A Look at Radio Today

Heinrich Hertz, Nikola Tesla, Guglielmo Marconi, Nathan Stubblefield, Lee de Forest: you may recognize some of these names, but you might not know the powerful contribution these men made to society. Each of them played an important role in advancing a technology that has become a fixture in our lives: radio. As key players in the history of radio, these men deserve our gratitude for creating this medium that most of us listen to every day.

Radio Remains Strong

While radio has certainly changed over the decades, its attraction remains strong. In fact, over 90 percent of Americans report listening to the radio weekly; the average audio consumer spends approximately 2.5 hours listening to content each day. Further, the U.S. boasts over 13,000 radio stations and more than 40 different listening formats.

The top formats in radio, in order, are country music, talk or news programs, and contemporary popular music. Demographically, people born between 1950 and 1964 (Baby Boomers) prefer the talks or news format and spend the most time of any age group listening to the radio. Millennials (individuals born between 1980 and 1996) spend an average of 11.5 hours each week listening to the radio. Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1979) are also radio fans, with an almost 90 percent weekly listening rate. Consumers of all generations primarily listen in their cars, followed closely by listening at home and at work. Radio is seemingly everywhere, and it continues to be a reliable source of information and entertainment.

The History of Radio

As the names in the introduction imply, the history of radio is a bit complicated.

Heinrich Hertz is credited with discovering that electric waves could be wirelessly transmitted and received. In the late 1800s, Guglielmo Marconi built upon this discovery by sending and receiving telegraph messages, while Marconi was busily experimenting, as were Nikola Tesla and Nathan Stubblefield. Tesla and Stubblefield, though they did not work together, created and patented wireless radio transmitters. Sadly, Stubblefield never marketed his idea. By the time he died, he no longer owned any of the equipment he had created. Tesla did market his invention and many consider him the inventor of radio.

Many consider Lee de Forest, one of Marconi competitors, the “father of American radio”. He coined the word “radio” and invented amplitude-modulated, or AM, radio. Another American, Edwin Armstrong, gave us FM radio.

The Current State of Radio

Today, technologies such as satellite transmission, HD and the Internet have expanded the boundaries of radio. People listen to content via smartphones, desktops and laptops, and traditional AM and FM stations still draw large audiences. Research tells us that approximately 93 percent of Americans age 12 and older use or own an AM/FM radio. However, innovative players in the field, such as Pandora, Sirius, Spotify and HD radio, are reshaping the medium. Through these services, users can tailor their listening experiences and access a wide variety of informational and musical genres. Over half of Americans age 12 and older have listened to online radio in the past month, which is a testament to the popularity of these new formats.

If you are considering a job in radio, you have many options to choose from. Broadcasters, announcers and reporters provide some of the many voices we hear on the radio. Broadcast and sound engineers operate broadcasting and recording equipment, writers create content, and sales managers generate revenue, to name a few. Producers and directors oversee all aspects of creating and producing radio programs and are essential to the medium’s operations.

Some jobs in radio require college degrees; others call for certifications or internships. If you are interested in a career in radio, you should research these requirements before exploring how best to acquire the education you need to help bring innovation to the field.

Learn about the Frost School of Music’s online master’s in music business and entertainment industries program.








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