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August 31, 2014

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Reginald Aubrey Fessenden (1866 –1932) was a Canadian-born inventor best known for his work in early radio. Three of his most notable achievements include the first audio transmission by radio in 1900, the first two-way transatlantic radio transmission in 1906, and the first radio broadcast of entertainment and music in December 1906.

In 1904, the U.S. Navy had broadcast daily time signals and weather reports employing spark transmitters, transmitting in Morse code. Mr. Fessenden’s audio broadcasts of entertainment and music to a “general” audience were the actual beginning of radio. There is some evidence that Nathan B. Stubblefield transmitted voice even earlier than Fessenden in Paduca, KY, as outlined in my book Blast From the Past: A Pictorial History of Radio’s First 75 Years, but Stubblefield had no listeners to verify his broadcast of voice.

On Christmas Eve 1906, Fessenden used an alternator-transmitter to send out a short program from Brant Rock, MA. The broadcast featured Fessenden performing O Holy Night on the violin, and reading a passage from the Bible. On New Year’s Eve, he broadcast a second short program. The main audience for both of these transmissions was shipboard radio operators along the Atlantic Coast.

Although now seen as a landmark, at the time these two broadcasts were barely noticed and soon forgotten, opening the door for Guglielmo Marconi to take credit for radio.

In this issue of Radio Ink, we celebrate the 100-year anniversary of those first voice and music transmissions, which we consider the true invention of radio. In 1995, Radio Ink celebrated radio’s 75th anniversary based on KDKA’s first commerical broadcast, which took place on Election Day, November 2, 1920. In 2020 we will celebrate 100 years of commerical radio broadcasting.

Being 100 years old does not make radio any less relevant. The telephone and the automobile are still very relevant today, though their technology continues to evolve. Radio is no different. As with the telephone and automobile, the majority of consumers rely on us every day of their lives. If we continue to take this responsibility seriously and remain relevant, people will still be listening to us 100 years from now. Though radio will sound different and will be delivered differently, radio broadcasting will always serve an important role in the lives of people worldwide, thanks to Mr. Fessenden.


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