Radio communication has a multitude of personal, commercial and safety uses. Despite the advent of new technologies like cellphone signals and digital communication outlets, at least 10 uses of radio waves remain very relevant to our daily lives. As a personal and professional means of communicating, radio remains as one of the most reliable around.
Brief History of Radio Waves
While electromagnetic waves and radio waves were discovered in the mid-19th century, they didn't see any application until the turn of the century. The first broadcasts were done in the early 1900s, and it didn't take long for the airwaves to experience mainstream acceptance as a means of broadcasting information.
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After finding a place for news broadcasts and entertainment, radio quickly became a means of communication through handheld modes. The military adopted radio for communicating and transmitting messages quickly. Entire code systems developed for military-specific purposes.
Moving past the military, radio became a useful tool in both law enforcement and the professional workplace. It remains prominent and important in both environments. Eventually, radio became affordable and available to the public. Handheld devices are widely available and frequently used for numerous purposes.
Radio has held strong against new technology like cellphone signals and fiber-optic cables. While these new technologies have added a more capable form of communication in many respects, radio is consistent and reliable.
A radio wave cannot connect you to the internet or offer a live video feed, but the signal is steady and remains as a top communication choice for law enforcement, emergency personnel and many professional services.
The history of radio in the military is long and complex. Radio waves are used to communicate and send important messages with orders, locations and critical information. During wartime, these transmissions become especially important.
During World War II, coded transmissions sent over radio became increasingly sensitive as opposing forces worked to intercept and decode the messages. The radio waves were the most reliable forms of communication, and ceasing communication through radio was not an option. This led to entire divisions dedicated to encrypting messages over the radio. Ultimately, members of the Navajo Nation were deployed by the United States to speak in their native language. Japan could not decrypt the language, and the language was a major factor in successful radio communications during World War II.
Radio was not only important as a tool during the war for military use, it also served as an outlet for communicating progress to the masses. Radio transmissions were used to update listeners on military movements and battles. It also worked for propaganda and drove unity in the war effort. It has since continued to play an important role in communicating, but the channels have turned into more segmented, opinion-based programming.
On a personal level, radio offers an easy method for connecting when using the same frequency between multiple devices. Handheld radios are widely available, and multiple people can tune to the same channel and communicate easily within a limited range.
Head out for a day on the lake and talk to those onshore or go hiking and maintain contact between groups. You can even use a personal radio for scavenger hunts, talking to your neighbors and just about any other situation you can think of.
Radios are so popular for personal and recreational use that they're often regulated or banned. On a popular lake or coastal zone for example, the Coast Guard and rescue crews have their own frequency and restrict personal use on those channels.
Many states also ban the use of radios for hunters. Communicating by radio gives the hunter an unfair advantage and often acts contrary to fair chase principals. As a result, radio is not legally allowed for hunters in many states and in many specific hunting scenarios.
The Radio Broadcast
The radio broadcast was among the first uses of radio waves, and it remains a part of daily life today. Radio delivers talk shows, music stations and general news. FM and AM transmissions are available around-the-clock for news delivery and general entertainment.
Radios are frequently used in the home and workplace, but vehicles account for a significant portion of radio airtime. Almost every vehicle comes with at least a radio player installed. In many modern vehicles, it also has a CD player, Bluetooth and satellite. Radio remains the default setting, however, for many vehicles on the road.
Radio stations actually manage their show timing to broadcast traffic information to drivers commuting to work. They also share weather and general road conditions to begin the day. This makes local radio stations a valuable tool for gathering real-time information on the road. Otherwise, music sets and talk shows provide plenty of entertainment throughout the day.
Radio for Advertising
Advertising deserves its own mention. Programming heard on any regular radio broadcast is typically sponsored by advertisers. You'll hear commercials with regularity on most radio stations. News talk radio, sports talk radio and music stations are all revenue-driven by advertisers.
Programs that draw large audiences as indicated by Nielsen Ratings will receive more airtime as they draw higher paying advertisers and generate more revenue. Advertising plays a major role in the radio and how it operates as advertisers are the primary drivers and funding source of most general programming.
This is neither good nor bad, but worth noting. Like television, radio is another medium for advertisers to deliver strategic messaging to their audience.
Public radio stations also exist and are funded by donations and grants. These programs are designed to keep a segment of the radio free from sponsors while offering an unbiased program for news and general entertainment.
Emergency Radio Systems
The radio is prolific as an emergency line of communication. Law enforcement, medical responders, search and rescue and just about any emergency response field uses a radio.
Individuals are not the only ones using the radio as an emergency system. The radio also has an emergency broadcast system used to alert the masses to major events. If you listen to the radio with regularity, you've likely heard a test of the emergency broadcast system. Regular testing is mandatory to maintain the system.
The emergency broadcast system is most often used to share information about natural disasters like tornadoes, hurricanes and other events that require alerting a large number of people all at once. Radio and television are two of the methods used to broadcast emergency messaging.
Communications in the Workplace
Radio plays a very important role in the workplace, especially in job settings that require regular communications while remaining mobile. A security guard can check with the home base and relay information directly to another person or group of people using radios on the same frequency.
Events staff will also use radios to relay information and execute specific tasks like running supplies, switching personal stations and controlling crowds at events and festivals.
A manufacturing facility can communicate to the production leads on the floor through radio. Construction crews can relay information across the job site and call in orders for supplies quickly.
Oil and gas workers, geology crews, survey crews and any group working outside often depend heavily on radio, especially when small, important details require instant sharing to maintain efficiency. Radio enables these groups of workers to transmit information through voice using basic radios.
Many of these groups use a strong signal to work together in a large geographical region. For example, a natural gas crew in rural Wyoming can maintain communications across an entire region in the state through radio systems. The range is impressive with a powerful signal and large antennae.
National parks and public lands often have the same requirements for a strong signal in a large geographical area. Park rangers and personnel will use different frequencies to relay day-to-day work information while using codes and handles to identify individual people and tasks.
Learning the codes and radio handles used within a specific work environment is often mandatory.
Radio on the Road
While this easily could land in the general workplace category, radios are a well-known standard on the road. The trucking industry depends on radio to communicate timelines and shipments, and the truckers themselves generally discuss road conditions, hazards, weather and other common issues being encountered in real-time.
A dispatcher is commonly used by the trucking company to assign routes, communicate with the drivers and exchange information about breakdowns, flat tires, weigh stations and routes. Larger organizations utilize entire teams of dispatchers to manage drivers while ensuring freight reaches the destination.
Sky and Water
Look up and you might wonder how all of those airplanes crisscross the sky without colliding. Air traffic control and pilots use radio to manage elevations and speed to run clear routes in the sky. The management process is complex, especially in crowded airspace where numerous planes are incoming and outgoing from a landing strip.
Pilots also use the radio to maintain contact regarding routes, flight times and safety issues. They report any problems, communicate emergencies and work to create a safe flight that is accounted for by the air tower and traffic controllers.
A similar environment exists on the water. The ocean has heavy radio traffic, and in many cases radio use is mandatory to communicate port landings. The United States Coast Guard manages a large number of port entries and coastal communications around U.S. borders and inland waters. Most countries have their own navy or coastal management personnel using radio to communicate directives and emergency information.
Like the military, law enforcement uses limited frequency that is difficult to access. A specialized police scanner is required to capture law enforcement frequencies. Jamming or interfering with these critical lines of communication is illegal.
Similar to dispatchers in the trucking industry, law enforcement uses dispatchers to communicate crimes in progress and for nonemergency calls as well. Police officers pick up these calls and respond based on their immediate locations. They report and log every action, location and movement through the dispatchers and their personal daily report logs.
Without radio, law enforcement officers would struggle to respond quickly and communicate between dispatchers and other officers during an emergency. Overall, the radio serves as a critical communication tool among law enforcement, ultimately creating a safer community.