Year
1920

Scientific American reports that radio will soon be used to transmit music to the home

In an 1888 novel called Looking Backward: 2000-1887, author Edward Bellamy imagined a scene in which a time-traveler from 1887 reacts to a technological advance from the early 21st century that he describes as, "An arrangement for providing everybody with music in their homes, perfect in quality, unlimited in quantity, suited to every mood, and beginning and ceasing at will." In Bellamy's imagination, this astonishing feat was accomplished by a vast network of wires connecting individual homes with centrally located concert halls staffed round-the-clock with live performers. As it turned out, this vision of the year 2000 would come to pass far sooner than Bellamy imagined, and without all the pesky wires. On this day in 1920, Scientific American magazine reported that the rapidly developing medium of radio would soon be used to broadcast music. A revolution in the role of music in everyday life was about to be born.

"It has been well known for some years that by placing a form of telephone transmitter in a concert hall or at any point where music is being played the sound may be carried over telephone wires to an ordinary telephone receiver at a distant point," began the bulletin in the October 1, 1920 issue of the popular science monthly, "but it is only recently that a method of transmitting music by radio has been found possible."

Arguments about radio's origins persist to this day, but its basic workings had been understood for upwards of 20 years at the time of this announcement. It was only in the years immediately following World War I, however, that radio made the transition from scientific curiosity to practical technology. By late 1919, experiments had begun in Britain, the United States and elsewhere that would lead to the breakthrough use of radio not just as a replacement for the telegraph, but as a communications and entertainment medium.

Some of those experiments were taking place in the laboratory of the National Bureau of Standards in Washington, D.C., where station WWV was established to test various means of radio transmission. Relying significantly on amateur radio operators in the local area for feedback on its experiments, the Bureau began successfully testing the transmission of music in late 1919 and early 1920. It was those experiments that led to the public announcement in Scientific American.

"Music can be performed at any place, radiated into the air through an ordinary radio transmitting set and received at any other place, even though hundreds of miles away," the report continued, noting that "the music received can be made as loud as desired by suitable operation of the receiving apparatus." "Experimental concerts are at present being conducted every Friday evening from 8:30 to 11:00 by the Radio Laboratory of the Bureau of Standards….The possibilities of such centralized radio concerts are great and extremely interesting."

ALSO ON THIS DAY

2017 Las Vegas Shooting

On this day in 2017, a gunman opened fire on a crowd attending the final night of a country music festival in Las Vegas, killing 58 people and injuring more than 800. Although the shooting only lasted 10 minutes, the death and injury tolls made this massacre the deadliest mass ...read more

Franco heads Spain

During the Spanish Civil War, General Francisco Franco is named head of the rebel Nationalist government in Spain. It would take more than two years for Franco to defeat the Republicans in the civil war and become ruler of all of Spain. He subsequently served as dictator until ...read more

Suharto crushes Indonesian coup

A communist coup against Indonesian President Sukarno is crushed by General Mohammed Suharto, the Indonesian army chief of staff. In the aftermath, Suharto moved to replace Sukarno and launched a purge of Indonesian communists that resulted in thousands of deaths. In 1967, ...read more

Lawrence of Arabia captures Damascus

A combined Arab and British force captures Damascus from the Turks during World War I, completing the liberation of Arabia. An instrumental commander in the Allied campaign was T.E. Lawrence, a legendary British soldier known as Lawrence of Arabia. Lawrence, an Oxford-educated ...read more

Terrorists strike again in Bali

On this day in 2005, suicide bombers strike three restaurants in two tourist areas on the Indonesian island of Bali, a popular resort area. The bombings killed 22 people, including the bombers, and injured more than 50 others. This was the second suicide-bombing incident to rock ...read more

Yosemite National Park established

On this day in 1890, an act of Congress creates Yosemite National Park, home of such natural wonders as Half Dome and the giant sequoia trees. Environmental trailblazer John Muir (1838-1914) and his colleagues campaigned for the congressional action, which was signed into law by ...read more

Roger Maris breaks home-run record

On October 1, 1961, New York Yankee Roger Maris becomes the first-ever major-league baseball player to hit more than 60 home runs in a single season. The great Babe Ruth set the record in 1927; Maris and his teammate Mickey Mantle spent 1961 trying to break it. After hitting 54 ...read more

Jimmy Carter is born

On this day in 1924, future President James Earl Carter is born in Plains, Georgia. Carter, who preferred to be called “Jimmy,” was the son of a peanut farmer and was the first president to be born in a hospital. Carter was raised a devoted Southern Baptist and graduated from the ...read more

Earthquake rocks Southern California

An earthquake in Whittier, California, kills 6 people and injures 100 more on this day in 1987. The quake was the largest to hit Southern California since 1971, but not nearly as damaging as the Northridge quake that would devastate parts of Los Angeles seven years later. ...read more

A 12-year-old girl is kidnapped

Polly Klaas is abducted at knifepoint by an intruder in her Petaluma, California, home during a slumber party with two friends. Despite a massive manhunt and national attention, there was no sign of the missing 12-year-old or her abductor for two months. Eventually, investigators ...read more