20 August 2020
A Celebration of Radio History

August 20th marks National Radio Day, commemorating the invention of the radio.


Radios give us instant access to real-time information, reach across borders, and provide us not only with tactical comms, but also with our favorite music. For this reason, the radio holds a special place in our hearts.
To mark this momentous day, we’ve created a Radio Day playlist including classic songs by Queen, Green Day, Twenty One Pilots, Rush, LL Cool J, Rage Against the Machine, and AFE veteran Darius Rucker. Re-listen to hits including Radio Ga Ga, Mexican Radio and more in this week’s playlist.

Without further ado, join AFE as we take a step back in time to explore the radio’s significance as an invention, and its indispensable use in today’s modern military.


The Invention and Evolution of the Radio

1880s – German Physicist Heinrich Hertz discovered “Hertzian waves” which we now know as radio waves. Hertz also discovered that radio waves could reflect off solid objects, an insight that would later be used to invent RADAR.

1890s – Guglielmo Marconi developed the first equipment for long-distance radio, transmitting a signal over 32 miles. But here’s the catch: radio communication was only possible via telegraph by using morse code.

1900s – Reginald A. Fessenden became the first person to send long-distance voice audio signals over the radio.

1920s – The radio began to be used commercially, with the first broadcast station KDKA launching out of Pittsburgh, PA. By 1930, nearly 60% of American households had radios.

1930s – The golden age of radio began, with top shows including Amos ‘n’ Andy and The Shadow. In 1938, the radio adaptation of H.G. Wells The War of the Worlds caused widespread panic in the US, as many listeners feared that they were listening to a real news report about a Martian invasion.

1940s – The Armed Forces Radio Service was formally established, broadcasting commercial-free original programming including Command Performance, Mail Call, and GI Jive.

1950s – The first transistor radio, the Regency TR-1 is introduced. At only 5 inches in height, music and information became instantly portable, birthing a rock & roll revolution.

Creative Commons photo by Joe Haupt. Some rights reserved. No changes made.

Today, our mobile phones, televisions, satellites, GPS, radar, self-driving cars, and countless other modern-day technologies are made possible through the power of radio. Military applications include air-defense, flight control, and missile targeting.

The Origins of Military Radios

Drums, flags, horns, and horseback riders: these are just some of the ancient methods of sending messages over long distances before the days of voice comms over radio and telephone.

The advent of radio in the mid-20th century ushered in a new era of warfare. Suddenly the most hostile and remote conditions in land, sea, and air could be conquered at distances once believed impossible.
Here’s a quick look at how military radio equipment has evolved from World War I to today.

Radios in World War I


Military radio equipment was still in its infancy during the first World War. For instance, an aircraft with an equipped radio had a range of only 2,000 yards, and field radios were extremely cumbersome and fragile. Animals were the unsung radio heroes of World War 1, as radio equipment had to be carried by horses and mules to reach their broadcast areas.

World War 2

The SCR-300 was the original walkie talkie radio

The Motorola SCR-300 in 1940 was the original “manpack” radio. Used primarily by the Army Signal Corps, about 50,000 total units were produced over the course of the war. Although it wasn’t handheld, it was actually the first radio to be called a “walkie-talkie.”

The SCR-300, with its 18-tube FM receiver, saw heavy use in Normandy and the Italian campaigns, as well as in the Pacific Theater. With the ability to communicate in real-time, it revolutionized battlefield combat.

The biggest complaint? It was difficult to supply enough batteries to keep the radios operational–about 200 batteries were required to maintain just one unit. On top of that, the backpack-mounted radio weighed a whopping 38.23 lbs when fully equipped.

Vietnam Era Radio

The AN/PRC 77 is a portable VHF FM radio transceiver that entered service in 1968 during the Vietnam War and is still in worldwide use today for training.

The “AN/PRC” name designation stands for “Army/Navy, Portable, Radio Communication.”

This “manpack” transceiver was a major upgrade from its predecessors for two reasons. First, the PRC 77 had the ability to be used with voice encryption systems. Secondly, it used solid-state components for amplification instead of glass vacuum tubes which enhanced the radio’s ruggedness and power efficiency.

Military Comms Today

Today, America and our allies use SINCGARS (Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System). Today’s radio systems have the ability to hop frequencies, while also having the ability to accept encrypted digital data from satellite and computer systems. Latest models include GPS capabilities, internet controllers, and advanced security features.

From radio’s early days as a means to send telegraph messages, to the robust digital comms systems of today, it’s amazing how far radio technology has advanced.

The AFE Radio Day Playlist

At Armed Forces Entertainment, we know that radios aren’t just for tactical comms. Radios also provide us with the musical backdrop for a long day’s work and a relaxing ride home.

To celebrate this radio day, we’ve created a special Spotify mix of hits that features–you guessed it–the radio. Here are some of our favorite tracks from the Spotify playlist for you to check out:

The Buggles – Video Killed the Radio Star
This 1979 classic is a throwback to the 1960s, when TVs began to replace the radio as the central fixture of the US living room. With the shift from radio shows to moving pictures and sound, many content creators found themselves unprepared for the glitz and glamor of television.

Queen – Radio Ga Ga
Queen powerpop anthem Radio Ga Ga was written in criticism of the “style over substance” zeitgeist dominating music in the 1980s MTV era. The electronic-tinged track contains references to H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds radio broadcast, as well as Churchill’s “Finest Hour” speech.

REM – Radio Song
Radio Song is an ode to those overplayed songs on the radio–you know the ones. The song’s refrain, “The world is collapsing around our ears/ I turned up the radio but I can’t hear it,” still feels as relevant as ever in 2020. It’s a reminder that music and reality are so often in contradiction with each other.

Electric Light Orchestra – Mr. Radio
Mr. Radio is a poignant Art Rock piece from the depth of ELO’s discography. Written in a musical style reminiscent of radio’s golden age in the 1930s-1940s, the song is the tale of a lonely man whose only companion is his radio.

Wall of Voodoo – Mexican Radio
Mexican Radio was inspired by the “Border Blaster” radio stations that were prevalent from the 1940s through the 1970s. The term “Border Blaster” refers to foreign radio stations whose broadcast ranges can be received in border cities across from the US-Mexico and US-Canada Borders.
Find these songs and more on our Spotify Radio Day playlist.


Armed Forces Entertainment

Check out our HOMEGROWN video series, with exclusive at-home performances from your favorite AFE touring artists including Lzzy Hale, gnash, and Chris Kroeze.