What was the first public radio ever?

The first public radio

Radio is such a familiar presence in our everyday lives that we can hardly imagine that there ever was a time when it was a complete novelty. Of course, today we enjoy the benefits provided by more powerful technologies like the internet, but a hundred years ago radio was big news for most people in the world and even magical for some isolated communities. Let's have a look at the early period of radio technology evolution.

The early days of radio

The first public radio broadcasting took place on 13th of January 1910. American technician and inventor Lee de Forest had been working on improving the abilities of radio technology for many years before going on air for the first time.

At the beginning of the 20th century, radio was available in the US but not in its current wireless form, which meant that you could not receive any messages if you were not wired to the source. Lee de Forest changed this aspect when he invented a 500 watts wireless transmitter and broadcasted a session of the Metropolitan Opera in New York. He also successfully predicted that in the future people would be able to transmit messages, music, and lectures over considerable distances.

The rapid evolution of public radio

A Danish inventor by the name of Hans Christian Oersted discovered radio technology in the 1820s. For 100 years people could not imagine the existence of non-physical particles that would transmit radio signals without the use of wiring. However, in 1920 KDKA became the first commercial radio in the world when it used Lee de Forest’s invention to emit signals in the Pittsburgh area.

In just a few years, radio became immensely popular, and it transformed into a cultural exchange tool that brought people together even if they lived miles away from each other. More than that, wireless radio created a type of unprecedented social awareness as people were listening to the same news and programs from different geographical points at the same time.

The power of early radio broadcasts

At the end of the 1930s, it was common for the American public to end their working days by listening to the evening radio shows. Usually, they would receive updates on current events, news, musical hits and even radio play.

On the 30th of October 1938 thousands of listeners from the New York area tuned in to listen to the evening news. All of them were oblivious to the fact that CBS Radio was broadcasting a radio play of The War of the Worlds, a sci-fi novel by H.G. Wells that told the story of an alien invasion of Earth.

Actor and future filmmaker Orson Welles had been chosen to narrate the radio adaptation. His imposing lecture led many listeners to believe that they were listening to a real world crisis and that the Martians had just landed in the United States. What happened next remained in history as one of the first recorded events of mass hysteria as thousands of people took to the streets to seek refuge from the radio-announced aliens, and the police stations were flooded with calls and messages. Fortunately, the radio station returned shortly after with a revealing message about the entire event and the public concerns were dispersed.