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James Kim

POLS 15A
AM/FM Radio

Thomas Edison's phonograph was one of the first to use physical technology in the
playing of recorded music. Modern speakers use some of the same technology for creating
vibrations, although recording sounds and broadcasting has, for a while, been digital. From early,
precursory music boxes before the time of Edison, recording and playing music has developed
into the modernity of the AM/FM radio.

Electromagnetic waves in the spectrum range from 30kHz to 3GHz, as the waves
naturally travel long distances with wavelengths of equally lengthy frequencies to follow suit.
Within this range of electromagnetic waves, there is some means of electronically modifying the
amplitude and frequency of those waves to create and transmit signals. The immediate effect of
the first electromagnetic wave studies were that people had the science to do a lot of things in the
electromagnetic spectrum, including understanding and utilizing infrared and visible light, and xrays.
As a frequenter of radio, I often find myself listening to sports radio for local professional
hockey, college broadcasts and sports radio, today's top music, and collections of older music
that have become timeless. In addition to a household radio I have access to, I also own a

personal radio, and frequently tune in when in transit to and from school. The formats for music I
use extends beyond AM/FM Radio to modern cellular telephone applications and data use, as
well as some music videos available on the internet.
People in the last century witnessed a complete adaptation of communications
technologies to fit the needs of the society for that time. Radios were one of many forms of
communication, although the development of it, especially before the arrival of television and
the world wide web, were part of the historically significant invention. The same technologies
used for radio broadcasts are used today in cellphones to transmit signals far away. Television
sets also use radio waves to transmit signals.1
The use of electromagnetic waves and the first AM radio transmission were naturally
superior to any of the available communications technologies at the time. "The radio 'receives'
these electromagnetic radio waves and converts them to mechanical vibrations in the speaker to
create the sound waves you can hear." Radio waves are also used to view objects in outer space,
as the waves naturally are emitted from these objects, primarily the Sun, back to large radio
telescopes on Earth.2
After several decades of the science's mostly unused ability to create these waves to an
audience, commercial radio began with an engineer and a company that transmitted phonograph
recordings, news, music performances and sports scores. A lot of the initial use of the
commercial broadcast system is recorded as having occurred in Pittsburgh.3 The station, KDKA,
is often referenced for being the first commercial radio station in the world.4 The Radio Act of
1912 dictated that all radio stations be federally licensed. The authority was later used, at some
point in WWI, as the federal government saw a need to use the national communications for
reasons other than commercial broadcasts. According to the FCC, the private 'ham' radio industry
suffered as a result.
Other formats for transmitting information and messages were limited to newspapers and
telegraphs, as these forms of communication were rather unaffected by the development of
technology before it's widespread, national use, especially, as was the case in radio, under the
authority of the federal government. Publications became editorial and political when news
reports were less of a definition of the larger publication in question. Radio continued to develop
industrially and technologically, as it's use became more widespread around the world.
In 1918, as WWI necessitated the development of some new communications
technologies and weaponry, Edwin Armstrong "developed an eight-tube receiver that could
amplify radio signals to a degree never known before. He named this receiver the
1

http://science.hq.nasa.gov/kids/imagers/ems/radio.html

http://missionscience.nasa.gov/ems/05_radiowaves.html

http://www.ushistory.org/us/46g.asp

http://ethw.org/Milestones:Westinghouse_Radio_Station_KDKA,_1920

superheterodyne circuit and it remains the basic circuit used in nearly 100% of radio and
television receivers today."5 Armstrong also revealed the first frequency modulation of
transmitted radio waves in 1935, and both transmission types are used today, AM waves well
understood to be useful in television broadcasts and a higher quality audio transmission. FM
transmissions became more significant with the use of cellular telephones and the transition to
digital technology.
The formation of the Radio Corporation of America also was part of the significant
commercial broadcasts that eventually allowed for the licensing of telephone lines, and the
founding of the National Broadcast Company that connected the entire nation with the same
broadcasts at the same time. It is referenced today as a significant moment of history in mass
media culture. The broadcasts of music also increased as radios became better and the industry,
commercialized. "AM stations played a top-40 time and temperature format, which meant they
played popular three minute songs in constant rotation."
If any radio broadcasts have become examples of American History in the context of
mass media and the dissemination of information for the general population it is the radio
broadcasts from WWII documenting entire attacks on other nations in the world6, and live
international broadcasts direct from Vietnam during the war there. It is significant in this regard
to understand that the U.S. population's involvement in the war efforts abroad, either in WWII or
Vietnam, had little to do outside of the context of mass media and nationalism, actualized in
reported information on the radio and local war efforts.7 It is also important to recognize that
soldiers had few reliable means of communicating with the people of the U.S. apart from mass
media programming or radio broadcasts, making the national radio of the time important for
soldiers too.
If not through music, broadcast radio had become something separate from the
technology that it is named for. It had, somewhat, become another industry that affected the
music industry in a manner that took away from the physical recordings that sometimes defined
it, and still coexist with it. MP3 and disc players still acknowledge that radio often surpasses the
technology of written disks or chips that sometimes creates obsolete hardware when presented
with files of various formats.

http://transition.fcc.gov/omd/history/radio/quality.html

https://www.otrcat.com/world-war-ii-on-the-radio

http://www.globalissues.org/article/402/media-propaganda-and-vietnam