Radio broadcasting is usually associated with ‘what you hear on the radio’ and these days, this means to most people either an FM music station, a medium wave (or AM) news or talk back station, or possibly a short wave station broadcasting from another country in another language.
Just click on any radio broadcaster and you’ll find yourself in a new part of the Pacific radio world.
Enter the web site and the Virtual Archive Project and you’ll find that our world of radio is much broader than these familiar forms of broadcasting. This is partially because, when radio first began, many of the distinctions we today take so much for granted never existed. You got behind what passed for a microphone, and you ‘broadcast’ whether it was a voice or some music and whether you were an individual ‘playing’ with the technology, a naval ship demonstrating the strategic value of communications, or any other kind of wireless operator.
Gradually, some order prevailed over the chaos of the airwaves, and different kinds of radio began to emerge. Nearly all were licensed as this new technology was feared by governments everywhere as well as early business interests who wanted it regulated into obscurity or under their own control.
Here’s a brief non-technical introduction to the world of radio you’ll find here. You’ll see a special icon for each of these forms of radio broadcaster (coming in 2005):
AM or medium wave radio
Used for broadcasting to audiences in a local or regional area and the predominant form of radio used throughout the core Pacific until the 1980’s. An example is KGU in Honolulu, Hawaii on 760 kHz or AM.
Often in stereo with a strong and clear signal for a local or city area, sometimes called ‘fine music’ when first introduced, but meaning frequency modulation. Now, nearly every new radio station serving the public is on FM, such as Nova FM in Sydney, Australia.
SW or short wave radio
Used since the early days of radio to broadcast signals over long distances with (often) high powered transmitters and undergoing a renaissance with digital technology. An example is Radio New Zealand International.
Amateur (or ‘ham’) radio
Individuals are licensed to broadcast morse, voice and digital transmissions using their own equipment on a limited range of SW frequencies. Regulated by all governments, ‘hams’ enjoy the technical challenges and often provide radio lifelines during emergencies. Inheritors of the original dream now, many early amateurs also broadcast music and other programs.
Ships were the first home of many original transmitters and have been associated with radio ever since. From naval fleets, to cruise ships, fishing boats and merchant ships, marine or maritime use of radio has a strong heritage in the Pacific.
Aircraft soon followed their ‘sea’ cousins and placed radio sets Aboard as they began exploring the exciting ‘Clipper’ routes of the Pacific and whether it’s a military fighter, a commercial jetliner, a small private plane or a business jet, they all have their own call sign or individual identification.
Sometimes used for broadcasting music, news and information like any other AM, FM or SW station, sometimes forming part of marine and aviation radio, and often used for vital combat situation communications, military radio holds a fascination for many.
Community Service Radio
Ranging from the School of the Air and the Royal Flying Doctor Service in Australia to The New Zealand Forest Service network of the 1960’s amongst other examples, this is use of radio for specific community service purposes, often on SW frequencies.
The Pacific was linked very early on by a network of radio ‘wireless’ stations used to maintain contact and communications over long distances, to broadcast sea and weather conditions, to transmit commercial messages and cables before expensive long distance telephone voice cables became more widely available. Still vital in many parts of the Pacific nearly a century later.
New technology has introduced streaming or ‘broadcasting’ of radio programs over the internet and although ‘it’s not radio as we know it Jim’ it’s carving out a new niche with new audiences and new sounds which sometimes only have an on-line life. In many cases, you’ll find links to audio streams that let you listen to the contemporary station whilst reading about its heritage here.
As usual, expect to find many stories and examples that cross and blur these boundaries. It’s part of the challenge and excitement of finding your way along an unfamiliar radio dial. You never know just what you’ll come across during your journey.