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(Wikipedia) - Radio This article is about radio as a technology. For other uses, including radio broadcasting as an art form, see Radio (disambiguation).Classic radio receiver dial

Radio is the radiation (wireless transmission) of electromagnetic signals through the atmosphere or free space. Information, such as sound, is carried by systematically changing (modulating) some property of the radiated waves, such as their amplitude, frequency, phase, or pulse width. When radio waves strike an electrical conductor, the oscillating fields induce an alternating current in the conductor. The information in the waves can be extracted and transformed back into its original form.

Radio systems need a transmitter to modulate (change) some property of the energy produced to impress a signal on it. Some types of modulation include amplitude modulation and frequency modulation. Radio systems also need an antenna to convert electric currents into radio waves, and vice versa. An antenna can be used for both transmitting and receiving. The electrical resonance of tuned circuits in radios allow individual stations to be selected. The electromagnetic wave is intercepted by a tuned receiving antenna. A radio receiver receives its input from an antenna and converts it into a form usable for the consumer, such as sound, pictures, digital data, measurement values, navigational positions, etc. Radio frequencies occupy the range from a 3 kHz to 300 GHz, although commercially important uses of radio use only a small part of this spectrum.

A radio communication system sends signals by radio. The radio equipment involved in communication systems includes a transmitter and a receiver, each having an antenna and appropriate terminal equipment such as a microphone at the transmitter and a loudspeaker at the receiver in the case of a voice-communication system.



The etymology of "radio" or "radiotelegraphy" reveals that it was called "wireless telegraphy", which was shortened to "wireless" in Britain. The prefix radio- in the sense of wireless transmission, was first recorded in the word radioconductor, a description provided by the French physicist Édouard Branly in 1897. It is based on the verb to radiate (in Latin "radius" means "spoke of a wheel, beam of light, ray").

The word "radio" also appears in a 1907 article by Lee De Forest. It was adopted by the United States Navy in 1912, to distinguish radio from several other wireless communication technologies, such as the photophone. The term became common by the time of the first commercial broadcasts in the United States in the 1920s, and was soon adopted in Europe and Asia. ("Broadcasting" is based upon an agricultural term meaning roughly "scattering seeds widely".) British Commonwealth countries continued to commonly use the term "wireless" until the mid-20th century, though the magazine of the BBC in the UK has been called Radio Times ever since it was first published in the early 1920s.

In recent years the more general term "wireless" has gained renewed popularity through the rapid growth of short-range computer networking, e.g., Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN), Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth, as well as mobile telephony, e.g., GSM and UMTS. Today, the term "radio" specifies the actual type of transceiver device or chip, whereas "wireless" refers to the lack of physical connections; one talks about radio transceivers, but another talks about wireless devices and wireless sensor networks.

ProcessesTransducing information such as sound into an electromagnetic pulse signal, which is then sent as an electromagnetic radio wave from a transmitter. A receiver intercepts the radio wave and extracts the information-bearing electronic signal, which is converted back using another transducer such as a speaker.

Radio systems used for communication have the following elements. With more than 100 years of development, each process is implemented by a wide range of methods, specialized for different communications purposes.

Transmitter and modulation See also: Radio transmitter design

Each system contains a transmitter. This consists of a source of electrical energy, producing alternating current of a desired frequency of oscillation. The transmitter contains a system to modulate (change) some property of the energy produced to impress a signal on it. This modulation might be as simple as turning the energy on and off, or altering more subtle properties such as amplitude, frequency, phase, or combinations of these properties. The transmitter sends the modulated electrical energy to a tuned resonant antenna; this structure converts the rapidly changing alternating current into an electromagnetic wave that can move through free space (sometimes with a particular polarization).

An audio signal (top) may be carried by an AM or FM radio wave.

Amplitude modulation of a carrier wave works by varying the strength of the transmitted signal in proportion to the information being sent. For example, changes in the signal strength can be used to reflect the sounds to be reproduced by a speaker, or to specify the light intensity of television pixels. It was the method used for the first audio radio transmissions, and remains in use today. "AM" is often used to refer to the medium wave broadcast band (see AM radio).

Frequency modulation varies the frequency of the carrier. The instantaneous frequency of the carrier is directly proportional to the instantaneous value of the input signal. Digital data can be sent by shifting the carrier''s frequency among a set of discrete values, a technique known as frequency-shift keying.

FM is commonly used at VHF radio frequencies for high-fidelity broadcasts of music and speech (see FM broadcasting). Normal (analog) TV sound is also broadcast using FM.

Angle modulation alters the instantaneous phase of the carrier wave to transmit a signal. It is another term for phase modulation.

Antenna Main article: Antenna (radio)Rooftop television antennas. Yagi-Uda antennas like these six are widely used at VHF and UHF frequencies.

An antenna (or aerial) is an electrical device which converts electric currents into radio waves, and vice versa. It is usually used with a radio transmitter or radio receiver. In transmission, a radio transmitter supplies an electric current oscillating at radio frequency (i.e. high frequency AC) to the antenna''s terminals, and the antenna radiates the energy from the current as electromagnetic waves (radio waves). In reception, an antenna intercepts some of the power of an electromagnetic wave in order to produce a tiny voltage at its terminals, that is applied to a receiver to be amplified. An antenna can be used for both transmitting and receiving.

Propagation Main article: Radio propagation

Once generated, electromagnetic waves travel through space either directly, or have their path altered by reflection, refraction or diffraction. The intensity of the waves diminishes due to geometric dispersion (the inverse-square law); some energy may also be absorbed by the intervening medium in some cases. Noise will generally alter the desired signal; this electromagnetic interference comes from natural sources, as well as from artificial sources such as other transmitters and accidental radiators. Noise is also produced at every step due to the inherent properties of the devices used. If the magnitude of the noise is large enough, the desired signal will no longer be discernible; this is the fundamental limit to the range of radio communications.

Resonance Main article: Electrical resonance See also: LC circuit

Electrical resonance of tuned circuits in radios allow individual stations to be selected. A resonant circuit will respond strongly to a particular frequency, and much less so to differing frequencies. This allows the radio receiver to discriminate between multiple signals differing in frequency.

Receiver and demodulation See also: Radio receiver design, Receiver (radio), Crystal radio and Communications receiverA crystal receiver, consisting of an antenna, rheostat, electromagnetic coil, crystal rectifier, capacitor, headphones and ground connection.

The electromagnetic wave is intercepted by a tuned receiving antenna; this structure captures some of the energy of the wave and returns it to the form of oscillating electrical currents. At the receiver, these currents are demodulated, which is conversion to a usable signal form by a detector sub-system. The receiver is "tuned" to respond preferentially to the desired signals, and reject undesired signals.

Early radio systems relied entirely on the energy collected by an antenna to produce signals for the operator. Radio became more useful after the invention of electronic devices such as the vacuum tube and later the transistor, which made it possible to amplify weak signals. Today radio systems are used for applications from walkie-talkie children''s toys to the control of space vehicles, as well as for broadcasting, and many other applications.

A radio receiver receives its input from an antenna, uses electronic filters to separate a wanted radio signal from all other signals picked up by this antenna, amplifies it to a level suitable for further processing, and finally converts through demodulation and decoding the signal into a form usable for the consumer, such as sound, pictures, digital data, measurement values, navigational positions, etc.

Radio band Main article: Radio frequency Name Wavelength Frequency (Hz) Photon energy (eV)
Light comparison
Gamma ray less than 0.01 nm more than 10 EHz 100 keV - 300+ GeV
X-Ray 0.01 to 10 nm 30 PHz - 30 EHz 120 eV to 120 keV
Ultraviolet 10 nm - 400 nm 30 EHz - 790 THz 3 eV to 124 eV
Visible 390 nm - 750 nm 790 THz - 405 THz 1.7 eV - 3.3 eV
Infrared 750 nm - 1 mm 405 THz - 300 GHz 1.24 meV - 1.7 eV
Microwave 1 mm - 33 centimeters 300 GHz - 1000 MHz 1.24 meV - 3.3 µeV
Radio 1 mm - km 300 GHz - 3 kHz 1.24 meV - 12.4 feV

Radio frequencies occupy the range from a 3 kHz to 300 GHz, although commercially important uses of radio use only a small part of this spectrum. Other types of electromagnetic radiation, with frequencies above the RF range, are infrared, visible light, ultraviolet, X-rays and gamma rays. Since the energy of an individual photon of radio frequency is too low to remove an electron from an atom, radio waves are classified as non-ionizing radiation.

Communication systems

A radio communication system sends signals by radio. Types of radio communication systems deployed depend on technology, standards, regulations, radio spectrum allocation, user requirements, service positioning, and investment.

The radio equipment involved in communication systems includes a transmitter and a receiver, each having an antenna and appropriate terminal equipment such as a microphone at the transmitter and a loudspeaker at the receiver in the case of a voice-communication system.

The power consumed in a transmitting station varies depending on the distance of communication and the transmission conditions. The power received at the receiving station is usually only a tiny fraction of the transmitter''s output, since communication depends on receiving the information, not the energy, that was transmitted.

Classical radio communications systems use frequency-division multiplexing (FDM) as a strategy to split up and share the available radio-frequency bandwidth for use by different parties communications concurrently. Modern radio communication systems include those that divide up a radio-frequency band by time-division multiplexing (TDM) and code-division multiplexing (CDM) as alternatives to the classical FDM strategy. These systems offer different tradeoffs in supporting multiple users, beyond the FDM strategy that was ideal for broadcast radio but less so for applications such as mobile telephony.

A radio communication system may send information only one way. For example, in broadcasting a single transmitter sends signals to many receivers. Two stations may take turns sending and receiving, using a single radio frequency; this is called "simplex." By using two radio frequencies, two stations may continuously and concurrently send and receive signals - this is called "duplex" operation.

History Main article: History of radio 19th century Main article: Invention of radio

The meaning and usage of the word "radio" has developed in parallel with developments within the field of communications and can be seen to have three distinct phases: electromagnetic waves and experimentation; wireless communication and technical development; and radio broadcasting and commercialization. James Clerk Maxwell predicted the propagation of electromagnetic waves (radio waves) (1873) and Heinrich Rudolf Hertz made the first demonstration of transmission of radio waves through free space (1887) but many individuals—inventors, engineers, developers and businessmen constructed systems based on their own understanding of these and other phenomenon, some predating Maxwell and Hertz'' discoveries. Thus "wireless telegraphy" and radio wave based systems can be attributed to multiple "inventors". Development from a laboratory demonstration to a commercial entity spanned several decades and required the efforts of many practitioners.

In 1878, David E. Hughes noticed that sparks could be heard in a telephone receiver when experimenting with his carbon microphone. He developed this carbon-based detector further and eventually could detect signals over a few hundred yards. He demonstrated his discovery to the Royal Society in 1880, but was told it was merely induction, and therefore abandoned further research.

Experiments were undertaken by Thomas Edison and his employees of Menlo Park. Edison applied in 1885 to the U.S. Patent Office for a patent on an electrostatic coupling system between elevated terminals. The patent was granted as U.S. Patent 465,971 on December 29, 1891. The Marconi Company would later purchase rights to the Edison patent to protect them legally from lawsuits.

In 1884 Temistocle Calzecchi-Onesti at Fermo in Italy experiments with tubes containing powder and nickel silver with traces of mercury metal filings and their reactions when conducting electricity. This would lead to the development of the iron filings filled coherer, a radio detecting device usually credited to Edouard Branly in 1890.

Hertzian waves

Between 1886 and 1888 Heinrich Rudolf Hertz publishes the results of his experiments where he was able to transmit electromagnetic waves (radio waves) through the air proving Maxwell''s electromagnetic theory. Early on after their discovery radio waves were referred to as "Hertzian waves". Between 1890 and 1892 physicists such as John Perry, Frederick Thomas Trouton and William Crookes proposed electromagnetic or Hertzian waves as a navigation aid or means of communication with Crookes writing on the possibilities of wireless telegraphy based on Hertzian waves in 1892.

Tesla in his "Experiments with alternate currents of very high frequency and their application to methods of artificial illumination" lecture of 1891. After continued research, Tesla presented his ideas on wireless communication in 1892 and expanded on them in 1893.

After learning of Hertz demonstrations of wireless transmission, inventor Nikola Tesla began developing his own system based on Hertz and Maxwell''s ideas, primarily as a means of wireless lighting and power distribution. Tesla, concluding that Hertz had not demonstrated airborne electromagnetic waves (radio transmission), went on to develop a system based on what he thought was the primary conductor, the earth. In 1893 demonstrations of his ideas, in St. Louis, Missouri and at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Tesla proposed this wireless power technology could also incorporate a system for the telecommunication of information.

In a lecture on the work of Hertz, shortly after his death, Professor Oliver Lodge and Alexander Muirhead demonstrated wireless signaling using Hertzian (radio) waves in the lecture theater of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History on August 14, 1894. During the demonstration a radio signal was sent from the neighboring Clarendon laboratory building, and received by apparatus in the lecture theater.

Building on the work of Lodge, the Indian Bengali physicist Jagadish Chandra Bose ignited gunpowder and rang a bell at a distance using millimeter range wavelength microwaves in a November 1894 public demonstration at Town Hall of Kolkata,. Bose wrote in a Bengali essay, Adrisya Alok (Invisible Light), “The invisible light can easily pass through brick walls, buildings etc. Therefore, messages can be transmitted by means of it without the mediation of wires.” Bose’s first scientific paper, “On polarisation of electric rays by double-refracting crystals” was communicated to the Asiatic Society of Bengal in May 1895. His second paper was communicated to the Royal Society of London by Lord Rayleigh in October 1895. In December 1895, the London journal the Electrician (Vol. 36) published Bose’s paper, “On a new electro-polariscope”. At that time, the word ''coherer'', coined by Lodge, was used in the English-speaking world for Hertzian wave receivers or detectors. The Electrician readily commented on Bose’s coherer. (December 1895). The Englishman (18 January 1896) quoted from the Electrician and commented as follows:”Should Professor Bose succeed in perfecting and patenting his ‘Coherer’, we may in time see the whole system of coast lighting throughout the navigable world revolutionised by an Indian Bengali scientist working single handed in our Presidency College Laboratory.” Bose planned to “perfect his coherer” but never thought of patenting it.

In 1895, conducting experiments along the lines of Hertz''s research, Alexander Stepanovich Popov built his first radio receiver, which contained a coherer. Further refined as a lightning detector, it was presented to the Russian Physical and Chemical Society on May 7, 1895. A depiction of Popov''s lightning detector was printed in the Journal of the Russian Physical and Chemical Society the same year. Until recently, mistakenly believed that it was the first description (publication of the minutes 15/201 of this session — December issue of the journal RPCS), but in fact the first description of the device was given by Dmitry Aleksandrovich Lachinov in July 1895 in the 2nd edition of his course "Fundamentals of Meteorology and climatology" — the first in Russia. Popov''s receiver was created on the improved basis of Lodge''s receiver, and originally intended for reproduction of its experiments.

MarconiBritish Post Office engineers inspect Guglielmo Marconi''s wireless telegraphy (radio) equipment in 1897.

In 1894 the young Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi began working on the idea of building a commercial wireless telegraphy system based on the use of Hertzian waves (radio waves), a line of inquiry that he noted other inventors did not seem to be pursuing. Marconi read through the literature and used the ideas of others who were experimenting with radio waves but did a great deal to develop devices such as portable transmitters and receiver systems that could work over long distances, turning what was essentially a laboratory experiment into useful communication system. By August 1895 Marconi was field testing his system but even with improvements he was only able to transmit signals up to 1/2 mile, a distance Oliver Lodge had predicted in 1894 as the maximum transmission distance for radio waves. Marconi raised the height of his antenna and hit upon the idea of grounding his transmitter and receiver. With these improvements the system was capable of transmitting signals up to 2 miles (3.2 km) and over hills Marconi''s experimental apparatus proved to be the first engineering complete, commercially successful radio transmission system. Marconi’s apparatus is also credited for saving the 700 people that survived the tragic Titanic disaster.

In 1896, Marconi was awarded British patent 12039, Improvements in transmitting electrical impulses and signals and in apparatus there-for, the first patent ever issued for a Hertzian wave (radio wave) base wireless telegraphic system. In 1897, he established a radio station on the Isle of Wight, England. Marconi opened his "wireless" factory in the former silk-works at Hall Street, Chelmsford, England in 1898, employing around 60 people. Shortly after the 1900s, Marconi held the patent rights for radio. Marconi would go on to win the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1909 and be more successful than any other inventor in his ability to commercialize radio and its associated equipment into a global business. In the US some of his subsequent patented refinements (but not his original radio patent) would be overturned in a 1935 court case (upheld by the US Supreme Court in 1943).

20th century

In 1900, Brazilian priest Roberto Landell de Moura transmitted the human voice wirelessly. According the newspaper Jornal do Comercio (June 10, 1900), he conducted his first public experiment on June 3, 1900, in front of journalists and the General Consul of Great Britain, C.P. Lupton, in São Paulo, Brazil, for a distance of approximately 5.0 miles (8 km). The points of transmission and reception were Alto de Santana and Paulista Avenue.

One year after that experiment, he received his first patent from the Brazilian government. It was described as "equipment for the purpose of phonetic transmissions through space, land and water elements at a distance with or without the use of wires." Four months later, knowing that his invention had real value, he left Brazil for the United States with the intent of patenting the machine at the US Patent Office in Washington, DC.

Having few resources, he had to rely on friends to push his project. In spite of great difficulty, three patents were awarded: "The Wave Transmitter" (October 11, 1904) which is the precursor of today''s radio transceiver; "The Wireless Telephone" and the "Wireless Telegraph", both dated November 22, 1904.

"The Wireless Telephone" U S Patent Office in Washington, DC

The next advancement was the vacuum tube detector, invented by Westinghouse engineers. On Christmas Eve 1906, Reginald Fessenden used a synchronous rotary-spark transmitter for the first radio program broadcast, from Ocean Bluff-Brant Rock, Massachusetts. Ships at sea heard a broadcast that included Fessenden playing O Holy Night on the violin and reading a passage from the Bible.

In June 1912 Marconi opened the world''s first purpose-built radio factory at New Street Works in Chelmsford, England.

This was, for all intents and purposes, the first transmission of what is now known as amplitude modulation or AM radio. The first radio news program was broadcast August 31, 1920 by station 8MK in Detroit, Michigan, which survives today as all-news format station WWJ under ownership of the CBS network. The first college radio station began broadcasting on October 14, 1920 from Union College, Schenectady, New York under the personal call letters of Wendell King, an African-American student at the school.

That month 2ADD (renamed WRUC in 1947), aired what is believed to be the first public entertainment broadcast in the United States, a series of Thursday night concerts initially heard within a 100-mile (160 km) radius and later for a 1,000-mile (1,600 km) radius. In November 1920, it aired the first broadcast of a sporting event. At 9 pm on August 27, 1920, Sociedad Radio Argentina aired a live performance of Richard Wagner''s opera Parsifal from the Coliseo Theater in downtown Buenos Aires. Only about twenty homes in the city had receivers to tune in this radio program. Meanwhile, regular entertainment broadcasts commenced in 1922 from the Marconi Research Centre at Writtle, England.

Sports broadcasting began at this time as well, including the college football on radio broadcast of a 1921 West Virginia vs. Pittsburgh football game.

An American girl listens to a radio during the Great Depression.

One of the first developments in the early 20th century was that aircraft used commercial AM radio stations for navigation. This continued until the early 1960s when VOR systems became widespread. In the early 1930s, single sideband and frequency modulation were invented by amateur radio operators. By the end of the decade, they were established commercial modes. Radio was used to transmit pictures visible as television as early as the 1920s. Commercial television transmissions started in North America and Europe in the 1940s.

In 1947 AT&T commercialized the Mobile Telephone Service. From its start in St. Louis in 1946, AT&T then introduced Mobile Telephone Service to one hundred towns and highway corridors by 1948. Mobile Telephone Service was a rarity with only 5,000 customers placing about 30 000 calls each week. Because only three radio channels were available, only three customers in any given city could make mobile telephone calls at one time. Mobile Telephone Service was expensive, costing 15 USD per month, plus 0.30 to 0.40 USD per local call, equivalent to about 176 USD per month and 3.50 to 4.75 per call in 2012 USD. The Advanced Mobile Phone System analog mobile cell phone system, developed by Bell Labs, was introduced in the Americas in 1978, gave much more capacity. It was the primary analog mobile phone system in North America (and other locales) through the 1980s and into the 2000s.

The Regency TR-1 which used Texas Instruments'' NPN transistors was the world''s first commercially produced transistor radio.

In 1954, the Regency company introduced a pocket transistor radio, the TR-1, powered by a "standard 22.5 V Battery." In 1955, the newly formed Sony company introduced its first transistorized radio. It was small enough to fit in a vest pocket, powered by a small battery. It was durable, because it had no vacuum tubes to burn out. Over the next 20 years, transistors replaced tubes almost completely except for high-power transmitters.

By 1963, color television was being broadcast commercially (though not all broadcasts or programs were in color), and the first (radio) communication satellite, Telstar, was launched. In the late 1960s, the U.S. long-distance telephone network began to convert to a digital network, employing digital radios for many of its links. In the 1970s, LORAN became the premier radio navigation system.

Soon, the U.S. Navy experimented with satellite navigation, culminating in the launch of the Global Positioning System (GPS) constellation in 1987. In the early 1990s, amateur radio experimenters began to use personal computers with audio cards to process radio signals. In 1994, the U.S. Army and DARPA launched an aggressive, successful project to construct a software-defined radio that can be programmed to be virtually any radio by changing its software program. Digital transmissions began to be applied to broadcasting in the late 1990s.

Uses of radio For a broader coverage related to this topic, see Radio spectrum § Applications.

Early uses were maritime, for sending telegraphic messages using Morse code between ships and land. The earliest users included the Japanese Navy scouting the Russian fleet during the Battle of Tsushima in 1905. One of the most memorable uses of marine telegraphy was during the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912, including communications between operators on the sinking ship and nearby vessels, and communications to shore stations listing the survivors.

Radio was used to pass on orders and communications between armies and navies on both sides in World War I; Germany used radio communications for diplomatic messages once it discovered that its submarine cables had been tapped by the British. The United States passed on President Woodrow Wilson''s Fourteen Points to Germany via radio during the war. Broadcasting began from San Jose, California in 1909, and became feasible in the 1920s, with the widespread introduction of radio receivers, particularly in Europe and the United States. Besides broadcasting, point-to-point broadcasting, including telephone messages and relays of radio programs, became widespread in the 1920s and 1930s. Another use of radio in the pre-war years was the development of detection and locating of aircraft and ships by the use of radar (RAdio Detection And Ranging).

Today, radio takes many forms, including wireless networks and mobile communications of all types, as well as radio broadcasting. Before the advent of television, commercial radio broadcasts included not only news and music, but dramas, comedies, variety shows, and many other forms of entertainment (the era from the late 1920s to the mid-1950s is commonly called radio''s "Golden Age"). Radio was unique among methods of dramatic presentation in that it used only sound. For more, see radio programming.

AudioBakelite radio at the Bakelite Museum, Orchard Mill, Williton, Somerset, UK.A Fisher 500 AM/FM hi-fi receiver from 1959.

AM radio uses amplitude modulation, in which the amplitude of the transmitted signal is made proportional to the sound amplitude captured (transduced) by the microphone, while the transmitted frequency remains unchanged. Transmissions are affected by static and interference because lightning and other sources of radio emissions on the same frequency add their amplitudes to the original transmitted amplitude.

In the early part of the 20th century, American AM radio stations broadcast with powers as high as 500 kW, and some could be heard worldwide; these stations'' transmitters were commandeered for military use by the US Government during World War II. Currently, the maximum broadcast power for a civilian AM radio station in the United States and Canada is 50 kW, and the majority of stations that emit signals this powerful were grandfathered in (see List of 50 kW AM radio stations in the United States). In 1986 KTNN received the last granted 50,000 watt license. These 50 kW stations are generally called "clear channel" stations (not to be confused with Clear Channel Communications), because within North America each of these stations has exclusive use of its broadcast frequency throughout part or all of the broadcast day.

Bush House, old home of the BBC World Service.

FM broadcast radio sends music and voice with less noise than AM radio. It is often mistakenly thought that FM is higher fidelity than AM, but that is not true. AM is capable of the same audio bandwidth that FM employs. AM receivers typically use narrower filters in the receiver to recover the signal with less noise. AM stereo receivers can reproduce the same audio bandwidth that FM does due to the wider filter used in an AM stereo receiver, but today, AM radios limit the audio bandpass to 3–5 kHz. In frequency modulation, amplitude variation at the microphone causes the transmitter frequency to fluctuate. Because the audio signal modulates the frequency and not the amplitude, an FM signal is not subject to static and interference in the same way as AM signals. Due to its need for a wider bandwidth, FM is transmitted in the Very High Frequency (VHF, 30 MHz to 300 MHz) radio spectrum.

VHF radio waves act more like light, traveling in straight lines; hence the reception range is generally limited to about 50–200 miles (80–322 km). During unusual upper atmospheric conditions, FM signals are occasionally reflected back towards the Earth by the ionosphere, resulting in long distance FM reception. FM receivers are subject to the capture effect, which causes the radio to only receive the strongest signal when multiple signals appear on the same frequency. FM receivers are relatively immune to lightning and spark interference.

High power is useful in penetrating buildings, diffracting around hills, and refracting in the dense atmosphere near the horizon for some distance beyond the horizon. Consequently, 100,000 watt FM stations can regularly be heard up to 100 miles (160 km) away, and farther, 150 miles (240 km), if there are no competing signals.

A few old, "grandfathered" stations do not conform to these power rules. WBCT-FM (93.7) in Grand Rapids, Michigan, US, runs 320,000 watts ERP, and can increase to 500,000 watts ERP by the terms of its original license. Such a huge power level does not usually help to increase range as much as one might expect, because VHF frequencies travel in nearly straight lines over the horizon and off into space. Nevertheless, when there were fewer FM stations competing, this station could be heard near Bloomington, Illinois, US, almost 300 miles (480 km) away.

FM subcarrier services are secondary signals transmitted in a "piggyback" fashion along with the main program. Special receivers are required to utilize these services. Analog channels may contain alternative programming, such as reading services for the blind, background music or stereo sound signals. In some extremely crowded metropolitan areas, the sub-channel program might be an alternate foreign-language radio program for various ethnic groups. Sub-carriers can also transmit digital data, such as station identification, the current song''s name, web addresses, or stock quotes. In some countries, FM radios automatically re-tune themselves to the same channel in a different district by using sub-bands.

Aviation voice radios use VHF AM. AM is used so that multiple stations on the same channel can be received. (Use of FM would result in stronger stations blocking out reception of weaker stations due to FM''s capture effect). Aircraft fly high enough that their transmitters can be received hundreds of miles away, even though they are using VHF.

Degen DE1103, an advanced world mini-receiver with single sideband modulation and dual conversion

Marine voice radios can use single sideband voice (SSB) in the shortwave High Frequency (HF—3 MHz to 30 MHz) radio spectrum for very long ranges or narrowband FM in the VHF spectrum for much shorter ranges. Narrowband FM sacrifices fidelity to make more channels available within the radio spectrum, by using a smaller range of radio frequencies, usually with five kHz of deviation, versus the 75 kHz used by commercial FM broadcasts, and 25 kHz used for TV sound.

Government, police, fire and commercial voice services also use narrowband FM on special frequencies. Early police radios used AM receivers to receive one-way dispatches.

Civil and military HF (high frequency) voice services use shortwave radio to contact ships at sea, aircraft and isolated settlements. Most use single sideband voice (SSB), which uses less bandwidth than AM. On an AM radio SSB sounds like ducks quacking, or the adults in a Charlie Brown cartoon. Viewed as a graph of frequency versus power, an AM signal shows power where the frequencies of the voice add and subtract with the main radio frequency. SSB cuts the bandwidth in half by suppressing the carrier and one of the sidebands. This also makes the transmitter about three times more powerful, because it doesn''t need to transmit the unused carrier and sideband.

TETRA, Terrestrial Trunked Radio is a digital cell phone system for military, police and ambulances. Commercial services such as XM, WorldSpace and Sirius offer encrypted digital satellite radio.


Mobile phones transmit to a local cell site (transmitter/receiver) that ultimately connects to the public switched telephone network (PSTN) through an optic fiber or microwave radio and other network elements. When the mobile phone nears the edge of the cell site''s radio coverage area, the central computer switches the phone to a new cell. Cell phones originally used FM, but now most use various digital modulation schemes. Recent developments in Sweden (such as DROPme) allow for the instant downloading of digital material from a radio broadcast (such as a song) to a mobile phone.

Satellite phones use satellites rather than cell towers to communicate.


Analog television sends the picture as AM and the sound as AM or FM, with the sound carrier a fixed frequency (4.5 MHz in the NTSC system) away from the video carrier. Analog television also uses a vestigial sideband on the video carrier to reduce the bandwidth required.

Digital television uses 8VSB modulation in North America (under the ATSC digital television standard), and COFDM modulation elsewhere in the world (using the DVB-T standard). A Reed–Solomon error correction code adds redundant correction codes and allows reliable reception during moderate data loss. Although many current and future codecs can be sent in the MPEG transport stream container format, as of 2006 most systems use a standard-definition format almost identical to DVD: MPEG-2 video in Anamorphic widescreen and MPEG layer 2 (MP2) audio. High-definition television is possible simply by using a higher-resolution picture, but H.264/AVC is being considered as a replacement video codec in some regions for its improved compression. With the compression and improved modulation involved, a single "channel" can contain a high-definition program and several standard-definition programs.

Navigation Main article: Radio navigation

All satellite navigation systems use satellites with precision clocks. The satellite transmits its position, and the time of the transmission. The receiver listens to four satellites, and can figure its position as being on a line that is tangent to a spherical shell around each satellite, determined by the time-of-flight of the radio signals from the satellite. A computer in the receiver does the math.

Radio direction-finding is the oldest form of radio navigation. Before 1960 navigators used movable loop antennas to locate commercial AM stations near cities. In some cases they used marine radiolocation beacons, which share a range of frequencies just above AM radio with amateur radio operators. LORAN systems also used time-of-flight radio signals, but from radio stations on the ground.

Very High Frequency Omnidirectional Range (VOR), systems (used by aircraft), have an antenna array that transmits two signals simultaneously. A directional signal rotates like a lighthouse at a fixed rate. When the directional signal is facing north, an omnidirectional signal pulses. By measuring the difference in phase of these two signals, an aircraft can determine its bearing or radial from the station, thus establishing a line of position. An aircraft can get readings from two VORs and locate its position at the intersection of the two radials, known as a "fix."

When the VOR station is collocated with DME (Distance Measuring Equipment), the aircraft can determine its bearing and range from the station, thus providing a fix from only one ground station. Such stations are called VOR/DMEs. The military operates a similar system of navaids, called TACANs, which are often built into VOR stations. Such stations are called VORTACs. Because TACANs include distance measuring equipment, VOR/DME and VORTAC stations are identical in navigation potential to civil aircraft.

Radar Main article: Radar

Radar (Radio Detection And Ranging) detects objects at a distance by bouncing radio waves off them. The delay caused by the echo measures the distance. The direction of the beam determines the direction of the reflection. The polarization and frequency of the return can sense the type of surface. Navigational radars scan a wide area two to four times per minute. They use very short waves that reflect from earth and stone. They are common on commercial ships and long-distance commercial aircraft.

General purpose radars generally use navigational radar frequencies, but modulate and polarize the pulse so the receiver can determine the type of surface of the reflector. The best general-purpose radars distinguish the rain of heavy storms, as well as land and vehicles. Some can superimpose sonar data and map data from GPS position.

Search radars scan a wide area with pulses of short radio waves. They usually scan the area two to four times a minute. Sometimes search radars use the Doppler effect to separate moving vehicles from clutter. Targeting radars use the same principle as search radar but scan a much smaller area far more often, usually several times a second or more. Weather radars resemble search radars, but use radio waves with circular polarization and a wavelength to reflect from water droplets. Some weather radar use the Doppler effect to measure wind speeds.

Data (digital radio)2008 Pure One Classic digital radio

Most new radio systems are digital, including Digital TV, satellite radio, and Digital Audio Broadcasting. The oldest form of digital broadcast was spark gap telegraphy, used by pioneers such as Marconi. By pressing the key, the operator could send messages in Morse code by energizing a rotating commutating spark gap. The rotating commutator produced a tone in the receiver, where a simple spark gap would produce a hiss, indistinguishable from static. Spark-gap transmitters are now illegal, because their transmissions span several hundred megahertz. This is very wasteful of both radio frequencies and power.

The next advance was continuous wave telegraphy, or CW (Continuous Wave), in which a pure radio frequency, produced by a vacuum tube electronic oscillator was switched on and off by a key. A receiver with a local oscillator would "heterodyne" with the pure radio frequency, creating a whistle-like audio tone. CW uses less than 100 Hz of bandwidth. CW is still used, these days primarily by amateur radio operators (hams). Strictly, on-off keying of a carrier should be known as "Interrupted Continuous Wave" or ICW or on-off keying (OOK).

Radioteletype equipment usually operates on short-wave (HF) and is much loved by the military because they create written information without a skilled operator. They send a bit as one of two tones using frequency-shift keying. Groups of five or seven bits become a character printed by a teleprinter. From about 1925 to 1975, radioteletype was how most commercial messages were sent to less developed countries. These are still used by the military and weather services.

Aircraft use a 1200 Baud radioteletype service over VHF to send their ID, altitude and position, and get gate and connecting-flight data. Microwave dishes on satellites, telephone exchanges and TV stations usually use quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM). QAM sends data by changing both the phase and the amplitude of the radio signal. Engineers like QAM because it packs the most bits into a radio signal when given an exclusive (non-shared) fixed narrowband frequency range. Usually the bits are sent in "frames" that repeat. A special bit pattern is used to locate the beginning of a frame.

Modern GPS receivers.

Communication systems that limit themselves to a fixed narrowband frequency range are vulnerable to jamming. A variety of jamming-resistant spread spectrum techniques were initially developed for military use, most famously for Global Positioning System satellite transmissions. Commercial use of spread spectrum began in the 1980s. Bluetooth, most cell phones, and the 802.11b version of Wi-Fi each use various forms of spread spectrum.

Systems that need reliability, or that share their frequency with other services, may use "coded orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing" or COFDM. COFDM breaks a digital signal into as many as several hundred slower subchannels. The digital signal is often sent as QAM on the subchannels. Modern COFDM systems use a small computer to make and decode the signal with digital signal processing, which is more flexible and far less expensive than older systems that implemented separate electronic channels.

COFDM resists fading and ghosting because the narrow-channel QAM signals can be sent slowly. An adaptive system, or one that sends error-correction codes can also resist interference, because most interference can affect only a few of the QAM channels. COFDM is used for Wi-Fi, some cell phones, Digital Radio Mondiale, Eureka 147, and many other local area network, digital TV and radio standards.


Radio-frequency energy generated for heating of objects is generally not intended to radiate outside of the generating equipment, to prevent interference with other radio signals. Microwave ovens use intense radio waves to heat food. Diathermy equipment is used in surgery for sealing of blood vessels. Induction furnaces are used for melting metal for casting, and induction hobs for cooking.

Amateur radio serviceAmateur radio station with multiple receivers and transceivers

Amateur radio, also known as "ham radio", is a hobby in which enthusiasts are licensed to communicate on a number of bands in the radio frequency spectrum non-commercially and for their own enjoyment. They may also provide emergency and public service assistance. This has been very beneficial in emergencies, saving lives in many instances.

Radio amateurs use a variety of modes, including nostalgic ones like Morse code and experimental ones like Low-Frequency Experimental Radio. Several forms of radio were pioneered by radio amateurs and later became commercially important, including FM, single-sideband (SSB), AM, digital packet radio and satellite repeaters. Some amateur frequencies may be disrupted illegally by power-line internet service.

Unlicensed radio services

Unlicensed, government-authorized personal radio services such as Citizens'' band radio in Australia, most of the Americas, and Europe, and Family Radio Service and Multi-Use Radio Service in North America exist to provide simple, usually short range communication for individuals and small groups, without the overhead of licensing. Similar services exist in other parts of the world. These radio services involve the use of handheld units.

Wi-Fi also operates in unlicensed radio bands and is very widely used to network computers.

Free radio stations, sometimes called pirate radio or "clandestine" stations, are unauthorized, unlicensed, illegal broadcasting stations. These are often low power transmitters operated on sporadic schedules by hobbyists, community activists, or political and cultural dissidents. Some pirate stations operating offshore in parts of Europe and the United Kingdom more closely resembled legal stations, maintaining regular schedules, using high power, and selling commercial advertising time.

Radio control (RC)

Radio remote controls use radio waves to transmit control data to a remote object as in some early forms of guided missile, some early TV remotes and a range of model boats, cars and airplanes. Large industrial remote-controlled equipment such as cranes and switching locomotives now usually use digital radio techniques to ensure safety and reliability.

In Madison Square Garden, at the Electrical Exhibition of 1898, Nikola Tesla successfully demonstrated a radio-controlled boat. He was awarded U.S. patent No. 613,809 for a "Method of and Apparatus for Controlling Mechanism of Moving Vessels or Vehicles."

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