in one form or another could be seen as the foundation of society. For
countless centuries, mankind struggled to communicate their needs,
thoughts and aspirations. Speech - the spoken language - developed
slowly and suffered from the limitation of short distance.
comfortable hearing range, shouting was essential. Beyond that, waving
and gesticulating was all that was left, the sender unsure that his
message was understood.
Over centuries, men of science and technology
continued to speculate - and to dream - about mass communication in both
visual and aural terms. Fire beacons, then heliographs, became the
first visual distance communication, with drums their audible
Although better than nothing, severe limitations
restricted the value of the communication systems mentioned above.
Always, some kind of code was needed, for example Morse.
Even the first system to use electricity, the telegraph, still needed code.
The printed word in book form had already revolutionised communication
but although an amazing and incredibly valuable development in the
progress of mankind, it lacked immediacy and was really an accessible
long-term storage system.
showed that sound could be
recorded and was no longer ephemeral: the audio storage equivalent of
the book had been invented.
Alongside Fox Talbot’s
(and others!) photography, mankind now held means for the storage of both the written
and the spoken word and, of course, music. Both recording methods were
essentially mechanical, printing via the press, with wooden or metal
type, paper and ink: sound, at first, by means of the physical
indentations in a rotating wax cylinder caused by the sound waves
created by the ‘artiste’ speaking or singing loudly into a
‘backwards’ megaphone vibrating a cutting stylus.
The invention of
the telephone created a leap forward in on-to-one communication and was
the first truly instant speech-based communication system but one that
required a wire link between the telephones. A new and
at that time undeveloped technology was needed for further advancement
in mass communication, free from the constraints of linking wires - a
'wireless' system. The
foundations of this technology can be traced back to 1820, when the
Danish physicist Hans Christian Oersted made observations on the link
between electricity and magnetism. This was followed in practical terms
by Michael Faraday in 1831.
It was from Oersted’s initial observations
and the experiments of Faraday that James Clerk Maxwell (top right), a brilliant
Scottish mathematician working in
in 1864, was able to
calculate the virtual inevitability of the existence of ‘radio’
waves. In a further step forward, the German scientist Heinrich Hertz
proved their existence beyond all doubt in 1888.
achievement was the mathematical formulation of Michael Faraday's
theories of electricity and magnetic lines of force. He predicted that electromagnetism
moved through space in waves which could be generated in the laboratory.
His calculations indicated that their velocity was the same as the speed
of light, therefore light was an electromagnetic phenomenon: He
stated "We can
scarcely avoid the conclusion that light consists in the transverse
undulations of the same medium which is the cause of electric and
His paper on Faraday's
lines of force was read to the Cambridge Philosophical Society in two
parts, 1855 and 1856. He also showed showed that basic equations were
inadequate to express the behaviour of electric and magnetic fields.
Maxwell died in Cambridge on the fifth of November in 1879, before his
theorising was successfully tested.
Although not our main
concern here, it is interesting to note that the outstanding mind of
Maxwell contributed also to the study of colour blindness and colour
vision and from his studies of colour theory came the first colour
photograph, which was produced by photographing one subject through
filters of the three primary colours of light (red, yellow, and blue) and
then recombining the images.
in those decades preceding the turn of the century, the discovery of
'radio waves' remained unused and undeveloped, staying in the realm of pure
science - and some might say, science fiction - and untainted by technological intervention. What was needed was someone
far-sighted enough to realise that the electromagnetic waves could be
harnessed for communication purposes.