the late 1960s with photographs of rare models. D-Day Despatches (BBC Radio Collection) is an audiobook of broadcasts by BBC war correspondents on the D-Day landings in Normandy by Allied forces in June 1944.

In the 1960s, tired of the lack of pop music played on British radio, a group of DJs took matters into their own hands and broadcast from what would become known as pirate ships. Pop Went the Pirates: History of Offshore Radio Stations is written by Keith Skues, who was a Pirate DJ himself. He publishes extracts from his diary when he was working on Radio London. The book also details offshore stations in operation today.

Rebels in the Air: An Alternative History of Radio in America by Jesse Walker is a history of free non-mainstream radio. It charts the early days of FM and Community Radio in the 1960s and 70s. The pioneers of stations that gave an alternative to the chart playlist give interviews about the legal battles they fought. There are sections on the pirate broadcasters of the 1990s and internet radio.

For people who are interested in the design of radio sets over the years, there is The Setmakers: History of the Radio and Television Industry by Keith Geddes and Gordon Bussly. It's full of illustrations and information from the 1920s onwards. (TIMExplore.com)

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