The History of Radio — Part II: Radio and the War

In the 1920s, it wasn’t only news broadcasters, bands and advertisers that were to harness the power of the airwaves.


This is the second post in a 3-part series that briefly examines the history of radio, from its inception in the early 19th century to the powerful new analogue and digital force it is today.

In the 1920s, it wasn’t only news broadcasters, bands and advertisers that were to harness the power of the airwaves. Soon, armed forces were waging a different kind of war for their own share of the radio frequency spectrum. After all, radio had become an exciting new tool to reach the masses, so why not use it for capital and militant gains? As a result, the military’s use of radio communications reportedly begun on Tsushima Island with a small setup used only to service the base, but after World War I, it expanded exponentially.

Many governments began to see the potential in radio technology’s incredible use — not only for communications but also as a defensive device: Radio Detecting And Ranging, or, what is more widely recognised as RADAR today. Like many inventions, radio began to serve a purpose it wasn’t originally intended for, as it was moulded and shaped to the needs of America’s big boys — turning it into a weapon of mass destruction and construction, simultaneously.

When WWII began, there were a total of 19 radar systems in operation in Britain — an extensive network in comparison to previous methods of written and verbal communication. Of course, this level of interconnectivity would also provide them with an undeniable edge over their opposition by keeping them in constant communication on the ground. In fact, there are some that would argue that radio and radar technology essentially won the Battle of Britain, beyond the efforts of weary soldiers and public opinion. And so, after the war, many more parties jumped on the radio bandwagon, as new technologies arose that allowed for them to gain greater access and use from it — making it one of the most powerful political tools of its time.

Perhaps one of the most powerful examples of radio’s influence, lies in the last-remaining BBC radio address by C.S Lewis, during World War II. In less than ten minutes, Lewis inspired a nation with his discussion of prayer and evolution, that help to repair damaged moral across the nation, during a time when religion and its alignment with leadership, was still paramount. Not only did his words play into the agenda of governments who had lead their people through truly tumultuous times, it lifted the spirits of weary families left dealing with the loss and economic struggles of the war. It was a communal human experience that changed the shape of the nation’s demeanor — truly showcasing the power of Lewis’ charisma and the power of an assuring, human voice.

It’s safe to say that midway through the 20th century, radio had already grown to become an invaluable technology in all factions of society, from a governmental level, to a commercially lucrative platform, to the household fixture we’ve all grown to know and love over the years, and it didn’t stop there. It went on to grow as a medium that would take shape and transform itself into a colossal creature, setting the scene for the golden age of FM radio and, perhaps even more importantly, the emergence of a new wave of radio for, and by, the people.

Join us later this week for more on the History of Radio, or read last weeks post A Century of Radio.

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