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Dawn of the Social Age

Radio Comes of Age

Like electricity, radio also evolved incrementally through many small but significant steps. Through the groundbreaking 1897 work of Guglielmo Marconi—known as the “father of wireless telegraph”7—telegraph was no longer bound by copper wire. Leveraging the electromagnetic waves theory first postulated by James Clerk Maxwell in the middle 1800s, Marconi transmitted telegraph through the air and paved the way for the next revolution in mass communication—the radio. In 1907 Lee de Forest created audion, a feedback amplifier and oscillator that used Marconi’s wireless telegraph principles to send the human voice across the airwaves for the first time.8

Ten years after Lee de Forest’s audion, the radio became a household fixture. The radio helped keep the nation together through the Great Depression and two world wars. Such a means of mass communication was without precedent in human history. Radio was affordable to most Americans, and listening soon became a national pastime.

Perhaps the greatest validation of the radio as the primary means of mass communication came immediately after the December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor. Within 24 hours of the attack, President Franklin D. Roosevelt (Figure 1.2) was heard on the radio delivering his most memorable speech to Congress about “[the] date which will live in infamy.”9 This was a historic moment because a U.S. president used radio to gain immediate access to an entire country and inspire them to work together to win the war. The low cost of the communications medium made Roosevelt’s appeal available to the broadest possible audience in real time.

Figure 1.2

Figure 1.2 Roosevelt speaking to the nation in 1934.10

Franklin D. Roosevelt, National Archive

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