First trans-Atlantic radio signal sparked industry

Carrie Kreisler

Worldwide interaction may be an everyday occurrence now, but the first step across the ocean of communication was taken only 100 years ago.Tuesday marked the 100th anniversary of the first trans-Atlantic wireless transmission of radio signals by Guglielmo Marconi, who had been experimenting with radio waves and sending long-distance messages since 1894.”It was 100 years ago Marconi proved that radio waves would follow the curve of the earth,” said Barbara Mack, associate professor of journalism and mass communication.By the end of 1901, he could send signals across the Atlantic, she said. “It was not distance, but the power of the electrical signal that was the issue,” Mack said.Marconi proved radio was “more than just a toy,” she said. “It had the ability to change communication with ships at sea.”Even in 1912, there were no requirements for ships to have radios, or for radio operators to remain on duty around the clock. This is why no one heard the distress calls being sent from the Titanic, Mack said.Radio became known as an entertainment medium in 1906, with the first broadcasting of music. The first commercial radio station went on air in 1920, she said. “What Marconi did 100 years ago really did begin to create an industry,” Mack said. “He would love to see what’s going on with Internet-based radio. He was as much of an explorer as Christopher Columbus.” Technology has been continuing to prosper with regards to radio. Mack said this year is also the first year in which a number of companies are offering satellite-based radio. People can have the satellite receiver built into their cars or their homes, she said. It costs $10 a month for the available 100 channels of commercial-free recorded music.Mack said Ford will equip cars with the satellite radio systems in the year 2004, presenting local radio with another competitor.”It will force stations to think about and respond to their audience,” said Bobby Hacker, program director for KCCQ and KASI. “They have to be local to compete. Listeners have told us time and time again they want their kind of music,” he said. “Having a narrow focus has given listeners more choices.”There are concerns no one will pay the $10 a month for a satellite radio, Hacker said. However, he said people have been paying for cable television for years.With television media, crews have to set up satellite equipment at the scene of breaking news, and newspapers must wait until the next day to report the news, Hacker said. Radio has survived because “it’s portable, and it’s immediate,” he said. “It is very easy when there is a news event to be on the air in five minutes.”