10th March 2017 KVH Studios

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Radio

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LL Cool J couldn’t live without his, Thom Yorke has one on his head, and Buggles was convinced video was better than it. What are we talking? Yes – the radio! So what are the 5 must know facts about this world changing phenomenon?



Life in the modern world, as Ferris Bueller rightly pointed out, moves pretty fast. So it is fairly incredible that commercial radio will soon be celebrating its centenary. We’ve had almost one hundred years of radio stations.

The first experimental music broadcasts, from Marconi’s factory in Chelmsford, began in 1920. Two years later, in October 1922, a consortium of radio manufacturers formed the British Broadcasting Company (BBC); they allowed some sponsored programs, but it was far from being the first commercial station.

That privilege goes to KDKA which made its debut on November 2, 1920 as the world’s first commercial radio station. Before then it had been used for the military or for enthusiasts. After World War One, the technology was available and the listeners eagerly lapped it up.

It was another two years before the first advertisements were heard. With the very first radio advert being for a real estate developer in New York City. In the early days, radio stations broadcast on the long wave, medium wave and short wave bands, and later on VHF (very high frequency) and UHF (ultra high frequency).



It isn’t just in store radio that people listen to, it isn’t only a background to burning toast at breakfast – billions of people the world over tune in while driving their cars. This had the authorities in a flap – and just like the pressure to ban mobile phone use and texting, there have been calls to ban car radios in the past.

In 1930, laws were proposed in the United States to ban radios while driving. Opponents argued they distracted drivers and caused accidents, and that music could lull a driver to sleep. All depends which station you are listening…but it was clear that radio has often been viewed harshly.

It is not just the effect on road safety that has been the focus – the effect of radio as a tool for driving change, not drivers to distraction, has long been known. In the Second World War people relied on the radio…or “wireless” for their news. Even though propaganda was the norm.

Such a power to tell whatever story you choose, has seen radio banned in some countries. The Korean peninsula is a hotbed of radio jamming. The North jams the South, as they only want their citizens to hear what they choose – which we are guessing isn’t Gangnam Style.



In the UK, 9 in 10 people in the UK tune into the radio each week. 90% of the UK population, almost 60 million people rely on and love their radios. Which is a pretty staggering figure, and one which has held remarkably steady for decades.

According to industry figures, the average listener tunes to 21.3 hours of live radio per week. Kiss and Capital vie for top spot in London. While nationally BBC Radio 2 is ahead of the field, with BBC stations Radio 4 and 1 running close to each other in second and third.

In the USA, talk and phone in programmes are the most popular. With as many as 13 million listening to radio personalities, such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly. There sure is something about political debate that captures the ear in the US.

Over the past 50 years, it has been the music charts which have perhaps had people most regularly returning to the radios week after week. In the US and UK, the “charts” have been mainstays of listenership. They were even one of the first bastions of piracy, with listeners home taping their favourite records. Tut tut.



Radio has broadcast some of the most important historical moments to the world. The most famous include:

  • The Hindenburg Disaster: As the German Zeppelin docked in the United States hydrogen exploded and engulfed the airship in flames. The cry of “Oh the humanity!” sends shivers down your spine today.
  • War of the Worlds: The Orson Welles, radio play was broadcast as a Halloween special in 1938. The live, 60 minute broadcast, caused chaos as people were convinced it was a genuine report of an attack.
  • Winston Churchill: “We shall fight on the beaches” was a stirring wartime call in 1940. As Britain stood on the brink, the Prime Minister sought to galvanise the nation to the dreadful struggle ahead.
  • Martin Luther King: His “I have a dream” speech is probably King’s most famous. Given in 1963 it cried out for a USA of equality for blacks and whites together.
  • Adolf Hitler – The broadcast of Hitler declaring war on Poland (“we shall meet bomb with bomb”) is the terrifying starting point of the world poised on the precipice.

So many of the world’s modern history has been played out on the airwaves, and radio is still able to shake and shape listeners today.



There is even a World Radio Day. On February 13th World Radio Day celebrates the importance of the radio in improving international cooperation, providing access to information and supporting free speech.

The day also serves to promote the radio as a means of communication in times of need and emergency. Radios are still the most readily available medium that can disseminate information to reach the widest and most diverse audiences in the shortest amount of time.

UNESCO declared the first World Radio Day in 2011. Since then, it has been celebrated annually to coincide with the anniversary of the United Nations Radio, the UN’s international broadcasting service, which was established on February 13th, 1946.

For most people in the world every day is radio day. Every move, every car journey, every visit to the store for shopping, or to the mall – everything is to the backdrop of music, news or talk of the radio. It can even accompany other activities, but as Marilyn Monroe once said, “It’s not true I had nothing on, I had the radio on”!

Hope you have enjoyed our radio facts – think of them when you flick the radio on, or when your favourite song comes on and you dance at the wheel or down the aisle of the supermarket as you grab your groceries.




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