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Music chosen by a DJ and played over the radio waves is a classic sound that can’t be beat. Keeping up with the news while driving in the car is a simple way to stay connected with the world. And educational programming for families is a joy for communities.

National Radio Day celebrates these and other ways that radio continues to impact the world for the better!

History of National Radio Day

Individuals and communities in places all over the world can take National Radio Day as an opportunity to appreciate and celebrate what radio means to the world today. While some people might think that radio has passed its prime, it still acts as a strong force, especially for local communities.

The first person to identify radio waves was a German physicist Heinrich Hertz in 1886. But it took about three decades for a practical receiver to be invented, which was due to the work of Italian inventor, Gulielmo Marconi. Though it started with a Morse code message from just a kilometer away, Marconi paved the way for the future of the types of messages that radio waves could carry.

In the early 1900s, radio began its commercial use and about 20 years later it became so popular that people were scrambling to buy radios to put into their homes.

National Radio Day has been celebrated in the United States and other places around the globe since the early 1990s. Some sources suggest that this date was chosen as August 20 in honor of the day that Detroit radio station 8MK (now WWJ) made its first broadcast in 1920 (although this was not the first station to broadcast in the US).

In 2011, NPR (National Public Radio) brought attention to the day, which allowed its popularity to grow significantly. Now, National Radio Day is celebrated all throughout the nation.

National Radio Day Timeline

1890s

Guglielmo Marconi develops radio equipment 

Starting with telegraphs using Morse Code, radios begin to transmit long distance.[1]

1901

First trans-Atlantic radio transmission 

From Cornwall, England to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the first radio transmission over the ocean was the tapping of the letter “s”.[2]

1917

9XM – WHA makes its first radio broadcast in the US 

This station in Madison, Wisconsin, started broadcasting from their university campus and moved to regularly scheduled programming in 1919.[3]

1940

Motorola “manpack” radio is used 

Radios made into backpacks are carried by soldiers during World War II.[4]

2003

Radio movie is released in theaters 

Based on a true story, Radio tells of a developmentally disabled African American student called “Radio” who formed a friendship with a high school football coach.[5]

How to Celebrate National Radio Day

Whether on your own, at work or with friends and family, National Radio Day is a fun and easy time to celebrate and enjoy everything to do with the radio. Try out some of these ideas for getting started:

Listen to the Radio

Whether listening in the car or on an actual radio in the house, or even tuning in to a radio station online, this is a great way to celebrate National Radio Day! Pop, rock, classical music, talk shows, news, sports and other types of shows all get airtime on the radio. And there’s so much to be learned and enjoyed from various radio programs!

Those who no longer have access to a radio in their houses might want to consider buying one for National Radio Day!

Join a Local Event for National Radio Day

Parties and events for National Radio Day can be found in cities and towns all over the United States. Join the fun by attending an event in the local area. In the past, places that have participated have included Seattle, Washington; Madison, Wisconsin; Portland, Oregon; Chicago, Illinois and so many others from coast to coast.

Enjoy Some Radio-Themed Songs

A super fun way to enjoy and pay heed to National Radio Day is to create a playlist with songs that have radio themes. Join in on the fun by listening to some of these:

  • Radio Song by REM (1991). Appearing on REM”s album, Out of Time, this song is the opening track and features KRS-One from Boogie Down Productions.
  • Radio Ga Ga by Queen (1984). Written by the band’s drummer, Roger Taylor, this song was a global success and reached number one in 19 different countries.
  • Video Killed the Radio Star by The Buggles (1979). A bit of a “one hit wonder” for the band, this song speaks to the struggle of 20th century technology as it impacts music and media arts.
  • Radio by Beyonce (2008). This pop song offers insight into the story of a girl who has fallen in love with her radio, her stereo and the music it provides.

Make a Donation to a Local Radio Station

Local radio stations keep the community informed and connected, and they are often run on very tight budgets. Many of them are non-profit organizations that can use donations to keep with the kind of programming they offer to their listeners. Whether promoting the arts and classical music, offering news that can’t be found elsewhere, or encouraging and sponsoring community events, local radio stations do a lot for the surrounding community.

In honor of National Radio Day, consider choosing a local radio station to support. Some of these stations have annual or semi-annual funding drives that help to keep their programs on the air, so joining in on one of these would be great. But even outside of funding drives, radio stations are certainly happy to receive donations and the easiest way to give is typically through their radio station website.

Watch Movies or Shows About the Radio

The film and television industry has paid heed to the world of radio in various ways, through movies and TV shows. Check out some of these:

  • NewsRadio (1995-1999). This fun and quirky comedy about the people working at an AM news radio station in New York City. Featuring an all-star cast including Maura Tierney, Dave Foley, Andy Dick, Stephen Root and Phil Hartman. 
  • Good Morning, Vietnam (1987). Starring Robin Williams, this war comedy is set in Saigon in 1965 where a radio DJ entertains the troops on the Armed Forces Radio Service. The story is not biographical, but the concept is roughly based on Adrian Cronauer’s experiences as an AFRS DJ. 
  • Frazier (1993-2004). This spinoff of the hit show, Cheers, features the life of fictional Seattle radio host and psychologist Dr. Frazier Crane. Along with his talented supporting cast, Kelsey Grammer entertained American viewers for 11 seasons. 
  • Pirate Radio/The Boat That Rocked (2009). Telling the fictional story of a 1960s pirate radio station that broadcast from international waters into the United Kingdom, this film has an all-star cast including Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rhys Ifans and Billy Nighy.

National Radio Day FAQs

When was the radio invented?

The radio was invented by Italian Guglielmo Marconi in 1895.[1]

Do radio waves travel at the speed of light?

Yes. Radio waves travel approximately 186,000 miles per second, the speed of light, because technically they are light.[2]

Can radio waves be harmful?

Science shows that non-ionizing radiation (cell phones, radios, etc.) is not harmful to people in lower doses.[3]

Did radios exist in WW1?

Though radio waves were not as reliable as wired transmissions on land, they did get some use at sea with the navy.[4]

Do radio waves have the longest wavelength?

Yes. Radio waves have the longest wavelength in the electromagnetic spectrum from the size of a football field to something larger than the earth.[5]

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