1st public radio broadcast, January 13, 1910

-January 13, 2017

Lee de ForestOn January 13, 1910, the wireless transmission of a live Metropolitan Opera House performance of Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci across New York City was the first public radio broadcast.

It was an experiment and publicity stunt conducted by inventor Lee de Forest to show that wireless telephony could send sounds not just Morse code.

De Forest invented the Audion (see photo below), the first effective device for electrical amplification, which became the standard radio tube. It was a triode, incorporating a grid that would modulate the maximum available current between a filament and a plate, amplifying telegraph and radio signals.

He was allowed to set up his radio transmitter backstage at the Met and strung his antenna up on a long fishing pole on the roof. Public receivers were set up in several well-advertised locations in New York City, including the De Forest Radio Laboratory, ships in New York Harbor, and hotels in Times Square, that allowed the public to listen in through earphones.

Though the quality of the microphones made it hard to clearly hear the performance on stage, it was reported that it was heard 20 km away on a ship at sea, and as far away as Bridgeport, CT.

Music traveled by radio waves for the first time in 1904 when Dr. Otto Nussbaumer yodeled an Austrian folk song into an experimental transmitter which could be heard in the next room at the University of Graz in Austria. He had invented a detector circuit which peeled off the sound from the transmitted signal at the receiving site, making it possible to send sounds.

Broadcasting took some time to catch on after de Forest's demonstration, but he established the idea and would promote radio, and later television, as a way to raise Americans' cultural awareness.

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For more moments in tech history, see this blog.
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Editor's note: This article was originally posted on January 13, 2014 and edited on January 13, 2017.


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