The development of radio technology and that of airing music through radio did not happen at the same time. Radio technology came first at about the beginning of the 20th century while broadcasting of music through the airwaves came a little bit later. Even though the history of music radio was not as well documented and therefore a little bit murky, a college radio station in San Jones is said to have broadcasted music from 1912 to 1917. This was not on a daily basis but later daily broadcasting started.
Due to security concerns during World War I and part of World War II, the US congress passed a motion to suspend all amateur radio broadcasts which meant a lot of stations went off air almost permanently. However, there is evident that 1XE of Medford Massachusetts began broadcasting music shortly after the war ended in 1919. In the following years, lots of radio stations sprung up and that meant more music in the airwaves.
The Entertainment Function of Radio
There was resistance to radio music broadcasts by people who strongly believed that radio was a channel to be used only for two way communication and not entertainment. The resistance was so strong that a New York station was ultimately shut down by a federal inspector.
The appearance of commercially licensed stations in the years leading to 1920 saw a general increase in acceptance of radio as an important entertainment and information channel. The first inaugural broadcast of presidential election results through radio was done through KDKA in October 1920. KDKA was a commercially licensed radio station based in Pittsburg. Shortly after, there was a massive explosion in the popularity of radio with 60% of American families reported to have purchased radio receivers between 1920 and 1930 while the number of families with radios doubled during the 30s thus ushering in the famous golden age of radio that lasted up to the 50s.
Radio Advertisements and Sponsored Music Programs
In addition to music, radio broadcasts included news, soap operas, weather reports, lectures, sports scores, voting results, political commentaries, comedy, and other informational stories. In 1922, the feature of music broadcasting took a different twist with the introduction of the first radio advertisement. It was paid for by AT&T. Before advertising on radio was accepted, companies used to sponsor musical programs, some of the famous ones including King Biscuit Time, Acousticon Hour, and Champion Spark Plug Hour. Classical music was oftentimes broadcast live which to some extent survives though on a very small scale today. The 1920s and 1930s also witnessed the rise in country music broadcast with lots of country shows gaining popularity over this period.
The Development of Popular Music
The radio is often credited with the development of popular music. The rise of the top 40 stations in the early years of the 1950s had a tremendous impact of music radio as we know it today. Because radio stations were allowed to run with less equipment, space, and staff, top 40 stations quickly became the norm. This was especially after higher-fidelity magnetic recording made it possible for prerecorded programs to be broadcast. Before then, radio shows were live broadcasts because there was no mechanism to capture prerecorded programs to give a better sound quality.
In the middle of the 20th century, another significant radio technology development took place with the invention of the transistor in 1947. The transistor was quickly integrated into radios thereby allowing for smaller and more portable radios instead of the large and stationary ones which were a common scene in the golden age of radio. The 1960s and 70s saw billions of transistor radios manufactured and this made portable music a reality.