Radio As a Media Form

Introduction

Radio is said to be the original manifestation of “social media” mostly because it allows one to connect with other individuals and ideas in their community or yonder. Its uniqueness lies in the fact that all these services reach the consumer at no cost whatsoever, a primary factor behind its longevity. Over the years, radio has made huge onward strides in its development and permeation in societies from the far reaches of the Falklands in South America to the Australian outback. It has become a means through which people have remained abreast with the latest breaking news, entertainment through music and the dissemination of information relevant to a specific group of people, mainly through talk shows in format radio. The purpose of this research paper is to give an in-depth overview of this media form; its definition, a brief history of its development, current trends and what the future holds in terms of innovation that will, in turn, bolster its position among its contemporaries.

Definition

In tracking the origin of the radio, it is of great importance to first study the etymology of the name itself. The commonly known as “radio” is a derivative of “radius”, a Latin term that means a wheel’s spoke and a beam of the ray. Its application in communications first made headlines in 1881 as a result of a proposition by Ernest Mercadier, a French scientist. Radio  technology makes use of waves as mediums to carry information, mostly sound, by means of methodically modulating properties found in the electromagnetic energy within the waves being conveyed through space. These waves include frequency, pulse width, amplitude, and phase. Scientists explain the inner workings of a radio system by positing that the action of the radio waves striking any electrical conductor causes the oscillating field to stimulate it to produce an alternating current. Information happens to be in the waves and its transformation to its original structure occurs during the extraction phase (Squier 56). A complete radio system requires a transmitter that is vital in modulating (changing) the property of energy produced which subsequently impresses a specific signal on it as is seen in the case of angle modulation.

A radio system requires an antenna that is then directly responsible for converting the electrical currents to a version that will comprise of radio waves, and finally, the radio waves become an electric current. For receiving and transmitting waves, the radio now uses an antenna that performs both functions concurrently. Additionally, it is important to note that it is the electric resonance found in the tuned circuits inside the radio that eventually allows the individual selection of stations. Electromagnetic waves feature largely in radio transmission and are usually intercepted by the receiving antenna. It is the radio receivers that the antenna’s input is delivered to and the converts it to a stable form usable for their everyday consumers; digital data, sound, pictures navigational positions and measurement values. The ranges that radio occupies are between 3kHz and 300GHz, even with evidence suggesting that the commercial crucial uses utilize a very small portion of this wide spectrum (Spilsbury and Spilsbury 12 ). It is the communication system that has the sole task of sending signals to the radio.

A brief Historical account of the radio

James Clerk Maxwell had come up with a mathematical explanation in 1864 with the sole aim of showing that the electromagnetic waves were able to propagate all the way through free space. Effects of these mysterious electromagnetic waves had been previously unexplained, with the behavior it sparks receiving the tag “action at a distance”. Thomas Edison, in an attempt to understand this phenomenon, had given it the tag “etheric force” but could not really decipher the causative agent. Consequently, many scientists at the time were of the opinion that it was simply electromagnetic induction and it was only in 1886 when Heinrich Rudolf Hertz went on to publish copies of his experiments when he came across the same spark observable fact. He was thus able to demonstrate that electromagnetic waves did exist with an experiment, in essence proving that Maxwell’s theory of electromagnetism was correct.

Physicists would embark on many experiments that the discovery of “Hertzian waves”( also known as radio waves) prompted and it was not long until Oliver Lodge, a British physicist was able to transmit and receive these so-called “Hertzian Waves”, but at a distance of 50metres.In late 1894, Guglielmo Marconi, an Italian electrician, began his steady pursuit into the idea of constructing a telegraph system that was wireless and which used Hertzian waves as its base. He was able to develop the first working model a working model which he patented in 1896.The initial usage of the radio was within the confines of the telegraphy paradigm, which meant its occurrence was from point-to-point and communication in morse code form. Early applications were in press reporting, military communications, contacting lighthouses and shipping. These radios would also transmit these messages in continuous wave code only, prompting scientist to make attempts at surmounting this challenge using an amplitude modulation system for music and voice, but with little success. It was only after the outbreak of the Great War in 1914 that the development of the radio was accelerated to improve military communications (Taylor, et al.). It was the development of the vacuum tubes and electrical amplifications that would the change from an experimental gadget by scientists to a home appliance.

It was after the First World War that the world came to terms with the importance of radio leading to the development of a broadcasting paradigm. Amateur broadcasters would popularize this paradigm during a period when corporate interest for the technology was low.  It was this same popularity that was the cause of regulation relegating them to the short-wave bandwidth due to technological issues that had originated from radio wave congestion.  The demand came from consumers who were in need of the content that the broadcasters provided them with. It was at this point that Westinghouse, a United States company began its radio set production for commercial purposes. The general design of radio broadcasting also changed with the commoditization of technology to a sudden ease in its appropriation within domestic spaces. It was at this time that broadcasters started focusing more on the content rather than the technology. During the Golden Age of radio, the sake of this device rose from $12 million in early 1930 to reach a mark of $30 million in 1940(Webb 13). It is also important to note that all the radios had two receivers, firmly etching it in popular culture.

Recent developments in radio

The general term, “wireless” has in recent years gained traction and a renewal in popularity. The admiration of radio has seen it put to use in devices that make utilize electromagnetic radiation as is the case in Wi-Fi, Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN)s, mobile telephony such as UMTS and GSM cell phones together with Bluetooth devices. In this new day and age, the term “radio” merely serves the purpose of specifying the transceiver’s chip or device while “wireless” is used in reference to the absence of a physical connection. In simpler terms, the equipment utilizes radio transceivers embedded in it but still operates as a wireless device that passes through sensor networks. Additionally, it is imperative to acknowledge other massive changes that radio has gone through, from being powered by large batteries to making use of electric power to radios developing software that can be downloaded and after a short period of installation, it becomes fully operational. With the improvement in technology and the need to consume content, music, in particular, has redefined what radio.

In analog days yore, differentiating “radio” from an individual listening to their music from their iPod, mobile phone or record player was fairly easy. Now, with services such as Pandora, Spotify and podcasting the waters in which radio floats has been muddied. There now exist broad categories that encapsulate a construction that we can term as radio today. Traditional and Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) are grouped in the same category because even with the quality being better on a digital platform, both still essentially use a similar medium for broadcasting. Interactive radio is also a fairly new development where it is possible to have your radio on your smartphone, Personal Computer (P.C) or tablet. Here, you control the radio station pin question by opening a specific app that adheres to the schedule in linear broadcasting. The dawn of the iPod era also popularized podcasting where consumers could now enjoy the benefit of episodic shows that are quite similar to the manner in which radio shows and broadcasts have been done for ages (Kruyt). Furthermore, much like radio stations, subscription services such as Deezer, Spotify, and Rdio provide access as opposed to ownership. For a monthly subscription of about $9.99, you are able to access wide assortment features such as offline and mobile access.

Future prospects of radio

The big question among experts in the progression of radio as a media form is what the future holds for it, whether the broadcast will completely drift to the internet and the possibility of live streaming and podcasting dominating radio space. An extensive study by the Radio Joint Audience Research (RAJAR) indicates that the number of people listening to radio through a digital platform rose to  44.1% in 2016. The first quarterly results indicate the unremitting growth of the relatively new digital radio and its usage in households which would later go on to exceed the 50% mark(Gross). It is now an estimated that around 30 million people across the world tuned to their radios using receivers that are digitally-enabled. A 4.6% growth indicates that listeners are gearing up for the great switch and are ready to move into the digital age, which is a positive indicator for the future of this industry. Moreover, these statistics elicit feelings of optimism amongst multiplex operators and broadcasters which are an indicator of their confidence in the success of digital radio.  A development that is worth noting is that a large majority of car manufacturers have begun implementing the Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) technology of radio transmission as standard. It is, however, important to remember that a forced switch from analog to digital will only occur when the radio market reaches a level where it is ready for the change. The future still looks bright for radio owing to the development of technology that seeks to improve and polish every single aspect of transmission and reception.

Conclusion

From the morse code dots-and-dashes typical of telegraphy during the late nineteenth century, to some of the first broadcast to be aired publicly in the formative years of the twentieth century and now to the new algorithm-driven music stations with a personal touch, the concept of “radio” has surely evolved. The radio has proved its resilience to changes in the society and technologically, ensuring that it still remains relevant. The future of this age-old medium perhaps lies in technological firms spending a large chunk of their time towards research efforts that bring forth products and innovations that focus on the consumer’s media being able to accord them a multi-tasking experience. Successful audio programmers have been vocal about merging the best elements that analog radio offers with the personalization and sheer portability that the digital environment provides to ensure that the radio stands the test of time.

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