The invention of AM Radio changed the landscape of media, music and communication. The world was able to broadcast sound waves that contained more than just beeps and boops, thanks to a Canadian inventor.
To celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, Global News is taking a look at the invention of AM radio and its underappreciated inventor, Reginald Fessenden.
If the name does not strike you as familiar, it’s because Fessenden didn’t receive the accolades enjoyed by other great inventors of his time. Although his name did not stand the test of time, his invention became a game-changer for communication, and even a passion for many Canadians.
“I’d wanted to be on the radio from the moment my grandmother gave me a transistor radio for my first birthday. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do,” veteran Canadian radio broadcaster Alan Cross told Global News.
“To do this job correctly, you have to embrace it as a lifestyle, something that you do 24/7.”
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As of 2015, there are 704 radio stations across Canada, 124 of them using the same AM technology that Fessenden created. His invention inspired generations of kids to pursue a career in radio broadcasting.
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“During the daily 28-mile drive from where we lived to school in Princeton, the car radio would pick up CFUN and CKLG. And to a seven- or eight-year-old, Red Robinson, Roy Hennessy, Rick Honey, Tom Lucus and Daryl Bee were larger-than-life entities,” said longtime Canadian sports broadcaster Kelly Moore.
“The minute they’d crack the mic, my little world was filled with all kinds of visuals. It was magic. And it was what I always dreamed of becoming.”
Radio is now forced to compete with television and the Internet for audience attention. Though radio might be more primitive than other mediums, radio announcers argue that the connection that radio makes with its listeners is unparalleled.
“I’ve always felt the most important part of my job was connecting with the listeners, one-on-one,” said Country 104 host Leigh Robert.
“Being their friend over the airwaves, sharing stories, experiences and losses. That personal connection has always been very important to me.”
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“It is a chance to communicate to a large audience, share ideas and opinions, hear and feel emotion. It is a companion when you are driving, working in the kitchen, going for a walk. You can’t do that with TV. Or a newspaper, if there are any still publishing,” Moore said.
Fessenden never got the acclaim or instant riches that he deserved for broadcasting the first piece of voice and music through the air. Although he had the patents for the technology, he ended up in a legal battle with the company that supported his work. This led to a large cash settlement 30 years after his first successful broadcast.
He may not have been recognized for his work during his lifetime, but Canadians are still thankful for his life-changing invention 100 years later.
“Thank you for giving me a medium that is as versatile as it is,” said Robert. “The strength of radio is how we can connect with everyone on an emotional level every single day. That is power.”
“You were the first radio announcer and first DJ. My parents would like a word with you about their son who decided to get into radio instead of being a teacher,” joked Cross.
“Knowing a Canadian invented such a vital mechanism of our lifestyle and culture that enabled our ability to communicate… there are very few inventions over the past 150 years that have played a larger part in our daily lives,” said Moore. “I would simply say thank you — because from a purely selfish point of view, radio has been my everything.”
Read more Canada 150 coverage.
In celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday, the History channel has unveiled a slate of digital shorts titled Thank You, Canada, reflecting our nation’s historical successes and milestones. They’ll be rolling out from now until Canada Day (July 1).
History and Global News are Corus Entertainment properties.