Introduction To Broadcast History

"Broadcast: make widely known"

The ancient Greeks were the first to experiment with alternative (i.e. other than sending a messenger) methods of transmitting information over long distances. These early 'transmissions' involved the tops of hills, and fire by night, plus columns of smoke or large mirrors by day. This principle did not evolve very far until the 19th century, when experiments began to transmit messages via a series of electrical clicks on wires. Thus the telegraph system was born, laying the foundations for the broadcast of the human voice and other noises.

The Beginnings of Radio

Radio is the first 'modern' media form, and had a huge impact on the history of the 20th century. For the first time information could be broadcast, ie it could be received by anyone with the right equipment, without wires. The birth of radio ushers in the era of mass communications. Many people have likened the explosion in radio in the 1920s to what is happening with the internet today - lots of enthusiasts setting up their 'broadcast slot' and sharing their knowledge with similar people. Wireless communication has really come full circle, as more and more people turn to mobile phones and handheld computers that can receive internet 'transmissions'. As with the recording of images (in the 19th century they were recorded on metal plates, now they are recorded on metal plates that make up DVDs and computer hard drives) the broadcast of information has come full circle.

The first documented radio transmission occurred in 1895 and was sent by a 21 year old Italian, Guglielmo Marconi, who conducted simple experiments using a radio transmitter and receiver, the transmitter placed at his house, and the receiver placed three miles away. He got his servant to fire a gun when the transmission had been received - the three dots ··· of the letter S in Morse Code. The Italian government were not at all interested in Marconi's invention, so he continued his experiments in Britain where he had the full support of the Minister of Post. Marconi (who had never been to university and had taught himself physics and electronics!) took out several patents and started to build radio stations across the south coast of Britain. In late 1901 he crossed the Atlantic to St John's Terranova, and there, on 12 December, received the first weak transatlantic radio signal, another ···.

Read more about the early history of radio at these sites:

New Tricks of Communication

Radio had an immediate application for shipping, as now ships on the busy transatlantic routes could communicate with land and each other. Think about the role that radio transmission played in the arrest of notorious murderer Dr Crippen, who tried to flee to America with his lover on the SS Montrose:

This message was transmitted to the White Star Company in London, who forwarded it to Scotland Yard, on July 22 1910 and resulted in the capture of the killer as he tried to disembark in Canada; the first arrest of a criminal made possible by the new technology.

or the sinking of the Titanic in 1912

However, it was not until after World War I (during which radio communications were used intensively) that the first mass broadcasts began. This occured on November 6th 1919 when a Dutch concert was broadcast at a pre-arranged time (so amateur radio enthusiasts as far away as Britain could tune in). The first commercial radio station opened in Pittsburgh in July 1920, and the radio quickly became a popular source of entertainment (music, comedy, drama), sport, information and news. By 1930 a radio set provided the main source of entertainment in homes across the world. RTHK began broadcasting in 1928.

Read more about early radio broadcasting (during the 1920s)at these sites:

The Beginnings of Television

The idea of television (i.e. sending and receiving images along wireless technology) was first bouncing around in the 1870s, but it did not become a reality until the 1920s. It is very difficult to name one person as 'the inventor of television' as different scientists all over the world invented different components to combine into what we understand today as 'TV technology'. The first of these was Vladimir K. Zworykin, who in 1921 invented a device that would convert patterns of light into electronic impulses. He was followed by Scotsman, John Logie Baird, who produced the first television set in 1924, but it showed only shadows. Also in 1924, Philo Farnsworth, an American, came up with the concept of broadcast television. By 1928 engineers had managed to create a crude receiver set and camera, and this went on show at the World's Fair - the first public viewing of television. However, the opportunities presented by TV were clear to many before this, and both the BBC and CBS were established in 1927.

Read about the early days of television at these sites:

TV broadcasting in most countries (with the exception of the US) was interrupted by the onset of World War 2. From 1939-1945 people around the world depended on their radios for up-to-the-minute news of the conflict, for speeches from politicians, for instructions from government bodies, and for light entertainment which might take their minds of the conflict for a short time. However, as soon as the war was over, the studios were reopened, the dustcovers were pulled off the equipment, and broadcasting resumed, often exactly where it had left off (in the middle of a Mickey Mouse cartoon in 1939, in the BBC's case). TV was back, and quickly established itself as the most popular media form of the 20th century, with the ownership of tv sets rising every year from the 1940s to the present day. There are currently around 1 billion TV sets in the world.

TV sets have come a long way from their basic origins. Colour TVs were first introduced in the early 1950s (once a way had been found to make colour broadcasts backwards compatible for everyone who still had a black-and-white TV set!). Today's high definition televisions are meant for watching so much more than TV shows. They have movie and sports settings, stereo speakers for listening to music, and can be hooked up to games consoles or computers. The latest innovations, like 3D and wireless home theater systems, mean that the TV set will remain the center of home entertainment for some time to come, although TV broadcasts are just one form of entertainment that will have to compete for space on the screen.

Read about the early days of TV broadcasting at these sites:

The History of Radio & TV - Your Turn

Your task is to produce a booklet, aimed at Year 7, about the beginnings of television OR radio history. It will be based on research you have done by following the links above. You should include

  • Brief details of the inventors involved in its creation, outlining what each contribution was
  • An eyewitness account of someone seeing/hearing the equipment used for the first time in the 1920s
  • Photographs of the early equipment used, plus explanations
  • A review of an early radio show (from before 1920) or TV show (before 1950)

Use Publisher or Word to create an A4 (folded) leaflet. Check EXTREMELY carefully for spelling mistakes. You will be marked on

  • the quality of your language (remember it is aimed at Year 7s so it must be clear and simple)
  • the selection of information (not too much, not too little)
  • the presentation of information (use of images, layout)


Select your topic here:




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