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Long wave radio broadcasting station, Motala, Sweden
Broadcasting tower in Trondheim, Norway

Radio broadcasting is an audio (sound) broadcasting service, broadcast through the air as radio waves (a form of electromagnetic radiation) from a transmitter to a receiving antenna. Stations can be linked in radio networks to broadcast common programming, either in syndication or simulcast or both. Audio broadcasting also can be done via cable FM, local wire networks, satellite and the Internet.



The earliest radio stations were simply radiotelegraphy systems and did not carry audio. The first claimed audio transmission that could be termed a broadcast occurred on Christmas Eve in 1906, and was made by Reginald Fessenden. Whether this broadcast actually took place is disputed.[1] While many early experimenters attempted to create systems similar to radiotelephone devices where only two parties were meant to communicate, there were others who intended to transmit to larger audiences. Charles Herrold started broadcasting in California in 1909 and was carrying audio by the next year. (Herrold's station eventually became KCBS).

For the next decade, radio tinkerers had to build their own radio receivers. Dr. Frank Conrad began broadcasting from his Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania garage with the call letters KDKA. KDKA's first commercial broadcast was made from Saxonburg, Butler County, PA on November 2, 1920. Later, the equipment was moved to the top of an office building in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and purchased by Westinghouse. KDKA of Pittsburgh, under Westinghouse's ownership, started broadcasting as the first licensed "commercial" radio station on November 2, 1920.[2] In The Hague, the Netherlands, PCGG started broadcasting almost a year earlier, on November 6, 1919. The commercial designation came from the type of license; advertisements did not air until years later. The first broadcast was the results of the U.S. presidential election, 1920. The Montreal station that became CFCF began program broadcasts on May 20, 1920, and the Detroit station that became WWJ began program broadcasts beginning on August 20, 1920, although neither held a license at the time.

Radio Argentina began regularly scheduled transmissions from the Teatro Coliseo in Buenos Aires on August 27, 1920, making its own priority claim. The station got its license on November 19, 1923. The delay was due to the lack of official Argentine licensing procedures before that date. This station continued regular broadcasting of entertainment and cultural fare for several decades.[3]


Internet radio

When Internet-based radio became feasible in the mid-1990s, the new medium required no licensing and stations could broadcast from anywhere in the world without the need for over the air transmitters. This greatly reduced the overhead for establishing a station, and in 1996, George Maat started 'A' Net Station (A.N.E.T.) under the now defunct domain, and began broadcasting commercial-free from Antarctica.

WMBR, the MIT student radio station, developed the "MIT List of Radio Stations" in the mid 1990's. This was one of several lists of radio station websites in the early days of the World Wide Web. After stations started streaming audio on the Internet, the maintainers of this list starting adding links to stations' audio streams, so anyone could locate a station's website and listen to that station's programming, if they offered a stream. In 2000, this list became separate from MIT and adopted the name Radio-Locator. Radio-Locator lists all U.S. "terrestrial" radio stations who may or may not have a live audio stream, or even a website, on the Internet.


Transmission and reception schematic

The best known type of radiostation are the ones that broadcast via radiowaves. These include foremost AM and FM stations. There are several subtypes, namely commercial, public and nonprofit varieties as well as student-run campus radio stations and hospital radio stations can be found throughout the developed world.

Although now being eclipsed by internet-distributed radio, there are many stations that broadcast on shortwave bands using AM technology that can be received over thousands of miles (especially at night). For example, the BBC has a full schedule transmitted via shortwave. These broadcasts are very sensitive to atmospheric conditions and solar activity.

Also, many other non-broadcast types of radio stations exist. These include base stations for police, fire and ambulance networks, military base stations, dispatch base stations for taxis, trucks, and couriers, emergency broadcast systems, and amateur radio stations.

Arbitron, the United States based company which reports on radio audiences defines a "radio station" as one of[4]: government-licensed AM or FM station an HD Radio (primary or multicast) station, an internet stream of an existing government-licensed station or one of the satellite radio channels from XM Satellite Radio or Sirius Satellite Radio.

Over radiowaves


See Shortwave for the differences between shortwave, medium wave and long wave spectra. Used largely for international broadcasts by organs of state propaganda, religious organizations, militaries and others.


AM radio broadcast stations in 2006

AM stations were the earliest broadcasting stations to be developed. AM refers to amplitude modulation, a mode of broadcasting radio waves by varying the amplitude of the carrier signal in response to the amplitude of the signal to be transmitted.

Many countries outside of the U.S. use a similar frequency band for AM transmissions. Europe also uses the long wave band. In response to the growing popularity of FM radio stereo radio stations in the late 1980s and early 1990s, some North American stations began broadcasting in AM stereo, though this never gained popularity, and very few receivers were ever sold.


One of the advantages of AM is that its unsophisticated signal can be detected (turned into sound) with simple equipment. If a signal is strong enough, not even a power source is needed; building an unpowered crystal radio receiver was a common childhood project in the early years of radio. Another advantage to AM is that it uses a narrower bandwidth than FM.

AM broadcasts occur on North American airwaves in the medium wave frequency range of 530 to 1700 kHz (known as the "standard broadcast band"). The band was expanded in the 1990s by adding nine channels from 1620 to 1700 kHz. Channels are spaced every 10 kHz in the Americas, and generally every 9 kHz everywhere else.


The signal is subject to interference from electrical storms (lightning) and other EMI.

AM transmissions cannot be ionospherically propagated during the day due to strong absorption in the D-layer of the ionosphere. In a crowded channel environment this means that the power of regional channels which share a frequency must be reduced at night or directionally beamed in order to avoid interference, which reduces the potential nighttime audience. Some stations have frequencies unshared with other stations in North America; these are called clear-channel stations. Many of them can be heard across much of the country at night. (This is not to be confused with Clear Channel Communications, merely a brand name, which currently owns many U.S. radio stations on both the AM and FM bands.) During the night, this absorption largely disappears and permits signals to travel to much more distant locations via ionospheric reflections. However, fading of the signal can be severe at night.

AM radio transmitters can transmit audio frequencies up to 15 kHz (now limited to 10 kHz in the US due to FCC rules designed to reduce interference), but most receivers are only capable of reproducing frequencies up to 5 kHz or less. At the time that AM broadcasting began in the 1920s, this provided adequate fidelity for existing microphones, 78 rpm recordings, and loudspeakers. The fidelity of sound equipment subsequently improved considerably, but the receivers did not. Reducing the bandwidth of the receivers reduces the cost of manufacturing and makes them less prone to interference. AM stations are never assigned adjacent channels in the same service area. This prevents the sideband power generated by two stations from interfering with each other. Bob Carver created an AM stereo tuner employing notch filtering that demonstrated that an AM broadcast can meet or exceed the 15 kHz baseband bandwidth allocted to FM stations without objectionable interference. After several years, the tuner was discontinued. Bob Carver had left the company and the Carver Corporation later cut the number of models produced before discontinuing production completely. AM stereo broadcasts declined with the advent of HD Radio.


FM radio broadcast stations in 2006

FM refers to frequency modulation, and occurs on VHF airwaves in the frequency range of 88 to 108 MHz everywhere (except Japan and Russia). Japan uses the 76 to 90 MHz band. Russia has two bands widely used by the Soviet Union, 65.9 to 74 MHz and 87.5 to 108 MHz worldwide standard. FM stations are much more popular in economically developed regions, such as Europe and the United States, especially since higher sound fidelity and stereo broadcasting became common in this format.

FM radio was invented by Edwin H. Armstrong in the 1930s for the specific purpose of overcoming the interference (static) problem of AM radio, to which it is relatively immune. At the same time, greater fidelity was made possible by spacing stations further apart. Instead of 10 kHz apart, as on the AM band in the US, FM channels are 200 kHz (0.2 MHz) apart. In other countries greater spacing is sometimes mandatory, such as in New Zealand, which uses 700 kHz spacing (previously 800 kHz). The improved fidelity made available was far in advance of the audio equipment of the 1940s, but wide interchannel spacing was chosen to take advantage of the noise-suppressing feature of wideband FM.

Bandwidth of 200 kHz is not needed to accommodate an audio signal — 20 kHz to 30 kHz is all that is necessary for a narrowband FM signal. The 200 kHz bandwidth allowed room for ±75 kHz signal deviation from the assigned frequency, plus guard bands to reduce or eliminate adjacent channel interference. The larger bandwidth allows for broadcasting a 15 kHz bandwidth audio signal plus a 38 kHz stereo "subcarrier"—a piggyback signal that rides on the main signal. Additional unused capacity is used by some broadcasters to transmit utility functions such as background music for public areas, GPS auxiliary signals, or financial market data.

The AM radio problem of interference at night was addressed in a different way. At the time FM was set up, the available frequencies were far higher in the spectrum than those used for AM radio - by a factor of approximately 100. Using these frequencies meant that even at far higher power, the range of a given FM signal was much shorter, thus its market was more local than for AM radio. The reception range at night is the same as in the daytime.

The original FM radio service in the U.S. was the Yankee Network, located in New England.[5][6][7] Regular FM broadcasting began in 1939, but did not pose a significant threat to the AM broadcasting industry. It required purchase of a special receiver. The frequencies used, 42 to 50 MHz, were not those used today. The change to the current frequencies, 88 to 108 MHz, began after the end of World War II, and it was to some extent imposed by AM radio owners so as to attempt to cripple what was by now realized to be a potentially serious threat.

FM radio on the new band had to begin from the ground floor. As a commercial venture it remained a little-used audio enthusiasts' medium until the 1960s. The more prosperous AM stations, or their owners, acquired FM licenses and often broadcast the same programming on the FM station as on the AM station ("simulcasting"). The FCC limited this practice in the 1970s. By the 1980s, since almost all new radios included both AM and FM tuners, FM became the dominant medium, especially in cities. Because of its greater range, AM remained more common in rural environments.

Amateur radio

Independent "ham" radio operators, largely hobbyists, licensed by respective national bodies and assigned callsigns. See Amateur radio.

Citizens band radio

Citizens' band radio or CB is usually unlicensed broadcasting over frequencies set aside for that purpose. It is often used by truck drivers to communicate to one another.

Other types of radio communication over radiowaves

Radio communications have been and are used for all variety of data transmissions. The earliest radio application, Morse code, can still be heard today. Experiments in sending pictures and text date back to the early days of radio. A variety of clock signals are also broadcast. Another early use of radio was coded transmission of information by national governments in peace and war. During the Cold War the USSR and allied governments had national programs to block shortwave and other frequency transmissions by using jamming techniques. One signal known as Russian woodpecker suddenly appeared on July 4, 1976 and just as suddenly disappeared at the end of 1989, and is still something of a mystery. More and more radio frequencies are being used to send digital packets of information of varying degrees of complexity.

An early form of digital radio broadcasting was packet radio, which combines digital information with traditional radio broadcasting over the air.

Digital radio broadcasting has emerged, first in Europe (the UK in 1995 and Germany in 1999), and later in the United States, France, the Netherlands, South Africa and many other countries worldwide. The most simple system is named DAB Digital Radio, for Digital Audio Broadcasting, and uses the public domain EUREKA 147 (Band III) system. DAB is used mainly in the UK and South Africa. Germany and Holland use the DAB and DAB+ systems, and France use the L-Band system of DAB Digital Radio.

In the United States digital radio isn't used in the same way as Europe and South Africa. Instead, the IBOC system is named HD Radio and owned by a consortium of private companies that is called iBiquity. An international non-profit consortium Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM), has introduced the public domain DRM system.


Satellite radiobroadcasters are slowly emerging, but the enormous entry costs of space-based satellite transmitters, and restrictions on available radio spectrum licenses has restricted growth of this market. In the USA and Canada, just two services, XM Satellite Radio and Sirius Satellite Radio exist. Both XM and Sirius are owned by Sirius XM Radio, which was formed by the merger of XM and Sirius on July 29, 2008, whereas in Canada, XM Radio Canada and Sirius Canada remain separate companies.

Program formats

Radio program formats differ by country, regulation and markets. For instance, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission designates the 88–92 megahertz band in the U.S. for non-profit or educational programming, with advertising prohibited.

In addition, formats change in popularity as time passes and technology improves. Early radio equipment only allowed program material to be broadcast in real time, known as live broadcasting. As technology for sound recording improved, an increasing proportion of broadcast programming used pre-recorded material. A current trend is the automation of radio stations. Some stations now operate without direct human intervention by using entirely pre-recorded material sequenced by computer control.


In developing regions like Africa, radio broadcasting helps to fight political corruption.[8]

See also


  1. ^ Fessenden — The Next Chapter
  2. ^ Baudino, Joseph E; John M. Kittross (Winter, 1977). "Broadcasting's Oldest Stations: An Examination of Four Claimants". Journal of Broadcasting: pp. 61–82. Retrieved 2008-08-08. 
  3. ^ Atgelt, Carlos A. "Early History of Radio Broadcasting in Argentina." The Broadcast Archive (
  4. ^ "What is a Radio Station?". Radio World: pp. 6. 
  5. ^ Halper, Donna L. "John Shepard's FM Stations—America's first FM network." Boston Radio Archives (
  6. ^ "The Yankee Network in 1936." Boston Radio Archives (
  7. ^ Miller, Jeff. "FM Broadcasting Chronology." Rev. 2005-12-27.
  8. ^

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