Celebrating diversity and representation this World Radio Day 2020
On 13 February 2020, the world celebrated World Radio Day for the 8th time since its declaration at the 36th UNESCO General Conference. It’s a day to raise greater awareness and appreciation on the importance of radio, highlighting how despite the advent of digital technology and the internet, the radio has remained relevant as the media with the widest reach and audience in the world.
Being the world’s most consumed medium means that radio is important in providing diverse communities around the world with not just information and entertainment, but also a channel for their voices to be heard.
Why World Radio Day?
On 20th September 2010, the Spanish Academy of Radio Arts and Sciences proposed for UNESCO to establish a World Radio Day, which was eventually included in the UNESCO Executive Board’s agenda. Throughout 2011, after consulting a wide range of relevant parties such as broadcasting associations, UN agencies, relevant NGOs, foundations and agencies, 91% were in favour of the idea, and the UNESCO General Conference proclaimed the designation of World Radio Day on 3 November 2011. The date 13 February was chosen because it was the day the United Nations Radio was established back in 1946.
Radio is a powerful medium for celebrating humanity and engaging democratic discourse. Photo By: unesco.org
Pluralism, Representation, Diversity
“On this World Radio Day, let us recognize the enduring power of radio to promote diversity and help build a more peaceful and inclusive world.” UN Secretary-General António Guterres
Technology has made information and access important currencies in the world of media. They hold power in shaping the image of the present world and the narrative of history. Due to programming and socio-politics, many voices are distorted to serve the needs of the few and the invested.
Old retro radio equipment that holds power in shaping the image of the present world and the narrative of history.
Being the widest consumed medium, commercial radio can - and needs - to play an active role to affect that. That is why “Radio and Diversity” was selected as the theme for World Radio Day 2020.
This theme is divided further into 3 main sub-themes: Advocating for pluralism in radio; Encouraging representation in the newsroom; and Promoting a diversity of editorial content and programme types. This year’s theme pushes for a mix of public, private and community broadcasters across all radio, representing diverse society groups that reflect the variety of audiences.
This theme saw radio professionals all around the world coming together to advocate for a change in their stations and to the public - a clarion call for everyone to welcome diversity instead of discriminating against it, be it race, creed, gender, sexuality or format.
In 2014, the tradition of World Radio Day themes began with “Gender Equality and Women Empowerment in Radio”. Since then, themes such as “Youth and Radio”, “Radio and Sports”, “Dialogue, Tolerance and Peace” and “Radio in Times of Emergency and Disaster” have all been celebrated.
Tesla, Telegrams and Sony: How It All Started
Radio brings people together. In an era of rapid media evolution, radio retains a special place in every community as an accessible source of vital news and information. At the same time, it is also a source of innovation that pioneered interaction with audiences and user-generated content decades before they became mainstream via the likes of Youtube and Instagram.
The word radio comes from the Latin word ‘radius’ meaning ray or beam. This refers to the early use of the word where scientists used the prefix ‘radio-’ to indicate radiant or radiation. This originated from the discovery of electromagnetic radiation by the German physicist Heinrich Hertz in the late 1880s.
Stamp bearing the images of Nikola Tesla(left) and his alternating -current (AC) electric system, and Guglielmo Marconi(right) with his wireless radio.
During the 1890s, Nicola Tesla, followed by Guglielmo Marconi, and several others such as Chandra Bose and Alexander Popov developed radio-conductors, transmitters, receivers, and conducted countless experiments in telegraphy. They explored the idea of sending messages across long distances without the physical limitations of wires, cables, or poles. Tesla demonstrated his wireless power techniques in St. Louis, Missouri. Bose rang a bell in Calcutta by igniting gunpowder from a distance. Popov presented his radio receiver to the Russian Physical and Chemical Society. Fessendan made the first ever audio radio transmission in between Marconi’s achievements of transmitting radio signals for about 1.5 miles and making the first ever radio message to cross the Atlantic.
This eventually led to the earliest usage of the term ‘wireless’ in communications technology, or radio-telegraphy. Telegrams that were sent across the wireless were radio-grams, or "radios" for short. This was how radio became a shorthand for ‘wireless’, before taking its own meaning.
Nowadays, when we say radio, the first thing that comes to our minds are the electrical appliances that broadcast live and record audio recordings from radio stations. We use it interchangeably to refer to both the equipment and the stations. The credit for this goes to a few people. The FM radio that we now deem standard in public broadcasting was invented and patented by Edwin H. Armstrong in 1933. The radios that we have in our homes and cars first became feasible when Regency introduced their battery-powered pocket transistor radio, the TR-1, in 1954. In 1960, Sony released their first transistorised radio that was small enough to fit into a vest pocket. It was durable and convenient, and became the foundation of Sony’s growth into the entertainment company it is now.
A Wireless Legacy
The impact of radio cannot be overstated. As a piece of technology, it represents the indomitable human spirit of progress as well as a milestone of scientific discoveries in the fields of electromagnetics, and telecommunications. It was the first globally accessible medium of telecommunications that has ushered in the age of mass media. Its technology has allowed for the creation of television, the greatest media invention of the 20th century.
A modern day radio station that has evolced fro what used to be a tangled mess of wires everywhere
Most importantly, it is a symbol of representation. Despite the distance, it has engaged millions of people daily for over 50 years with just the power of sound. Hearts have been touched and lives have been changed across world events, disasters, sports, entertainment, news, music and even simple conversations in late nights.
It has the power to capture our attention and imagination by speech alone. It has created millions of connections around the world through the colour of voices. World Radio Day may be in its infancy, but the impact of radio has lasted from before most of us were born. The next time you turn on the radio, just think about how it has impacted us on a local scale, and the world on a global scale.