A couple of weeks ago I had the quaint idea to write the history of radio in MarconiDreams blog posts. Watching the business side of American radio huff and puff toward implosion, I’ve decided there really isn’t that much to it. I think I can do it in one post. Here goes:

Heinrich Hertz and others discovered that electricity radiates. Tesla picked up on it, too, only he wanted to do away with power lines and power the world wirelessly. Marconi immediately saw a worldwide wireless telegraph. Marconi and others developed vacuum tubes that turned sound into radio waves, and we soon went way beyond dots and dashes, talking and singing through the air, too. To avoid a new Babel of stations on the same wave, governments took control of this new natural resource. Britain invented the BBC. Most countries followed suit and kept radio for their own official uses. The free-enterprise U.S. handed out licenses to private station operators.

So, for the next eighty years, America had thousands of broadcast monopolists. Radio was a closed system — the only radio there could ever be, they thought, and the radio guys satisfied their caveman urges by beating up on each other, rather than other media. They dumbed radio down to formulaic, controllable monotones.

Then came digital technology, the Internet and cellular radio-phones. AM-FM was no longer the only show in town. Now, cell phones, mainly, are the new pocket radios — only they deliver everything — audio, video, and data, which is to say, every form of information. Marconi-style radio stations are no longer the monopoly deliverer of sound through the air.

The radio guys now, finally, see what’s coming, after a decade of denial. They conducted their big investment luau and wasted their time selling and buying an obsolescent technical infrastructure. Now the station collectors are stuck with a declining audience and many new, more attractive sources of sound. And the bean counters at the tops of these companies have no innovation skills, and no clue. End of history.

I believe a new history of radio could start now. But it’ll be written by new radio people, not now in the business, who may or may not step up and buy the devalued towers and studios, at the right bargain basement prices, and invent something exciting and new on the good part of what’s left — the only locally-originated electronic medium.


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The History of Radio in One Post

RADIO GUY GALLERY


hertzsketch1
Heinrich Hertz's experiments proved the existence of electromagnetic radiation. Cycles-per-second, the standard measure of radio wave frequency, was named for him. He died in 1894, at 37. Wikipedia: Hertz

RADIO GUY GALLERY


STERN-3
What do you do with a problem like Howard? After decades of profits and FCC indecency fines as routine budget items, Howard Stern, king of all pottymouth radio guys, followed his enabler Mel Karmazin to Sirius Satellite Radio, leaving CBS to make up a hundred million in revenue (They sold stations) and fill the void for the half of Howard's loyal audience who didn't choose to buy a new radio and pay fifteen bucks a month for a few more, ranker epithets.
Wikipedia: Stern

RADIO GUY GALLERY


PALEY-S
CBS might have become the Cigar Broadcasting System. William S. Paley was the scion of the family business. In 1927, his cigar tycoon dad, Samuel, bought the struggling network of early radio stations from a group of poor schlumps who were trying to – would you believe: sell programming to radio stations! Every syndicator since has had to relearn that this doesn't work. Bill and his dad figured out the right business model -- you sell commercials to advertisers, and give the programs to stations. Got it?
Wikipedia: Paley
zenithfloor

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