In November 1894, in the basement of the Faculty of Science in Bordeaux, using a Hertz resonator equipped with a telephone, Albert Turpain sent and received his first wireless signal. He used Morse code over a distance of 25 metres, through four walls, each 50cm thick. It was left to Guglielmo Marconi to patent the first tunable wireless receiver in 1900 and so commercialise this extraordinary new medium. The word ‘radio’ – derived from the Latin word ‘radius’, meaning spoke of a wheel or beam of light – replaced the word ‘wireless’, around 1920. The introduction of mobile phones in the late 1960s further expanded the scope of this ubiquitous medium.  

For many generations, radio has remained the most far reaching, easily accessible communication medium informing and entertaining all sectors of society. In some parts of the world, radio has been used to fuel hatred, division, and conflct. Progressive legislation and regulatory mechanisms have now been passed in many countries, resultng in radio that broadcasts balanced news and independent journalism.  

The decision to choose 13 February as World Radio Day (WRD) coincides with the day that the UNESCO established its own ‘United Nations Radio’ in 1946. The objectives of WRD are to raise awareness amongst the public and the media regarding the importance of radio. It’s also intended to encourage decision makers to establish and provide access to information through radio, as well as to enhance networking and international cooperation among broadcasters.  

The 2024 World Radio Day serves to highlight the following:  

  • The indelible history of radio and its powerful impact upon news, politics, drama, music, sport, and more.   
  • The ongoing utilitarian value of radio as a relatively free and portable public safety net during emergencies and power outages brought on by natural and human-made disasters such as storms, earthquakes, floods, heat, wildfires, accidents, and warfare.  
  • The continuing democratic value of radio to serve as a grassroots catalyst for connecting with underserved groups that include migrants, religious minorities, and poverty-stricken populations. Radio also provides an instantaneous bellwether of public opinion conveying free speech expressed in a public forum.  

UNESCO recognises and understands the tremendous variety of business models and technology architectures in radio around the world, including the independent nature of its companies and organisations, large and small, plus the idiosyncrasies of its on-air personalities. Thus, broadcasters are encouraged to bring their own culture, style and sensibilities to their celebrations leading up to and during the February 13 event. World Radio Day is also an opportunity for radio stations to connect on-air with fellow broadcasters around the world. UNESCO invites radio stations to take the initiative for such broadcasts.  

It’s a truly remarkable achievement for a major mass communications medium to remain relevant after 100 years and yet still be a force for freedom of expression, joy, and knowledge. As we proudly celebrate its story, let’s welcome radio’s future as it moves into the next century. – Robert Gilchrist