How Old Is The Radio Industry?
Alex Cosper (7/15/13)

The technology of radio transmission was invented in the 1890s by Nikola Tesla, although for many years the first patent was held by Gugliel Marconi. But in 1943 the U.S. Supreme Court awarded the patent to Tesla shortly after his death. Marconi is still credited as the first person to successfully transmit radio waves across the Atlantic Ocean in 1901. Amateur radio operators soon emerged through World War I, when the government shut down all radio operations except for military and some educational use. Following the war, radio operators were allowed to seek licenses from the Commerce Department to operate commercial radio stations.

The first commercial radio station was KDKA in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. The station, which began operation in 1920, was owned by Westinghouse, who had employed Tesla. Throughout the 1920s radio stations began to appear on the AM dial across America. These stations tended to be owned by newspapers, churches and local businesses. Over the next few decades, four national radio networks emerged: NBC, ABC, CBS and Mutual Don Lee. FM stations started out as sister properties of AM stations then became more independent when FM started getting popular in the late 1960s. FM became the dominant radio medium by the late 1970s when new technology improved its signal reception.

Prior to television's growth in the 1950s, radio was the top medium in America for news and entertainment. Radio had attracted family listening the way TV eventually attracted family viewing. Prior to the 1950s, any given radio station typically offered a variety of different programming. From the mid-fifties on radio stations began to concentrate on specific formats, partly due to new emerging rock and roll music for youth, which alienated many adults. Stations began concentrating on either young or older audiences.

By the mid-1960s, top 40 had developed as the dominant radio format. But its dominance only reigned for a few decades, as more stations entered both the AM and FM dials, catering to specific age groups and lifestyles. News on AM radio became a leading format in many major markets by the end of the 1980s, while the FM dial fragmented into multiple music formats. Following a series of laws that deregulated radio starting in the 1980s, corporations were allowed to control nearly half of all radio outlets in America. Radio's heyday for holding people's attention the longest happened between the mid-sixties and the mid-nineties. In the 2000s, new technologies such as broadband internet and satellite radio began to influence the decline of radio listening.

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