By Ethan Zuckerman
Over the course of a few short years, a technological revolution shook the world. New businesses rose and fell, fortunes were made and lost, the practice of reporting the news was reinvented, and the relationship between leaders and the public was thoroughly transformed, for better and for worse. The years were 1912 to 1927 and the technological revolution was radio.
Radio began as bursts of static used to convey dots and dashes of information over long distances. As early as 1900, sound was experimentally broadcast over the airwaves, but radio as we know it—through which anyone with an AM receiver can tune in to hear music and voices—wasn’t practical until 1912, when teams around the world independently figured out how to use the triode vacuum tube as an amplifier. In the years that followed, three countries—the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union—developed three distinct models for using the technology.