The question of who has invented the radio as we know it today pops up quite regularly in the online space. Part of the reason is a general human curiosity for wanting to know things, which is natural. The other part is that the question does not have a single correct answer and more than a century after the invention, the debate still goes on.

It is generally accepted that the person behind radio invention is Guglielmo Marconi. At the same time, many people attribute the achievement to Thomas Edison. The debate between the two inventors is the main focus of the radio invention debate. At the same time, the radio invention has started dozens of years before Guglielmo and Thomas had a chance to get familiar with the technology.

Being objective and paying credit when it is due, we cannot debate about who sits at the roots of radio invention without mentioning Heinrich Hertz, Alexander Popov, Edwin Armstrong, Reginald Fessenden, and Lee DeForest. Their achievements and work have paved the way for Guglielmo and Thomas to add their last touch and write their names into the history books. Let me try to explain.

James Maxwell, who has devoted much of his life to electromagnetism has predicted that electromagnetic waves exist and that they travel at a fixed speed. His original equations using vector calculus were taken and used by a number of scientists including Heinrich Hertz (1857-1894) later.

The main culmination of Hertz’s experiments concluded in 1886, where he proved that electromagnetic energy can be transmitted across a distance. His experiment was set in the room, where he has managed to generate a spark between the electrodes of a ring made of metal. He has further proved that the waves have traveled at the speed of light which has proved the earlier hypothesis made by Maxwell.

Hertz has also discovered that those waves can bounce off objects over a fixed distance which is a fundamental principle of radar. In essence, he has successfully developed the first radio transmitter and receiver to send and receive radio waves in a controlled environment. Two years later, Hertz has later published his results which were read by a talented young man Guglielmo Marconi.

Alexander Popov (1859-1905), a Russian scientist was well aware of the experiments conducted by Hertz and in 1894 has managed to assemble an electromagnetic wave generator to successfully generate and receive radio waves. This was achieved a year before Marconi allegedly invented the radio.

The main culmination of Hertz’s experiments concluded in 1886, where he proved that electromagnetic energy can be transmitted across a distance. His experiment was set in the room, where he has managed to generate a spark between the electrodes of a ring made of metal.

Alexander Popov assembled a generator for transmitting electromagnetic waves

He has further proved that the waves have traveled at the speed of light which has proved the earlier hypothesis made by Maxwell.

Hertz has also discovered that those waves can bounce off objects over a fixed distance which is a fundamental principle of radar. In essence, he has successfully developed the first radio transmitter and receiver to send and receive radio waves in a controlled environment. Two years later, Hertz has later published his results which were read by a talented young man Guglielmo Marconi.

Reginald Fessenden (1866-1932), young Canadian scientist was obsessed with wireless telegraphy. When he was working for the U.S. Weather Bureau, he has designed and manufactured wireless telegraph stations. In 1900, he has managed to attach a microphone to the transmitter and generate voice and send it over mile long distance. Again, this achievement was made a year before Marconi’s transatlantic CW message was announced. Throughout his life, Fessenden has submitted over 500 patent applications in relationship to radar, sonar, microfilm photography, radiotelephone, heterodyne principle, and many others. 

To understand the driving force behind Marconi, a more in-depth analysis of his overall work is required. In short, he was first an entrepreneur and only second an engineer.

His intentions have primarily revolved around becoming rich and famous, which he has successfully achieved before turning thirty. Nikola Tesla (1856-1943), his ideological opponent in the battle over the invention of the radio had different aspirations and books have been written about the rivalry between the two.

Guglielmo Marconi is generally accepted as the father of radio

Interestingly enough, Tesla’s first patent in radio communication was filed and granted in 1900, before which he has demonstrated US Navy one of his remotely controlled toy boats.

Another engineer who has greatly contributed to radio development was Lee De Forest (1873-1961) who’s doctoral dissertation was related to radio waves. He has eventually created Audion, a vacuum-valve triode in 1906, which was later proved to be one of the most important inventions of the time. He used a grid in between the anode and cathode of the vacuum diodes to discover that the signal strength can be greatly amplified. Those diodes were used as radio-wave detectors at the time.

Lastly, Edwin Armstrong (1890-1954) has played a crucial role in radio development. He has filed a patent in 1913 for the regenerative receiver. De Forest has later lodged a similar patent claiming his regeneration device had priority. The case has ended up in a Supreme Court where De Forest had a slight edge to his arguments and won the case. It is now clear that due to technical particularities the court did not have enough understanding to make a just ruling.

While the court case was running for 12 years, Armstrong has made a number of solid and practical steps that ended up in another patent being filed in 1933 for frequency modulation which is known as FM radio band today. Just like the first time, David Sarnoff has also filed a similar patent and managed to convince FCC to take on his FM band of 88-108 MHz rather than Armstrong’s 42-49 MHz.

Now it is pretty clear that there are close to a dozen people involved in inventing the radio, some more and some less. At the same time, knowing what we know now – who is the actual father of AM and FM radio we know today?

As you see, some innovations that laid the groundwork and foundation for the modern radio have commenced around 50 years prior to the radio (as we know it) being invented. As a result, we truly believe that all contributors to this groundbreaking invention should be equally acknowledged and known.

And lastly, if you are still puzzled about who has invented the radio, let me quickly summarize. The radio was not invented, it was gradually discovered and at least seven very talented and devoted engineers including Heinrich Hertz, Alexander Popov, Edwin Armstrong, Reginald Fessenden, Lee DeForest, Guglielmo Marconi, and Nikola Tesla have shaped it to be the radio we know today.