From Academic Kids

For other uses see: radio (disambiguation)

Radio is the wireless transmission of signals, by modulation of electromagnetic waves with frequencies below those of light.

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Radio transmission diagram and electromagnetic waves

Radio waves

Radio waves are a form of electromagnetic radiation, created whenever a charged object accelerates with a frequency that lies in the radio frequency (RF) portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. This is the range from a few tens of hertz to a few hundred gigahertz. Electromagnetic radiation travels (propagates) by means of oscillating electric and magnetic fields that pass through the air and the vacuum of space equally well, and does not require a medium of transport.

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Rough plot of Earth's atmospheric transmittance (or opacity) to various wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation, including radio waves.
Other types of electromagnetic radiation, with frequencies above the RF range are infrared, visible light, ultraviolet,X-rays and gamma rays. Since the energy of an individual photon of radio frequency is too low to remove an electron from an atom, radio waves are classified as non-ionizing radiation.

When radio waves pass a wire, their oscillating electric or magnetic field (depending on the shape of the wire) induces an alternating current and voltage in the wire. This can be transformed into audio or other signals that carry information. Although the word 'radio' is used to describe this phenomenon, the transmissions which we know as television, radio, radar, and cell phone are all in the class of radio frequency emissions.

Radio spectrum
3 Hz | 30 Hz | 300 Hz | 3 kHz | 30 kHz | 300 kHz | 3 MHz | 30 MHz | 300 MHz | 3 GHz | 30 GHz | 300 GHz


The theoretical basis of the propagation of electromagnetic waves was first described in 1873 by James Clerk Maxwell in his paper to the Royal Society A dynamical theory of the electromagnetic field, which followed his work between 1861 and 1865.

In 1878 David E. Hughes was the first to transmit and receive radio waves when he noticed that his induction balance caused noise in the receiver of his homemade telephone. He demonstrated his discovery to the Royal Society in 1880 but was told it was merely induction.

It was Heinrich Rudolf Hertz who, between 1886 and 1888, first validated Maxwell's theory through experiment, demonstrating that radio radiation had all the properties of waves (now called Hertzian waves), and discovering that the electromagnetic equations could be reformulated into a partial differential equation called the wave equation.

Invention and history

Main article: History of radio


The identity of the original inventor of radio, at the time called wireless telegraphy, is contentious. Claims have been made that Nathan Stubblefield invented radio before either Nikola Tesla or Guglielmo Marconi, but his device seems to have worked by induction transmission rather than radio transmission.

In 1893 in St. Louis, Missouri, Tesla made the first public demonstration of radio communication. Addressing the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia and the National Electric Light Association, he described and demonstrated in detail the principles of radio communication. The apparatus that he used contained all the elements that were incorporated into radio systems before the development of the vacuum tube. He initially used magnetic receivers [1] (, unlike the coherers used by Marconi and other early experimenters.

On 19 August 1894, British physicist Sir Oliver Lodge demonstrated the reception of Morse code signalling using radio waves using a detecting device called a coherer, a tube filled with iron filings which had been invented by Temistocle Calzecchi-Onesti at Fermo in Italy in 1884. Edouard Branly of France and Alexander Popov of Russia later produced improved versions of the coherer. Popov, who was the first to develop a practical communication system based on the coherer, is usually considered by his own countrymen to have been the inventor of radio. The Indian physicist, Jagdish Chandra Bose, demonstrated publicly the use of radio waves in November of 1894 in Calcutta, but he was not interested in patenting his work (see IEEE Virtual Museum (

In 1896 Marconi was awarded what is sometimes recognised as the world's first patent for radio with British Patent 12039, Improvements in transmitting electrical impulses and signals and in apparatus there-for. In 1897 he established the world's first radio station on the Isle of Wight, England. The same year in the U.S., some key developments in radio's early history were created and patented by Tesla. The U.S. Patent Office reversed its decision in 1904, awarding Marconi a patent for the invention of radio, possibly influenced by Marconi's financial backers in the States, who included Thomas Edison and Andrew Carnegie. Some believe this was made for financial reasons, allowing the U.S. government to avoid having to pay the royalties that were being claimed by Tesla for use of his patents.

In 1909, Marconi, with Karl Ferdinand Braun, was also awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for "contributions to the development of wireless telegraphy". However, Tesla's patent (number 645576) was reinstated in 1943 by the U.S. Supreme Court, shortly after his death. This decision was based on the fact that prior art existed before the establishment of Marconi's patent. Some believe the decision was also made for financial reasons, to allow the U.S. government to avoid having to pay damages that were being claimed by the Marconi Company for use of its patents during World War I (though, these people ignore Tesla's prior art).


Marconi opened the world's first "wireless" factory in Hall Street, Chelmsford, England in 1898, employing around 50 people. Around 1900, Tesla opened the Wardenclyffe Tower facility and advertised services. By 1903, the tower structure neared completion. Various theories exist on how Tesla intended to achieve the goals of this wireless system (reportedly, a 200 kW system). Tesla claimed that Wardenclyffe, as part of a World System of transmitters, would have allowed secure multichannel transceiving of information, universal navigation, time synchronization, and a global location system.

Vacuum tubes

The next great invention was the vacuum tube detector, invented by a team of Westinghouse engineers. On Christmas Eve, 1906, Reginald Fessenden (using his heterodyne principle) transmitted the first radio audio broadcast in history from Brant Rock, Massachusetts. Ships at sea heard a broadcast that included Fessenden playing O Holy Night on the violin and reading a passage from the Bible. The world's first radio news program was broadcast August 31, 1920 by station 8MK in Detroit, Michigan. The world's first regular wireless broadcasts for entertainment commenced in 1922 from the Marconi Research Centre at Writtle near Chelmsford, England.

Origin breakdown

The controversy over who invented the radio, with the benefit of hindsight, can be broken down as follows:

Q1: Who invented 'wireless transmission of data using the entire frequency spectrum' (spark-gap radio)?
A1: Tesla, Marconi, and Popov (possibly in that order)
Q2: Who invented amplitude-modulated (AM) radio, so that more than one station can send signals (as opposed to spark-gap radio, where one transmitter covers the entire bandwidth of spectra)?
A2: Reginald Fessenden [2] ( and Lee de Forest
Q3: Who invented frequency-modulated (FM) radio, so that an audio signal can avoid "static," that is, interference from electrical equipment and atmospherics?
A3: Edwin H. Armstrong and Lee de Forest

Early radios ran the entire power of the transmitter through a carbon microphone. While some early radios used some type of amplification through electric current or battery, through the mid 1920s the most common type of receiver was the crystal set. In the 1920s, amplifying vacuum tubes revolutionized both radio receivers and transmitters.

20th century

Developments in the 20th century:

  • Aircraft used commercial AM radio stations for navigation. This continued through the early 1960s when VOR systems finally became widespread (though AM stations are still marked on U.S. aviation charts).
  • In the early 1930s, single sideband and frequency modulation were invented by amateur radio operators. By the end of the decade, they were established commercial modes.
  • Radio was used to transmit pictures visible as television as early as the 1920s. Standard analog transmissions started in North America and Europe in the 1940s.
  • In 1954, Regency introduced a pocket transistor radio, the TR-1, powered by a "standard 22.5V Battery".
  • In 1960, Sony introduced their first transistorized radio, small enough to fit in a vest pocket, and able to be powered by a small battery. It was durable, because there were no tubes to burn out. Over the next twenty years, transistors displaced tubes almost completely except for very high power, or very high frequency, uses.
  • In 1963 color television was commercially transmitted, and the first (radio) communication satellite, TELSTAR, was launched.
  • In the late 1960s, the U.S. long-distance telephone network began to convert to a digital network, employing digital radios for many of its links.
  • In the 1970s, LORAN became the premier radio navigation system. Soon, the U.S. Navy experimented with satellite navigation, culminating in the invention and launch of the GPS constellation in 1987.
  • In the early 1990s, amateur radio experimenters began to use personal computers with audio cards to process radio signals. In 1994, the U.S. Army and DARPA launched an aggressive, successful project to construct a software radio that could become a different radio on the fly by changing software.
  • Digital transmissions began to be applied to broadcasting in the late 1990s.

Uses of radio

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A Truetone brand old-fashioned radio

Many of radio's early uses were maritime, for sending telegraphic messages using Morse code between ships and land. One of the earliest users included the Japanese Navy scouting the Russian fleet during the Battle of Tsushima in 1901. One of the most memorable uses of marine telegraphy was during the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912, including communications between operators on the sinking ship and nearby vessels, and communications to shore stations listing the survivors.

Radio was used to pass on orders and communications between armies and navies on both sides in World War I; Germany used radio communications for diplomatic messages once its submarine cables were cut by the British. The United States passed on President Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points to Germany via radio during the war.

Broadcasting began to become feasible in the 1920s, with the widespread introduction of radio receivers, particularly in Europe and the United States. Besides broadcasting, point-to-point broadcasting, including telephone messages and relays of radio programs, became widespread in the 1920s and 1930s.

Another use of radio in the pre-war years was the development of detecting and locating aircraft and ships by the use of radar (Radio Detecting and Ranging).

Today, radio takes many forms, including wireless networks, mobile communications of all types, as well as radio broadcasting. Read more about radio's history.

Before the advent of television, commercial radio broadcasts included not only news and music, but dramas, comedies, variety shows, and many other forms of entertainment. Radio was unique among dramatic presentation that it used only sound. For more, see radio programming.

There are a number of uses of radio:


  • AM broadcast radio sends music and voice in the Medium Frequency (MF -- 0.300 MHz to 3 MHz) radio spectrum. AM radio uses amplitude modulation, in which louder sounds at the microphone causes wider fluctuations in the transmitter power while the transmitter frequency remains unchanged. Transmissions are affected by static because lightning and other sources of radio add their radio waves to the ones from the transmitter.
  • FM broadcast radio sends music and voice, with higher fidelity than AM radio. In frequency modulation, louder sounds at the microphone cause the transmitter frequency to fluctuate farther, the transmitter power stays constant. FM is transmitted in the Very High Frequency (VHF -- 30 MHz to 300 MHz) radio spectrum. FM requires more radio frequency space than AM and there are more frequencies available at higher frequencies, so there can be more stations, each sending more information. Another effect is that shorter VHF radio waves act more like light, travelling in straight lines, hence the reception range is generally limited to about 50-100 miles. During unusual upper atmospheric conditions, FM signals are occasionally reflected back towards the Earth by the ionosphere, resulting in Long distance FM reception. FM receivers are subject to the capture effect, which causes the radio to only receive the strongest signal when multiple signals appear on the same frequency. FM receivers are relatively immune to lightning and spark interference.
  • FM Subcarrier services are secondary signals transmitted "piggyback" along with the main program. Special receivers are required to utilize these services. Analog channels may contain alternative programming, such as reading services for the blind, background music or stereo sound signals. In some extremely crowded metropolitan areas, the subchannel program might be an alternate foreign language radio program for various ethnic groups. Subcarriers can also transmit digital data, such as station identification, the current song's name, web addresses, or stock quotes. In some countries, FM radios automatically retune themselves to the same channel in a different district by using sub-bands.
  • Aviation voice radios use VHF AM. AM is used so that multiple stations on the same channel can be received. (Use of FM would result in stronger stations blocking out reception of weaker stations due to FM's capture effect). Aircraft fly high enough that their transmitters can be received hundreds of miles (kilometres) away, even though they are using VHF.
  • Marine voice radios can use AM in the shortwave High Frequency (HF -- 3 MHz to 30 MHz) radio spectrum for very long ranges or narrowband FM in the VHF spectrum for much shorter ranges.
  • Government, police, fire and commercial voice services use narrowband FM on special frequencies. Fidelity is sacrificed to use a smaller range of radio frequencies, usually five kilohertz of deviation (5 thousand cycles per second), rather than the 75 used by FM broadcasts and 25 used by TV sound.
  • Civil and military HF (high frequency) voice services use shortwave radio to contact ships at sea, aircraft and isolated settlements. Most use single sideband voice (SSB), which uses less bandwidth than AM. SSB sounds like ducks quacking on an AM radio. Viewed as a graph of frequency versus power, an AM signal shows power where the frequencies of the voice add and subtract with the main radio frequency. SSB cuts the bandwidth in half by suppressing the carrier and (usually) lower sideband. This also makes the transmitter about three times more powerful, because it doesn't need to transmit the unused carrier and sideband.
  • TETRA, Terrestrial Trunked Radio is a digital cell phone system for military, police and ambulances.
  • Commercial services such as XM and Sirius offer digital Satellite radio.

more information, see HIFI


  • Cell phones transmit to a local cell transmitter/receiver site, which connects to the public service telephone network through an optic fiber or microwave radio. When the phone leaves the cell radio's area, the central computer switches the phone to a new cell. Cell phones originally used FM, but now most use various digital encodings.
  • Satellite phones come in two types: INMARSAT and Iridium. Both types provide world-wide coverage. INMARSAT uses geosynchronous satellites, with aimed high-gain antennas on the vehicles. Iridium provides cell phones, except the cells are satellites in orbit.


  • Television sends the picture as AM, and the sound as FM, on the same radio signal.
  • Digital television encodes three bits as eight strengths of AM signal. The bits are sent out-of-order to reduce the effect of bursts of radio noise. A Reed-Solomon error correction code lets the receiver detect and correct errors in the data. Although any data could be sent, the standard is to use MPEG-2 for video, and five CD-quality (44.1 kHz) audio channels (center, left, right, left-back and right back). With all this, it takes only half the bandwidth of an analog TV signal because the video data is compressed.


  • All satellite navigation systems use satellites with precision clocks. The satellite transmits its position, and the time of the transmission. The receiver listens to four satellites, and can figure its position as being on a line that is tangent to a spherical shell around each satellite, determined by the time-of-flight of the radio signals from the satellite. A computer in the receiver does the math.
  • Loran systems also used time-of-flight radio signals, but from radio stations on the ground.
  • VOR systems (used by aircraft), have two transmitters. A directional transmitter scans or spins its signal like a lighthouse at a fixed rate. When the directional transmitter is facing north, an omnidirectional transmitter pulses. An aircraft can get readings from two VORs, and locate its position at the intersection of the two beams.
  • Radio direction-finding is the oldest form of radio navigation. Before 1960 navigators used movable loop antennas to locate commercial AM stations near cities. In some cases they used marine radiolocation beacons, which share a range of frequencies just above AM radio with amateur radio operators.


  • Radar detects things at a distance by bouncing radio waves off them. The delay caused by the echo measures the distance. The direction of the beam determines the direction of the reflection. The polarization and frequency of the return can sense the type of surface.
  • Navigational radars scan a wide area two to four times per minute. They use very short waves that reflect from earth and stone. They are common on commercial ships and long-distance commercial aircraft.
  • General purpose radars generally use navigational radar frequencies, but modulate and polarize the pulse so the receiver can determine the type of surface of the reflector. The best general-purpose radars distinguish the rain of heavy storms, as well as land and vehicles. Some can superimpose sonar data and map data from GPS position.
  • Search radars scan a wide area with pulses of short radio waves. They usually scan the area two to four times a minute. Sometimes search radars use the doppler effect to separate moving vehicles from clutter.
  • Targeting radars use the same principle as search radar but scan a much smaller area far more often, usually several times a second or more.
  • Weather radars resemble search radars, but use radio waves with circular polarization and a wavelength to reflect from water droplets. Some weather radar use the doppler to measure wind speeds.

Emergency services

Data (digital radio)

  • The oldest form of digital broadcast was spark gap telegraphy, used by pioneers such as Marconi. By pressing the key, the operator could send messages in Morse code by energizing a rotating commutating spark gap. The rotating commutator produced a tone in the receiver, where a simple spark gap would produce a hiss, indistinguishable from static. Spark gap transmitters are now illegal, because their transmissions span several hundred megahertz. This is very wasteful of both radio frequencies and power.
  • The next advance was continuous wave telegraphy, or CW, in which a pure radio frequency, produced by a vacuum tube electronic oscillator was switched on and off by a key. A receiver with a local oscillator would "heterodyne" with the pure radio frequency, creating a whistle-like audio tone. CW uses less than 100Hz of bandwidth. CW is still used, these days primarily by amateur radio operators (hams). Strictly, on-off keying of a carrier should be known as "Interrupted Continuous Wave" or ICW.
  • Radio teletypes usually operate on short-wave (HF) and are much loved by the military because they create written information without a skilled operator. They send a bit as one of two tones. Groups of five or seven bits become a character printed by a teletype. From about 1925 to 1975, radio teletype was how most commercial messages were sent to less developed countries. These are still used by the military and weather services.
  • Aircraft use a 1200 Baud radioteletype service over VHF to send their ID, altitude and position, and get gate and connecting-flight data.
  • Microwave dishes on satellites, telephone exchanges and TV stations usually use quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM). QAM sends data by changing both the phase and the amplitude of the radio signal. Engineers like QAM because it packs the most bits into a radio signal. Usually the bits are sent in "frames" that repeat. A special bit pattern is used to locate the beginning of a frame.
  • IEEE 802.11, the radio network standard, has stations with digital tuners. They start off by contacting a central control node, which tells the nodes about each other so they can communicate privately. Nodes move through many frequencies. They use a pseudo-random number generator to select the next frequency.
  • Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth


Radio-frequency energy generated for heating of objects is generally not intended to radiate outside of the generating equipment, to prevent interferance with other radio signals.

  • Microwave ovens use intense radio waves to heat food. (Note: It is a common misconception that the radio waves are tuned to the resonant frequency of water molecules. The microwave frequencies used are actually about a factor of 10 below the resonant frequency.)
  • Diathermy equipment is used in surgery for sealing of blood vessels.
  • Induction furnaces are used for melting metal for casting.

Mechanical Force

  • Tractor beams: Radio waves exert small electrostatic and magnetic forces. These are enough to perform station-keeping in microgravity environments.
  • Conceptually, Spacecraft propulsion: Radiation pressure from intense radio waves has been proposed as a propulsion method for an interstellar probe called Starwisp. Since the waves are long, the probe could be a very light-weight metal mesh, and thus achieve higher accelerations than if it were a solar sail.


  • Amateur radio is a hobby where enthusiasts who purchase or build their own equipment and use radio for their own enjoyment. They may also provide an emergency and public-service radio service. This has been of great use, saving lives in many instances. Radio amateurs are able to use frequencies in a large number of narrow bands throughout the radio spectrum. Radio amateurs use all forms of encoding, including obsolete and experimental ones. Several forms of radio were pioneered by radio amateurs and later became commercially important, including FM, single-sideband AM, digital packet radio and satellite repeaters.
  • Personal radio services such as Citizens' Band Radio, Family Radio Service, Multi-Use Radio Service and others exist in North America to provide simple, (usually) short range communication for individuals and small groups, without the overhead of licensing. Similar services exist in other parts of the world.
  • Wireless energy transfer: A number of schemes have been proposed that transmit power using microwaves, and the technique has been demonstrated. (See Microwave power transmission). These schemes include, for example, solar power stations in orbit beaming energy down to terrestrial users.
  • Radio remote control: Use of radio waves to transmit control data to a remote object as in some early forms of guided missile, some early TV remotes and a range of model boats, cars and aeroplanes. Large industrial remote-controlled equipment such as cranes and switching locomotives now usually use digital radio techniques to insure safety and reliability.

See also

External links

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