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  • Writer's pictureStephen Pollock

Woohoo! Happy birthday! Radio turns 100!

Let’s face it. 2020 hasn’t been a great year. Covid. Lockdowns. Bushfires down under. Even locust swarms and killer hornets!

So, we’re due a little celebration. We certainly believe that at FaceForRadio Advertising Agency. That’s why we’d like to congratulate broadcast radio for celebrating its centenary! It’s not everyone that turns 100!

Cue “Happy Birthday to You”, trumpets, streamers, and bring out the cake!

The very first radio show? Internationally renowned soprano Dame Nellie Melba was broadcast as she performed a recital from a disused packing shed on in Chelmsford, England, in 1920.

It was none other than the inventor of radio himself, the Italian Guglielmo Marconi, that had the honour of conducting the operatic Dame in her landmark broadcast recital. The signal, generated by Marconi’s company, the Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company, broadcast it using just a telephone transmitter, but was so powerful, it was heard in countries around the world.

Of course, a lot has happened since, but radio has been there every decibel of the way, reporting on the world’s events, and in so doing, influencing world events, and helping shape the world.

Let’s look at a few highlights of radio’s remarkable century.

Broadcast radio gained momentum soon after its birth, and spread like a virus (not COVID, fortunately). Soon, governments, companies and consumers started investing in the remarkable new technology that brought the sounds of the world into people’s homes.

Radio advertising took off in a big way, exhorting millions of consumers into buying new cars, washing machines, bicycles, and every other contraption you can imagine. Now companies could sell their wares right inside people’s living rooms, countless, countless living rooms, all at the same time.

Just over eighty years ago, Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds was broadcast in America. It caused mass hysteria, as listeners took the radio sci-fi tale literally, and thought Martians had invaded New Jersey.

Americans have always been partial to the outlandish.

By the 1930’s, broadcasters were operating such powerful stations, they were capable of generating up to 500,000 watts of power. To give you an idea of how loud that is (exaggeration intended), one Mexican station, XERA, could be heard as far off as in New Zealand.

Radio has been at the front row of so many newsworthy events, calamities and otherwise. Take the Hindenburg air disaster. A well-known radio presenter, Herbert Morrison, was at the scene of the German passenger airship’s tragic accident, right as the zeppelin burst into flames whilst trying to dock. It was the first multi-media newsflash of the 20th century.

“It’s burst into flames!” Morrison shouted. “It’s fire, and it’s crashing!”

He spent the next 40 minutes describing what he saw, interviewing witnesses, and pausing every time his emotions got the better of him.

In 1953, radios got smaller, as the first portable all-transistor radio was built.

This opened the medium up to a new and younger audience, stoking the passion that radio has long been associated with: music. Like Elvis Presley’s Blue Suede Shoes. It sounded as good as on a home stereo, and a heck of a lot better, and cheaper, than what you might hear from the back of a crowded rock concert.

By now, the power of radio was really motoring. Rock and roll, and the revolutionary changes of the 1960s spread via the medium like wildfire. Social change ripped through much of the world, and radio was there to encourage it.

Don’t limit radio’s reach either.

In 1957, radio experienced 3…2…1… lift-off when the USSR launched Sputnik, the world’s first satellite, which broadcast from out of space. It wasn’t more than a regular beeep…. beeep… beeep…. broadcast, but it threw the Americans into such jealousy, that the space race was born.

Even today, radio is used to communicate with robots and astronauts in space. Radio waves have also been used in astronomy and much of what we know about our universe is thanks to this remarkable invention.

Back on Earth, and fast forwarded a few decades, radio is still at the cutting edge of technology. Stations have long made regular use of the internet to extend its reach beyond analogue signals.

Radio has even gone viral. Social media helps create and spread content, and digital editing tools have shown just how much we can achieve on an individual level, with podcasts and radio documentaries.

Sure. One by one, they all lined up to sound its death knell. Movies, television, the internet. They all aspired to kill off radio.

And what do you know? Their efforts were for naught. How do we know this?


Because, Radio, you’ve just turned 100! Congratulations, friend. You were expected to grow old and grey, but you didn’t. You embrace each new technology as it comes out, and you survive.

Hell, you thrive!

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