Radio: A Form of Communication

Idoh Gersten
Mr. Zambizi
March 12, 1995

Radio is a form of communication in which intelligence is transmitted without
wires from one point to another by means of electromagnetic waves. Early forms
of communication over great distances were the telephone and the telegraph. They
required wires between the sender and receiver. Radio, on the other hand,
requires no such physical connection. It relies on the radiation of energy from
a transmitting antenna in the form of radio waves. These radio waves, traveling
at the speed of light (300,000 km/sec; 186,000 mi/sec), carry the information.
When the waves arrive at a receiving antenna, a small electrical voltage is
produced. After this voltage has been suitably amplified, the original
information contained in the radio waves is retrieved and presented in an
understandable form. This form may be sound from a loudspeaker, a picture on a
television, or a printed page from a teletype machine.


Early Experimenters

The principles of radio had been demonstrated in the early 1800s by such
scientists as Michael Faraday and Joseph Henry. They had individually developed
the theory that a current flowing in one wire could induce (produce) a current
in another wire that was not physically connected to the first.

Hans Christian Oersted had shown in 1820 that a current flowing in a wire sets
up a magnetic field around the wire. If the current is made to change and, in
particular, made to alternate (flow back and forth), the building up and
collapsing of the associated magnetic field induces a current in another
conductor placed in this changing magnetic field. This principle of
electromagnetic induction is well known in the application of transformers,
where an iron core is used to link the magnetic field of the first wire or coil
with a secondary coil. By this means voltages can be stepped up or down in value.
This process is usually carried out at low frequencies of 50 or 60 Hz (Hertz, or
cycles per second). Radio waves, on the other hand, consist of frequencies
between 30 kHz and 300 GHz.

In 1864, James Clerk Maxwell published his first paper that showed by
theoretical reasoning that an electrical disturbance that results from a change
in an electrical quantity such as voltage or current should propagate (travel)
through space at the speed of light. He postulated that light waves were
electromagnetic waves consisting of electric and magnetic fields. In fact,
scientists now know that visible light is just a small portion of what is called
the electromagnetic spectrum, which includes radio waves, X rays, and gamma rays
(see electromagnetic radiation).

Heinrich Hertz, in the late 1880s, actually produced electromagnetic waves. He
used oscillating circuits (combinations of capacitors and inductors) to transmit
and receive radio waves. By measuring the wavelength of the waves and knowing
the frequency of oscillation, he was able to calculate the velocity of the waves.
He thus verified Maxwell\'s theoretical prediction that electromagnetic waves
travel at the speed of light.

Marconi\'s Contribution

It apparently did not occur to Hertz, however, to use electromagnetic waves for
long-distance communication. This application was pursued by Guglielmo Marconi;
in 1895, he produced the first practical wireless telegraph system. In 1896 he
received from the British government the first wireless patent. In part, it was
based on the theory that the communication range increases substantially as the
height of the aerial (antenna) is increased.

The first wireless telegraph message across the English Channel was sent by
Marconi in March 1899. The use of radio for emergencies at sea was demonstrated
soon after by Marconi\'s wireless company. (Wireless sets had been installed in
lighthouses along the English coast, permitting communication with radios aboard
nearby ships.) The first transatlantic communication, which involved sending the
Morse-code signal for the letter s was sent, on Dec. 12, 1901, from Cornwall,
England, to Saint John\'s, Newfoundland, where Marconi had set up receiving

The Electron Tube

Further advancement of radio was made possible by the development of the
electron tube. The diode, or valve, produced by Sir Ambrose Fleming in 1905,
permitted the detection of high-frequency radio waves. In 1907, Lee De Forest
invented the audion, or Triode, which was able to amplify radio and sound waves.

Radiotelephone and Radiotelegraph

Up through this time, radio communication was in the form of radio telegraphy;
that is, individual letters in a message were sent by a dash-dot system called
Morse Code. (The International Morse Code is still used to send messages by
shortwave radio.) Communication of human speech first took place in 1906.
Reginald Aubrey Fessenden, a physicist, spoke by radio from Brant Rock, Mass.,
to ships in