History of Radio 1895 to 1921

About the history of radio from the first wireless invention in 1895 to the first radio programs, the formation of RCA, spread in popularity and use in sports and politics and more.



* Guglielmo Marconi, 21, and his brother Alfonso transmitted radio signals across the hills behind their father's home in Bologna, Italy. Failing to interest the Italian government in his invention, Marconi took it to England, where customs agents mangled the suspicious "black box" of batteries, wires, and dials. The British navy quickly saw the maritime potential of the device, however, and within two years the Italian had established Marconi's Wireless Telegraph Company.


Christmas Eve From Brant Rock, Mass., Reginald Aubrey Fessenden broadcast the first radio program, in which he played the violin, delivered a short speech, quoted the Bible, and played a phonograph recording. The broadcast was picked up by ships within a 5-mi. radius of the station. Because of favorable atmospheric conditions, Fessenden's second program, transmitted on New Year's Eve, reached listeners as far away as the West Indies.


Apr. 14 David Sarnoff, 21, a telegraph operator, intercepted the first distress signals from the doomed ship Titanic. On the job for 72 straight hours, he kept the world posted on rescue attempts and the names of survivors. When it was over, the name Sarnoff was a household word.


Nov. Radio pioneer Lee De Forest broadcast the national election returns. Along with many other reporters that year, he erroneously proclaimed Charles Evans Hughes the winner of the presidency over Woodrow Wilson.

* David Sarnoff, employed as contracts manager at the Marconi Company, sent a memo to his boss: "I have in mind a plan of development which would make radio a household utility in the same sense as the piano or phonograph. . . . The receiver can be designed in the form of a simple 'Radio Music Box' . . . [which] can be placed in the parlor or living room. . . ."


Oct. 17 Radio Corporation of America--RCA--was formed.


Jan. Vocalist Vaughn de Leath belted out a Stephen Foster number from De Forest's studio to become the "First Lady of radio." In the next few years, she perfected a new style of song called "crooning." Although a natural soprano, she was forced to sing in a lower register because high notes kept blowing out early radio's fragile transmitters.

Nov. 2 Radio was becoming bigtime. KDKA, Pittsburgh, broadcast the presidential election returns, when Warren G. Harding defeated James Cox, and set off what historian Erik Barnouw describes as "a national mania." The Commerce Dept. was deluged with applications for broadcast licenses. Newspapers instituted radio columns and program listings. All over the country, people rushed to buy radio sets or made their own--primitive crystal sets with the "cat's whisker" which magically brought voices and music into the headset. "Radio nuts" stayed up until all hours trying to bring in distant stations.


July 2 An estimated 300,000 people huddled around radios in the eastern part of the U.S. to hear Jack Dempsey knock out Georges Carpentier in the fourth round at Jersey City, N.J.

Oct. WJZ, Newark, broadcast the World Series, as the New York Giants beat the New York Yankees five games to three.

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