Reginald Aubrey Fessenden (October 6, 1866- July 22, 1932)

An idea that few believed but many enjoy is the radio broadcast, creator of which consider to be the Canadian prolific inventor Reginald Aubrey Fessenden (October 6, 1866- July 22, 1932), born in East Bolton, Quebec in Canada. But let’s start from the beginning. In 1893, in Missouri, Tesla made devices for his experiments with electricity. His work contained all the elements that were later incorporated into radio systems, with the only difference that instead of the coherers other experimenters use, Tesla experimented with magnetic receivers. Four years later, in 1897, Italian Guglielmo Marconi established the world's first radio station on the Isle of Wight in England and in 1901 made the world’s first transmission through the well known Morse code.

However, many consider Canadian Reginald Fessenden (Marconi’s rival) as the “true father” of broadcasting since it is believed that he was successfully transmitting recognizable speech as early as 1900. Particularly, is regarded that Fessenden had perfected a new method of sending Morse code more effectively than Marconi, so he managed in December 23, 1900, to send sound of the human voice between two 50-foot towers.

His work led him to establish the heterodyne principle, the process of mixing modulated radio signals that remains “at the heart” of modern broadcasting.

By late 1906, he had planned to make a demonstration across the Atlantic for his financial backers, but this never accomplished since Fessenden’s tower in Scotland was destroyed by a storm. After that, he decided to aim his signal at ocean-going ships, by using their receivers.  So, on December 24, 1906 used a synchronous rotary-spark transmitter -from Brant Rock, Massachusetts- started his broadcast at 9:00pm and ships at sea heard Fessenden voice as well as some music including O Holy Night on the violin. That was the first time that radio was used as an entertainment.

Despite Fessenden’s success, commercial radio didn’t apprehend by the public until 1920, when the first radio news program was broadcast on August 31, by station 8MK in Detroit, Michigan. Few months later, in October 14 followed the first college radio station, 2ADD while the first regular entertainment broadcasts started in 1922 from the Marconi Research Centre at Writtle, near Chelmsford in England.

The ironic is that Fessenden recognized for his contribution to radio technology, almost 30 years after his invention, in 1928, when United States Radio Trust paid him $ 2,5 millions for his work. 
One of the first developments in the early 20th century (1900-1959) considered to be the use of commercial AM radio stations for navigation by aircraft that continued until the early 1960s when VOR systems became widespread. In the early 1930s, single sideband and frequency modulation were invented by amateur radio operators, while by the end of the decade, they were established commercial modes.

In 1954, Regency introduced the “TR-1”, a pocket transistor radio powered by a battery, while a smaller “pocket-size” transistorized radio introduced in 1960 by Sony.
Over the next 20 years, transistors replaced tubes almost completely except for very high-power uses. By 1963 the first radio communication satellite was launched. In the late 1960s, the U.S. long-distance telephone network began to convert to a digital network, employing digital radios for many of its links. In the early 1990s, amateur radio experimenters began to use personal computers with audio cards to process radio signals.

History of Going On Air

The Beginning - Marconi invented his spark transmitter with antenna in Bologna, Italy, in December 1884. He took his “Black Box” to Britain in February 1896 and although it was broken by custom officials, he filed for British Patent 12039 on June 2 of that year. He formed his first Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company in Britain in 1897 at the age of 23. His famous broadcast on January 23,1901 transmitted only Morse code dots and dashes, as did his first transatlantic signal from Cornwall to Newfoundland in December that year.

AM - Fessenden discovered amplitude modulation (AM). In 1966 he uses an Alexanderson spark-gap transmitter to broadcast words and music.

SHORTWAVE - Invented by Frank Conrad, an amateur radio enthusiast who in 1920 made the first commercial broadcast from the garage of his home in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His station KDKA ran fee nearly 50 years.

FM - Frequency modulated radio, which had a much clearer static-free sound than AM, was invented by Edwin Armstrong in 1933. It requires a greater bandwidth than AM but can be broadcast in stereo.’

DIGITAL - Digital Audio Broadcasting was developed by a consortium of engineers in Germany in the early 1980s. Now the medium of choice for interference-free, crystal-clear listening, DAB markets itself as “the end of confusing frequencies”. Some 85 per cent of the country should by now be able to receive BBC and the main commercial

Fessenden’s Brief Biography

Born on October 6, 1866, in Milton, Quebec, Canada, Fessenden was the son of a minister.

In 1877, he attended Trinity College School in Port Hope, Ontario for two years, later, at the age of 14, he was granted a mathematics mastership to Bishop’s College (now Bishop’s University) in Lennoxville, Quebec. At the age of 18, Fessenden left Bishop’s. The next two years he worked as the principal and sole teacher, at the Whitney Institute in Bermuda.

Fessenden’s classical education had provided him with only a limited amount of scientific and technical training. Interested in increasing his skills in the electrical field, he moved to New York City in 1886 and started working at the Edison Machine Works. The following year, Thomas Alva Edison recognized Fessenden’s talents and promoted him to the position of chief chemist at his laboratory in West Orange, New Jersey. In 1890, he moved to Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where he was chief electrician for Edison’s competitor, Westinghouse Electric Corporation. Two years later, he was a professor of engineering at Purdue University, and from 1893 to 1900 he taught at the Western University of Pennsylvania (now University of Pittsburgh) where he held the same post.

During those 14 years Fessenden had gained enough experience to set the stage for his greatest accomplishment. While at Western University, he studied some problems with wireless radio communication, which the U. S. Weather Bureau wanted to use in forecasting.

Fessenden invented a liquid barretter detector which gradually replaced the coherer that was used by Guglielmo Marconi. But as having a loftier goal, he managed to send actual voice messages through the air.

Fessenden’s plan was to limit the signal to one frequency for better reception over long distances, and to provide modulation which would be decoded at the receiver into voice and musical sound. He approached General Electric for help in constructing a more powerful generator. The task went to Charles Steinmetz, the genius who had used mathematics to work out the details of alternating current circuits. Steinmetz designed an alternator that generated current at 10,000 cycles per second, but it was not good enough for Fessenden.

The system was ready when Fessenden made use of the amplitude modulation (AM) and an ordinary telephone microphone to impress sound on the radio waves produced by his alternator.
Although he was an extremely creative engineer, the technical achievements made by Fessenden were not matched by financial success.

At the time of his death, on July 22, 1932, Fessenden had over 500 patents to his credit, making him one of America’s most prolific inventors whose contributions to radio and wireless communication were by far the most important.