As we celebrate the World Radio Day on 13th of February, Kalyani Majumdar sums up the trajectory of one of the significant inventions of humankind that shaped our world and saw us through some of the epochal moments in history
The sound crackled a bit. You turned the knob to clear the radio static as the song Radio Ga Ga by Queen came alive on air, and you sang along the lines… ‘Radio…someone still loves you.” There was a time, when if you wanted to listen to a song you loved, you had to go all the way to a music store to buy music, or you had to wait for your radio show to play that song and even then you were left at the mercy of the announcer to play that song. Sounds unbelievable now, right? Today, if you like a song, just stream it online and buy it in a second. However, radio was not just for entertainment purpose, it was also a source to get news and information.
Invention: The twists and turns
The idea of developing radio came from the invention of the telegraph and the telephone. Based on Scottish scientist, James Clerk Maxwell’s theory on the existence of radio waves, in 1886, German scientist Heinrich Rudolph Hertz, demonstrated the projection of electric current of rapid variation into space, in the form of radio waves.But the real question was, could it transmit music and speech invisibly?Although, the credit for inventing radio goes to an Italian Guglielmo Marconi, the Mercury Coherer that was used by Marconi was the exact copy of the one invented by Jagadish Chandra Bose in Calcutta, India. In fact, in 1895 Bose gave a public demonstration of electromagnetic waves at the Calcutta Town Hall.
He solved Hertz’s problem and the waves could penetrate through walls or water. His demonstration had left everyone spellbound, especially when he passed the wave through the body of Lt Governor of Bengal. However, Bose was looking at it from an academic point of view whereas, Marconi was looking at its commercial viability. Also, Bose believed in free sharing of knowledge and didn’t go for a patent initially. The story doesn’t end there. Nikolas Tesla was another contender for the invention of radio. He was working on it since 1884. He even took Marconi to the court. However, one must understand that often a number of scientists work simultaneously to find different solutions to one problem and sometimes their research is built on works of other scientists. Hence, such overlaps does happen in the world of scientific inventions.
Radio during the World Wars
During the First World War, radio technology was still in its early stages of development. The equipment was still bulky, thus difficult to be carried around in the war field. Interestingly, the US army had adapted the design that was known as the horse-pack set, wherein, the entire radio transmitter and receiver could fit into a saddle.During the Second World War, radio transmitters were used by aircrafts, submarines, tanks, and on battlefields. There were codes used for communication. Winning wars depended on breaking codes. Radio played a crucial role.
Radio and India’s freedom struggle
Azad Hind Radio was a propaganda radio service that was started under the leadership of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose in Germany to encourage Indians to fight for freedom. Bose addressed the people of India from Berlin. You can listen to the recordings online. During the Quit India Movement in 1942, when the British had banned free circulation of news within India, an underground radio station was operated by the Indian nationalists. Freedom fighter, Dr Usha Mehta organised it with the help of ham radio operators. People of India would hear her voice announcing: “This is the Congress Radio calling on (a wavelength of) 42.34 meters from somewhere in India.”
When Radio was the star
Before television really became popular, it was the radio that was the main source of listening to news and music. Therefore, radio stood witness to some of the greatest events in history and was broadcasting those events real time. It was the radio that announced the Indian independence when Jawaharlal Nehru gave his momentous speech: “Tryst with destiny”. It was the radio that broadcasted HG Wells’ famous novel, War of the Worlds as a radio drama presented by an entertainer Orson Welles. He performed it as if the alien invasion was happening real time. That radio show caused widespread panic among the audience. Overnight, Welles became a star. You can listen to the radio show online.
‘You are listening to All India Radio’
In India, radio had its humble beginnings. In 1923, the Radio Club of Bombay made the first broadcast in the country and in few months it was followed by Calcutta Radio Club. In 1930, the Indian Broadcasting Service was commenced under the Department of Industries and Labour and in 1936 it became All India Radio (AIR). From only six stations in 1947, today AIR’s home service comprises around 420 stations and is a broadcasting giant that broadcasts in 23 languages and 146 dialects. It also operates FM stations and is the main source of information and entertainment for the masses. Prime Minister Narendra Modi chose the radio as the medium to address the nation through his programme called Mann Ki Baat.
Did internet kill the radio?
Radio networks worldwide have made a comeback. Recently, a radio and digital project called Radio Garden by Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision came up with an idea to bring the world closer through radio broadcasts. You can download the application and enjoy a global experience. While radio might have competition from all the new technologies, but radio comes with its heritage, nostalgia and identity that is unique. While listening to radio, there is always a certain amount of anticipation of what would be the next song and that element of surprise is missing when you play songs online, isn’t it?