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Wireless Networking Communications Hardware Science

Broadcast Radio Turns 100 109

GraWil writes "On Christmas eve 1906, a Canadian physicist named Reginald Fessenden presented the world's first wireless radio broadcast from his transmitter at Brant Rock, MA. The transmission included Christmas music and was heard by radio operators on board US Navy and United Fruit Company ships equipped with Fessenden's wireless receivers at various distances over the South and North Atlantic, and in the West Indies. Fessenden was a key rival of Marconi in the early 1900s who, using morse-code, succeeded in passing signals across the Atlantic in 1901. Fessenden's work was the first real departure from Marconi's damped-wave-coherer system for telegraphy and represent the first pioneering steps toward radio communications and radio broadcasting. He later became embroiled in a long-running legal dispute over the control of his radio-related patents, which were eventually acquired by RCA."
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Broadcast Radio Turns 100

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  • by bc90021 ( 43730 ) * <> on Saturday December 23, 2006 @11:23AM (#17348066) Homepage
    Nikola Tesla demonstrated "wireless" communication (which became known as "radio") as early as 1893. In 1943, the Supreme Court declared that Tesla had invented the radio, not Marconi. I'm afraid this celebration is about thirteen years too late... [] []

    A really good book to read to learn more about one of the greatest electrical engineers in history is "Man Out Of Time" by Margaret Cheney.
  • by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Saturday December 23, 2006 @11:52AM (#17348184) Homepage Journal
    Nikola Tesla [], ubergenius, invented radio over a decade before these demonstrations []. He even transmitted electric power by radio, to power light bulbs. And probably the robot submarine he also invented - all in the 1800s.

    What is it about Tesla that his pioneering inventions are usually ignored in favor of later copycats?
  • by Nate B. ( 2907 ) on Saturday December 23, 2006 @12:01PM (#17348234) Homepage Journal
    You do understand that TFA is about radio broadcasting and not just about the invention of radio itself, right?

    This celebration is spot on since neither Tesla nor Marconi had anyone "listening" outside of their respective labs or work groups. Conversely, Fessenden did have an audience of listeners as documented by the various shipboard operators that did hear his broadcast. Fessenden's acheivement in no way dimishes the work of Tesla, Marconi, or others, rather he built upon their work and in turn broke new ground.

    This is the centennial of broadcasting where speech and music were transmitted to an unspecified number of listeners. Prior transmissions were primarily telegraphy and intended for a specific receiver. This is the crucial difference we are celebrating.
  • Re:Radio Music Box (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 23, 2006 @12:16PM (#17348302)
    >The upcoming digital TV cutover date in just over two years is a prime example.
    >Its adoption is being hindered by the inertia of a huge installed base
    >of working analog TV sets.

    Not so prime. The push of digital TV comes from the factors of cheap computing power, and $$$.

    Digital TV has been possible for a loooong time, but without compression, it would hog a tremendous amount of bandwidth. Digital compression fixes that, and makes it require less bandwidth than traditional analog. When the possibility of freed-up radio spectrum was realized, the business people push us to use digital so they can auction off or use the now vacant space some other way to make $$$.

    The consumer gets hosed by having to get new equipment. Recieve stations on the fringe of a reception area are pretty much blacked out. When they used to get a snowy, but watchable, TV show, now they'll get nothing, or at best a bunch of garbled blocks.

    Frankly, the digital TV transmissions I've seen all suck. Unlike audio, video compression artifacts are really easy for people to see. Then they buy these huge flat-panel TV sets that show off these artifacts in the worst possible way.

    Now, an analog HDTV transmission (with no compression) is incredible. Unfortunately it just isn't viable. I imagine a lossless (or near lossless) digital signal would look good, too, but no one does that.

    It's Christmas. I want my snow back.

  • by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Saturday December 23, 2006 @12:24PM (#17348346) Homepage Journal
    In its early days, radio was a 2-way, peer-to-peer medium. It was instantaneous (zero latency), hifi (plus noise), and global. It could transmit pictures (by wiring it to a pantograph or fancier device). Everyone into the hobby thought it would become what we like to think the Internet is becoming today.

    But after a couple of decades, radio was reduced to a one-way, broadcast medium dominated by commercial corporate interests.

    The main way this shutdown was executed was by the new US agency, the "FCC". The early tech made necessary a central registry of unique frequencies assigned to "stations", or multiple stations would "interfere", or really just all be heard by a receiver tuned to that frequency. A signaling protocol for yielding could have avoided that centralized control. A transceiver attempting a frequency could have first listened to the frequency for a signal:noise ratio above some standardized threshold before using it as a clear channel, and group comms could have signalled with a "heartbeat" above the threshold of human hearing. Or some other approach either automatic or negotiated. But the US Federal government legislated instead of letting tech solve the real problem. Which also let them control the content of the public airwaves, eventually requiring broadcasters to be officially licensed as publishers. Which now costs $millions, forcing mere hobbyists out of the market.

    We can already see this same pattern repeating. Publishing streams of copyrighted material on the Net costs not only a ridiculous $0.0007 per "song" per listener (therefore 10K listeners costs $7, thousands of times more than broadcast, though the tech is cheaper). But the license requires a minimum $500 per year. Which is the cost of about 6 listeners continuously 24x7, to 4 minute average length songs. Or really more like 25 listeners, who'd have to pay $20 a year to listen (or $95 for each of 6) - just for the royalties. That minimum fee puts radio out of the reach of most hobbyists to even reach their friends. It forces streaming to go commercial. The first step towards the really expensive licenses that keep the official publishers in the same billionaire's club, with mostly the same agenda. Purely "political": controlling the people to ensure only rich commercial interests can publish.

    And that's all before video streaming is really regulated. They'll surely increase the license fee for that, and probably raise the audio fees "now that the industry has gotten on its feet".

    Who believes that "wireless networks", really just digital radio, will stay P2P, unregulated content, when the rest of the industry has the worst history of forcing regulations to define its limited competition? For those who do believe that, look at your radio dial. And, if you can stand it, try listening to it.
  • by bc90021 ( 43730 ) * <> on Saturday December 23, 2006 @12:39PM (#17348410) Homepage
    Yes, I understand... but it's a specious analogy to make. That's like saying that the radar wasn't really invented until there were planes for it to track, or the TV wasn't invented until there were a million households from which to gather ratings.

    Tesla was using "wireless" almost two decades before Marconi, et al. He used it to power unmanned submarines at the World's Fair in 1896. He used it to transmit electricity! To say that it was "invented" by others just because they had a few people listening on the other end does a great disservice (and one that continues to this day, 60 years later!) to a man whose genius far outshines anything that Marconi or any of the other copycats could come up with.

    Even if you go on the basis of the article's premise that you're only dealing with "broadcast radio", there is evidence that Tesla accomplished the same thing before Marconi and Fessenden. However, due to the inventor's unfortunate lack of documentation by his own hand and his inability to focus his efforts at properly lauding his own accomplishments a lot of the time, the world may never know...

  • by Phoobarnvaz ( 1030274 ) on Saturday December 23, 2006 @06:12PM (#17349970)
    Class D stations are those that are not allowed to operate at all at night, or are limited to nighttime powers less than that required for a new station. (generally, less than 250 watts; sometimes as little as one watt. No new Class D stations are being authorized.) An example of a Class D station on 720 is WGCR in western North Carolina, which goes off the air completely at sundown to protect WGN from interference.

    Having previously worked at a daytime-only AM in Western Arizona for several years...couldn't broadcast even with a carrier only at night...due to another "clear channel" in Seattle at the 1000 kHz frequency. At the times the automation equipment went down at the tower for about a week or so & the in-studio system shutting off like normal at sunset with only the hum of the carrier at the frequency during these times after sunset...the "clear channel" in Seattle sent letters & called during business hours to complain. Seems that some local listeners contacted the Seattle station & it came down the line to me & the engineer to figure out what was going on.

    Remember reading stories of some US AM stations being authorized to run at 1/2 million Watts or more after sunset during WWII. These powerhouses could literally knock the table radios off of the table when tuned to what frequency they were on. The reason for the increase was to get the signal into anyplace in the world without any interference.

    Another station I worked at many years ago was at 1000 Watts during the daytime & went to 250 after sunset. Since they could operate at 250 at night...but didn't want to pay for staff & satellites hadn't come into widespread use yet...they shut it down at midnight.

    With the proliferation of satellite & other mediums...the continuation of these dinosaurs as "clear channels" needs to stop. Before the advent & use of modern communication methods..."clear channels" was the only way rural populations could hear national/international news/programming. Since the FCC is still locked into early 20th century thinking about these types of stations...don't see it happening anytime soon.

If it's not in the computer, it doesn't exist.