Main content

The Invention of Radio

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the invention of radio.

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the invention of radio. In the early 1860s the Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell derived four equations which together describe the behaviour of electricity and magnetism. They predicted the existence of a previously unknown phenomenon: electromagnetic waves. These waves were first observed in the early 1880s, and over the next two decades a succession of scientists and engineers built increasingly elaborate devices to produce and detect them. Eventually this gave birth to a new technology: radio. The Italian Guglielmo Marconi is commonly described as the father of radio - but many other figures were involved in its development, and it was not him but a Canadian, Reginald Fessenden, who first succeeded in transmitting speech over the airwaves.


Simon Schaffer
Professor of the History of Science at the University of Cambridge

Elizabeth Bruton
Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Leeds

John Liffen
Curator of Communications at the Science Museum, London

Producer: Thomas Morris.

Available now

43 minutes

Last on

Thu 4 Jul 2013 21:30


Simon Schaffer at the University of Cambridge


Elizabeth Bruton at the University of Leeds


Science Museum


Invention of radio - Wikipedia





Hugh Aitken, Syntony and Spark: The Origins of Radio (Princeton University Press, 1992)


Rollo Appleyard, Pioneers of Electrical Communication (Macmillan, 1930)


W. J. Baker, A History of the Marconi Company 1874-1965 (Routledge, 1970)


Russell W. Burns, Communications: An International History of the Formative Years. Vol. 32, IEE History of Technology Series (Institution of Electrical Engineers, 2004)


David Edgerton, The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History since 1900 (Profile, 2008)


G. R. M. Garratt, The Early History of Radio from Faraday to Marconi (Institution of Engineering and Technology, 1993)


Daniel R. Headrick, The Invisible Weapon: Telecommunications and International Politics, 1851-1945 (Oxford University Press, 1991)


Sungook Hong, Wireless: From Marconi’s Black Box to the Audion (MIT Press, 2010)


Rowland F. Pocock, The Early British Radio Industry (Manchester University Press, 1988)



Role Contributor
Presenter Melvyn Bragg
Interviewed Guest Simon Schaffer
Interviewed Guest Elizabeth Bruton
Interviewed Guest John Liffen
Producer Thomas Morris


Featured in...

The In Our Time Quiz of the Year

The In Our Time Quiz of the Year

How much do you remember from our programmes of 2018?

The In Our Time Listeners' Top 10

The In Our Time Listeners' Top 10

If you’re new to In Our Time, this is a good place to start.

In Our Time podcasts

In Our Time podcasts

Every episode of In Our Time is available to download.

Arts and Ideas podcast

Arts and Ideas podcast

Download the best of Radio 3's Free Thinking programme.