The invention of radio broadcasting took a long time. In the year of 1864, British scientist James Clerk Maxwell conjured that ” an electromagnetic disturbance travels in free space with the velocity of light”. Then 24 years later, Heinrich Hertz confirmed his speculation by discovering electromagnetic waves (Sengupta & Sarkar, 2003). In 1895, Alexander S. Popov demonstrated the very first electromagnetic waves receiver based on Hertz’s research (Vendik, 1995). By the end of 1906, Reginald Fessenden built the first reliable radio program broadcast in Massachusetts, US (Sivowitch, 1970).
According to American Radio Works (2014), “In 1930, more than 40 percent of American households owned a radio. A decade later that number more than doubled, to 83 percent.” Radio had its golden age at that time, widely used by various domains and it has a huge impact on the American society. For example, in 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt conducted Fireside Chat through radio, making people feel closer to their president and giving American families encouragement and inspiration to get rid of the recession. In 1938, an infamous radio drama episode called The War of the Worlds, performing an invasion of Martians, resulted in mass hysteria and disturbance. This shows that radio served as an information source and has been trusted by its mass audience. Even a drama can sometimes be misperceived as news. Moreover, the government used radio for propaganda during the World War two. For instance, United States Office of War Information was promulgated by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1942 and operated until 1945. The Radio Bureau is one of the essential divisions, contributing to both information services and delivering propaganda (Lazarsfeld & Stanton, 1944).
After television debuted, radio listening declined dramatically. Compared to visual stimuli, audio did not have the same appeal . Most people listened to it while driving. In the age of the Internet, radio faces great opportunities and challenges. Only if catching up the evolution of media and remain its “revolutionary” can radio survive. As Chiumbu (2014) mentioned, “Radio, now accessed on multiple digital platforms, is allowing diverse forms of utilization and engagement.”
From my perspective, the most vital change of radio is its mobility. It not only about audience can carry a radio everywhere, it became a feature in smart phone. Audiences are able to approach it while sitting on the train during their commute or while walking their dogs as long as they have a smart phone. For example, the iOS system has embedded its own podcast application into almost every iPhone. Besides breaking the limitation of space, it also became asynchronous. Audiences do not have to bother waiting at certain time for certain programs. They can subscribe to programs they are interested in and listen to it wherever there is a internet connection or they can simply download them ahead with WI-FI. Personalization is also a dimension of great significance. Online radio APPs, say Spotify, can be customized to a specific user. The application records all the music users have listened to and tend to recommend similar music users may like based on their personal taste. Playlists can also be created by users themselves fitting various situations like working or exercising. Most podcast applications have “share” functions, encouraging users to share episodes to various social medias.
For now, podcasting occupies an unique position in the market of radio. According to data from Statista, ” 61% of the U.S. population listen[ed] to online radio in 2017. ” Furthermore, American radio stations generated approximately 5.4% of a total 15 billion U.S. dollars revenue online in 2016, in which Pandora Corporate and Spotify serve as frontrunners and big players.
Although individuals are allowed to create radio programs and make them available on internet platforms, undoubtedly big companies are in dominance. Without sponsors, individual voices can hardly be heard. Michael Hauben (1994) believes that internet should be kept uncommercialized and unprivatized to make sure that it serves as ” the vehicle for distribution of people’s ideas, thoughts and yearnings.” Public service broadcasters aim to serve all citizens nationally. British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) may suit this idea yet it is impossible for every country to use this mode and most radio stations are commercial, selling their airtime to make profits. Radio programs must be competitive, eye-catching, and meaningful.
In sum, questions about how radio can adapt to the Information Age, evolve as a part of emerging media and secure users’ data will be vitally important for the prosperity of radio.
Sengupta, D. L., & Sarkar, T. K. (2003). Maxwell, Hertz, the Maxwellians, and the early history of electromagnetic waves. IEEE Antennas and propagation magazine, 45(2), 13-19.
Vendik, O. G. (1995, September). Contribution of Prof Alexander S Popov to the development of wireless communications. In Microwave Conference, 1995. 25th European (Vol. 2, pp. 895-902). IEEE.
Sivowitch, E. N. (1970). A technological survey of broadcasting’s “pre‐history,” 1876–1920. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 15(1), 1-20.
Smith, S. (2014, November 10). Radio: The Internet of the 1930s. Retrieved November 13, 2017, from http://www.americanradioworks.org/segments/radio-the-internet-of-the-1930s/
Lazarsfeld, P., & Stanton, Frank. (1944). Radio research, 1942-1943. New York: Essential Books : Distributed by Duell, Sloan and Pearce.
Chiumbu, S. H. (2014). ‘The world is our community’: Rethinking community radio in the digital age. Journal of African Media Studies, 6(3), 249-264.
U.S. Radio Industry – Statistics & Facts. Retrieved November 13, 2017, from https://www.statista.com/topics/1330/radio/