5 Surprising Facts about Portable Radios You Didn’t Know


Portable radios, more commonly known as transistor radios, have a long and interesting history. The first were developed in 1954 and even to today portable radio technology exists all around us. There are many different types of radio, with long histories for each. The first fully functioning radio was developed in 1895, but it wasn’t until the 1920s that radios began being widely used. In only the 1940s did the radio industry reach the peak of its popularity. There is a lot of common radio knowledge given that most of us still drive with them in our cars every day, but here are 5 facts that you may be surprised to learn about portable radios.

  1. The meaning of AM and FM: To start off, we’ll cover the one that we’ve probably all wondered at one point or another. What do AM and FM stand for? Well, AM stands for Amplitude Modulation, while FM stands for Frequency Modulation. Both are methods for transmitting data over radio signals. The difference between the two is how the signal is altered. With AM signals, the strength of the signal is varied to transmit the sound information, while FM signals change the frequency or the speed that the current changes direction to carry the sound information.
  2. The first regular broadcast: In 1909, a San Francisco based station began the first regular broadcasts, eventually becoming KCBS, the oldest broadcasting station in the world. Their claim is, however, argued against by stations in other major cities such as Pittsburgh and Montreal.
  3. Broadcasting: The term broadcasting actually comes from agriculture. Farmers “broadcast” or scatter seeds on plowed ground. The through line to radio is that radio signals aren’t directed. They are just scattered in all directions, hoping that someone will be there with a portable radio to receive it.
  4. Radio During WWI: During World War One, the federal government of the United States took over the radio industry, and made it illegal for individuals to possess or operate a radio transmitter or receiver. This closed down amateur stations, and created a monopoly on the radio industry, but lead to many technological advancements such as direct communication with airplanes.
  5. First Radio Network: In the early 20s, the first company to develop a radio network in the US was AT&T. In fact, AT&T stands for American Telephone and Telegraph. AT&T’s existing telephone lines made it easy for AT&T to expand into simulcasting radio stations across the country. Later on, however, RCA bought out AT&T’s network, which then became the National Broadcasting Company or NBC.

Kay Communications said, “Though traditional radios may be in decline as the technology becomes more outdated, the industry will likely never vanish due to developments such as the relatively recent invention of satellite radio.” These kinds of advancements to the technology could well lead to a sort of resurrection in the radio market. In fact, today 93% or 256 million Americans listen to the radio each week making it more popular than TV and smart phones. So regardless of how it may seem, portable radios, and their companion radio stations aren’t going anywhere, anytime soon. In addition, handheld transceivers, better known as walkie-talkies, will likely remain in use amongst consumers. Because the portable radio has been in use for so long and will likely be around for years to come, there are plenty more fun facts to be found here and many other places around the internet. Hopefully this article taught you something you didn’t already know and gave you more of an application for that little box sitting in your car.