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E391
Radio Days

Jeffrey Syken

It arrived on the scene at the beginning of the “Roaring ‘20s” – a time of new beginnings for a world weary of a world war that took the lives of ten-thousand men each day. At first it was called Radiotelegraphy, but “Radio” was easier on the tongue and the name stuck. In 1920, there were other new and promising technologies such as the automobile and skyscrapers, but radio alone held the promise of entertaining and informing in a way never experienced before by human beings.

The breakthrough that would make commercial radio possible came with the invention of the evacuated tube - a.k.a. vacuum tube. Electronic vacuum tubes could rectify (change AC to DC), amplify etc. without which the weak audio wave could not “hitch a ride” on a carrier wave thus allowing the broadcast to reach far and wide. Amplitude Modulation (AM) was subject to electronic/atmospheric disturbances, so Frequency Modulation (FM) – much less disturbed by such interference (since the amplitude remains constant), was a natural evolution in radio technology in the post-WWII era.

The radio industry came of age in the 1920s and ‘30s allowing for the results of the Coolidge/Cox presidential contest to be announced, the first live broadcast of a political convention, the 1928 Hoover/Smith presidential election, the crash of the Hindenburg (1937) and the attack on Pearl Harbor (1941). Americans could tune in to their favorite sporting event, listen to President Roosevelt give one of his famous fireside chats, hear an opera or listen to Amos and Andy leaving much to the imagination. Radio technology advanced steadily and assisted greatly in the development of related technologies such as radar and television whose ranks of technicians, engineers, writers, directors etc. were typically filled by people who learned their trade during their radio days.

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of the course materials.


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