Radio Retrospective: The First Station


Radio was the very first broadcast medium, one rooted in the works of Michael Farraday back in the early 1800s. The fact that radio is still the primary way that most people discover new music is astounding and a testament to its continuing utility. The fact that millions of dollars are spent on radio ads during the current campaign, even in new markets like Hispanic stations, speaks to its continued relevance. Now as my colleague Doug Zanger likes to tell me, I can be pretty old school for a technologist. This is going to be one of those posts where that shines though.

I am sure that a crew of radio people can easily toss out names and info about the early days of the medium. Names like Marconi, Tesla, Bose and possibly even Popov or Rutherford. Today, however, I would like to cast our view back in time to the early 1900s and the little known father of broadcasting.

Via Wikipedia:

In April 1909 Charles David Herrold, an electronics instructor in San Jose, California constructed a broadcasting station. It used spark gap technology, but modulated the carrier frequency with the human voice, and later music. The station “San Jose Calling” (there were no call letters), continued to eventually become today’s KCBS in San Francisco. Herrold, the son of a Santa Clara Valley farmer, coined the terms “narrowcasting” and “broadcasting”, respectively to identify transmissions destined for a single receiver such as that on board a ship, and those transmissions destined for a general audience. (The term “broadcasting” had been used in farming to define the tossing of seed in all directions.) Charles Herrold did not claim to be the first to transmit the human voice, but he claimed to be the first to conduct “broadcasting”.

KCBS then is the leading contender for the title of the oldest radio station in the world. In the early days, it operated under a number of different call signs including  FN, SJN, 6XF, and 6XE. The FN call sign was an artifact of the medium’s narrowcast radio-telephone roots, being an inverted abbreviation of “National Fone.” Prior to that a simple “San Jose calling” greeted listeners.

Read more about the history of radio on Wikipedia. It’s always good to take a moment and get back to your roots! Stay tuned, more news coming soon! If the story of the first radio station appeals to you, you can find the KCBS story here.

Photo courtesy of dobroides, used under ts Creative Commons license


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