Broadcast News

The Scripps newspaper family-owned, among other newspapers, The Detroit News. They noticed when the Titanic sunk, in 1912, that radio sent the news far faster than telegraphs or telephones.

An Experiment

In 1920 radio was for what today we’d call early adopters. There were few broadcasts and most of those were sporadic broadcasting of recorded music. Most people from this era believed the value of radio was a long-distance one-to-one communication device.

However, a small number of forward thinkers realized that radio might become a mass media. Individual stations could broadcast to an enormous number of people.

The Scripps decided to take a risk and hired a small crew, an unnamed teenager and “radio pioneer” Michael Lyons to create a radio station. At that time, there were few regulations about broadcast spectrum. Lyons applied for a radio license in his own name rather than the companies. This is something we’d see 75 years later with the early World-wide-web.

For their first week the new radio station, WWJ, broadcast music like other radio stations.

WWJ Goes Live

However, on August 30, 1920, WWJ made the first news broadcast, reading articles from The Detroit News.

The newspaper hailed the broadcast in what Wired Magazine, in 2010, referred to as “an amusingly self-congratulatory and hyperbolic story about itself.”

“The sending of the election returns by The Detroit News’ radiophone Tuesday night was fraught with romance and must go down in the history of man’s conquest of the elements as a gigantic step in his progress. In the four hours that the apparatus, set up in an out-of-the-way corner of The News Building, was hissing and whirring its message into space, few realized that a dream and a prediction had come true. The news of the world was being given forth through this invisible trumpet to the waiting crowds in the unseen market place.”

Wired was wrong describing in their description. The invention of broadcast news was momentous. It since has started and stopped wars. Presidents and Prime Ministers were elected or thrown from office. For better or worse, radio then television news went on to dominate print news.

Transistor Radio

Developed in 1947 but commercialized in 1954, transistor radios are small. Battery-operated portable radios that fit in a pocket. They rely on transistors rather than vacuum tubes.

There were several attempts to build radios with transistors but none were optimal until 1954. Eventually, a Texas Instruments team invented the Regency TR-1, the first radio miniaturized with transistors.

The TR-1 was a hit. No sooner did the public start buying the expensive (the TR-1 cost $50, $465 in 2018 dollars) than copycats sprang up. Subsequently, within a decade, $10 Asian transistor radios were common.

Transistor radio sales number in the billions. Until smartphones, the transistor radio was the most popular electronic ever sold.

The transistor radio was a massively popular consumer product. Significantly, the radio proved the mass-market for miniaturized products based on transistors.


Early radio transmitted Morse code over the air, not sound. Transmitting Morse Code was much less expensive than wired lines.

In the mid 1880’s Heinrich Hertz published the results of experiments proving an ability to transmit electromagnetic waves, later known as radio waves. His work was purely scientific.

Both Tesla, in the US, and Marconi, in Europe, worked to transform Hertz’s invention into a commercial innovation. Several other scientists also built on the work though none achieved commercialization.

In 1894, both Marconi and Tesla demonstrated workable radio. Both Marconi and Tesla are credited with the invention of radio. The US awarded a patent to Tesla; the British awarded a patent, for the same innovation, to Marconi.

Historians believe that Marconi did, in hindsight, invent radio first but the US awarded patents and recognition to Tesla to keep the technology in the US.

Marconi went on to build an extremely successful business. Marconi’s company survived, after many acquisitions, until 2005 when it went defunct as a result of the dot-com crash.