Inventing Broadcasting: The Early History of Radio

University of Michigan

Susan J. Douglas is the Catharine Neafie Kellogg Professor and Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Communication and Media at The University of Michigan. She has written for The New York Times and Washington Post, and has appeared on The Today Show, CBSCNBC, NPR, Weekend Edition, and The Oprah Winfrey Show. Professor Douglas is the award-winning author of seven books, including Listening In:  Radio and the American Imagination, and Inventing American Broadcasting, 1899-1922.



In 1899, an unknown twenty-five-year-old Irish-Italian inventor named Guglielmo Marconi sailed to the United States to publicly demonstrate his new method of communication: wireless telegraphy. He proposed that he would set up his invention on a steamship and, without any connecting wires at all, relay the progress of the current America’s Cup yacht race to a receiver in the New York Herald’s newspaper offices. On the first day of the race, the front page of the Herald proclaimed, “Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph Triumphs!” An inventor-hero was created, and a new technology that would revolutionize communications, culture, politics, and the economy was launched.  By 1922, it was known as radio.

Today, as we are surrounded by so many communications devices–especially a wireless one right in our pockets–it can be hard to imagine the sheer wonder and enthusiasm with which wireless telegraphy, and then radio, were greeted.  It was most often described as “a miracle.”  In this talk, Susan Douglas relates the hopes, dreams, and fantasies that the invention evoked between 1899 and 1922.  She will lay out how wireless telegraphy became radio, the battles between inventors over developing the device, the crucial role of the Titanic disaster in demonstrating that the use of radio had to be regulated, and how an often rebellious and creative subculture, the “ham” operators, played a crucial role in the invention of what became radio broadcasting.  Between 1922 and 1926, the “radio craze” swept the nation, with enormous consequences for the future of the country.


Recommended Reading: 

Inventing American Broadcasting, 1899-1922, by Susan J. Douglas

Listening In:  Radio and the American Imagination, by Susan J. Douglas

Radio Voices: American Broadcasting 1922 – 1952, by Michele Hilmes




1 reviews
5 stars
100 %
4 stars
0 %
3 stars
0 %
2 stars
0 %
1 star
0 %
Greg Paskal

Interesting talk

Such an interesting talk by Susan Douglas about the history of radio. Fascinating how long this technology has been in place and how it’s evolved. One of the more interesting points I felt was how eventually it was necessary to discover a way of making this technology support itself with things like advertising.

Thank you for such an interesting talk.
Greg Paskal

2 years ago
Scroll to Top