World Radio Day: How public radio broadcasting came to be
On World Radio Day, we look back at the first radio broadcast that took place in New York on January 13, 1910, courtesy of American inventor Lee de Forest
A live performance of the opera Cavalleria rusticana was broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, New York on January 13, 1910.
This was achieved with the help of a wireless transmitter, which contained 500 watts of power. The broadcast was also reportedly heard 20 km away on a ship at sea and event at Bridgeport in the neighbouring US state of Connecticut.
Public receivers with earphones were setup in several well advertised locations throughout the city of New York. A large number of people were invited to listen to this historic broadcast, including members of the media and the general public were present at several places where the receivers were stationed. These included the De Forest Radio Laboratory, New York harbour, large hotels in Time Square and many others.
The poor quality of the microphones at the time led many to conclude that the experiment was largely an unsuccessful one. Only singers, who were singing directly into a microphone off-stage could be heard clearly.
Things were further complicated by static and interference, which according to a report by the New York Times, "kept the homeless song waves from finding themselves."
The event also saw the first commercial radios, which were sold for use during the broadcast at the Metropolitan Building's demonstration room by Lee De Forest's Radio Telephone Company.
The operas Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci were performed at the broadcast. This wireless radio transmission event is considered the birth of public radio broadcasting.
Who was Lee de Forest?
Lee de Forest was an American inventor with over 180 patents to his credit and had named himself the "Father of Radio."
His 1906 invention, the Audion, is the the first triode vacuum tube and the first electrical device which could amplify a weak electrical signal and make it stronger. The Audion, and vacuum tubes developed from it, founded the field of electronics and dominated it for forty years, making radio broadcasting, television, and long-distance telephone service possible, among many other applications. For this reason de Forest has been called one of the fathers of the "electronic age". He is also credited with one of the principal inventions that brought sound to motion pictures.
What is World Radio Day?
World Radio Day is observed annually on February 13, to celebrate the importance and spread of the medium of radio that went on to play a significant role in shaping future technologies.