December 24 – First Radio Broadcast (?)

Posted on December 24, 2013

Check out the crazy-looking
antenna Fessenden built at
Brant Rock!
It may be that the first-ever radio “show” was broadcast on Christmas Eve, 1906, by Reginald Fessenden, a Canadian inventor who experimented with the use of continuous waves and patented a variety of improvements to transmitting and receiving equipment.

Fessenden transmitted his short radio show from Brant Rock, Massachusetts. He played a phonograph record of a piece by Handel, then he played “O Holy Night” on the violin, sang a Christmas carol, and read a passage from the Bible.

Fessenden asked his listeners to write to him telling him about their location when they heard the radio show, and also describing the sound quality (or lack of quality).

The good news was, people heard the short show from several hundred miles away. The bad news was, the show was accompanied by a disturbing noise that was caused by irregularities in the spark gap transmitter.

Reginald Fessenden
The “show” was more about experimentation, feedback, and improving technologies than it was about entertainment. It isn't even certain that it happened in 1906; some historians believe that Fessenden's later writing about the event had been mixed up, and that his short show had been put on in 1909.

However it went, it is certain that the experiments run by Fessenden and others, and the innovations made by the scientists and engineers, resulted in a very big boom by the 1920s. There was a radio craze, and as consumers purchased their first radios at an unprecedented rate, radio stations sprung up to fill the broadcasting needs. Radio-as-entertainment became huge and still is huge!

There are sure to be special holiday broadcasts today (and tonight)! Check one out, if you have time.

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