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    Murray Dickerson
    CVRS Member


    I have just recently come across this topic and hope that it is not too late to add some comments. I have read over all the previous comments on this subject and want to thank the contributors for their interesting ideas. I have to pay special tribute to the comments of Philip Colston and his valiant defense of Tesla as the Father of Radio. He is obviously a detailed and expert student on all things Tesla.

    I believe that the Father of Radio subject is too important to simply leave it with a “who can say?” resignation. Radio is one of the few great pivotal inventions in the history of the human race and if it is at all possible to name the originator, we should pay the respect due to that great personage.

    Why pivotal? The success of our species does not result from our having the largest brains on this planet. Dolphins, whales and elephants all trump us in this regard. Nor are we the only tool users around. Various animals and even some birds are pretty clever at it too.

    Where we excel is in our ever evolving ability to communicate and utilize the knowledge we acquire from that process. It has been the fundamental factor in achieving dominance over all other lifeforms on planet Earth.

    Therefore, the really great inventions are those that have been pivotal in our accession of pre-eminence. They can be counted on the fingers of one hand; the invention of language, the invention of writing, the printing press (Gutenberg), the invention of Radio and the most recent invention of the internet. A case could be made for a few others, but for the first time Radio brought instant global communications into our grasp. Of course, Radio also spawned the invention of Radar, Television, personal wireless, Computers and the whole electronics industry, in general. It is far too important and the debt of humanity’s gratitude far too great to leave it unclaimed.

    Radio (from “radiation”) didn’t become a household word until into the 1900’s and it came to refer to the mature development of various forms of “wireless” that throughout the 1890’s was more of a scientific curiosity than a serious communications tool.

    I believe that it is possible to allocate the honor if we are careful to define exactly what Radio is, and it is certainly not just wireless. Most dictionary definitions fail to help us because they focus more on radio as a process rather than radio as an engineering and technical achievement.

    Radio should be defined as, “A long distance communications system that generates and decodes intelligently modulated electromagnetic energy and incorporates one or more sets of transmitters and receivers tuned to specific frequencies.”

    Radio has a number of essential elements that must be present for it to function as “radio”. They are:

    1. Transmitters that generate modulated electromagnetic signals through the use of frequency selective circuits and antennas.

    2. Receivers that detect and decode these signals with matched frequency selective circuits and antennas.

    3. Transmitters employ a frequency tuned oscillator that generates a carrier signal upon which intelligible modulation that couples to a tuned radiating antenna, there to be radiated outward.

    4. Receivers employ a tuned detector that accepts the radiated modulated signals from tuned antennas and decodes those signals into useful information.

    Readers may note that there is concordance within this definition with the findings of the 1943 U.S. Supreme Court decision that rendered Marconi’s patents for radio as lacking the precedence for the a claim against the government for the unpaid use of Marconi’s patents. The court maintained that radio as a useful invention critically required the use of “four circuits” – two tuned circuits in each transmitter and in each receiver combination.

    The reason for the specific definition above is that radio came to be when the development of wireless became a “long distance communications system”.

    The father of radio would be the first person to bring all of these elements together into a system capable of long distant, even gobal communication. To suggest that such a person could not be identified because many people contributed in various ways, would also suggest that no invention should be accredited to anyone since in every other case, various people have made contributions to a related area of knowledge.

    I will not go into the detailed discussion of all the various experimenters in wireless before and after “the invention” happened to show why they failed to achieve it, since that would prolong what is already a very extensive blog.

    By the time Nikola Tesla presented and demonstrated his discoveries to the Franklin Institute at Philadelphia in February of 1893, he had brought to the world’s attention all of the elements listed above and had demonstrated components arranged into a wireless circuit that demonstrated radio control over several feet of intervening space.

    In this he was the first to demonstrate that distance “radio” was a real possibility if it made use of high frequency tuned circuits and applied careful coupling between oscillators and emitters. Philip Colston has done an admirable job of highlighting some of these key elements. The only significant thing Tesla had not already invented was the clumsy Branly coherer detector, which continued to be used for a few years after these presentations.

    In 1893, Tesla, with his usual vision, said (in connection with the utilization of high frequency resonance), “I mean the transmission of intelligible signals or perhaps power at a distance without the use of wires”.

    Following on this, “I no longer look upon this plan of energy or intelligence transmission as a mere theoretical possibility, but as a serious problem in electrical engineering, which must be carried out some day”.

    From that we must conclude that Tesla did not think he or anyone else had yet achieved this lofty goal. So, it would remain to be seen who would actually do so.

    Next year, in 1894, Oliver Lodge set up a tuned transmitter and receiver combination that utilized a telegraph key to turn the carrier on and off and verify reception at a distance of around 160 feet. It was still a primitive device, employing single tuned circuits for the transmitter and receiver (two circuit system), but the novel idea was his use of a Lecher type slider arm on the transmitter loop antenna to allow it to be tuned. It would take Lodge another four years to perfect his tunable antenna (called Syntonic) and gain a patent in 1898.

    However, it was becoming apparent that no two circuit combination of tuned elements would ever achieve much distance. Marconi was still desperately trying to get any significant range from his primitive apparatus right to the end of that decade. Such a circuit configuration could at most achieve about 80 miles of range.

    This was important because before wireless could become “radio” it had to compete with the already invented systems of telephone and telegraph which could easily surpass those distances. Why did anyone really need wireless when telegraphy allowed even transatlantic communication (achieved through cable 30 years previously)? Marine wireless was useful but limited to not much more than offshore communication.

    The four circuit system was the answer, using Tesla’s high frequency resonant and “loosely” coupled circuit configuration (“loosely” because the inductive coupling did not load down the primary oscillator and detune it). Tesla was the first to patent this system on Sept. 2, 1897 with Patent 645,576, thus becoming the “Father of Radio”.

    Lodge came through with his Syntonic Antenna patent granted on Aug. 6, 1898 and Marconi’s patent for his still primitive apparatus was granted on June 27, 1899.

    Marconi was certainly the first to astound the world with a transatlantic wireless transmission (more likely in 1903 rather than 1901) and for this achievement he was awarded a Nobel prize for radio, although he was using Tesla’s ideas and did not have the grace to acknowledge it, unlike other pioneers, such as John Stone Stone who credited Tesla as the real originator of radio.

    A commenter suggested that Tesla shouldn’t be recognized for this achievement because Tesla was sceptical about the effectiveness of Hertzian radiation. I think that whether Tesla believed in Hertzian waves, atomic energy, Relativity, Quantum Physics, extra-terrestrials, or Santa Clause is completely irrelevant to his fame as the Father of Radio.

    If not, then why accord Maxwell the honor of “Author of Electromagnetism”, since Maxwell adhered to the idea of the aether as the medium for the transmission of electromagnetic waves; an idea now repudiated by modern physics? How could someone correctly compose the equations of electromagnetism when he didn’t even understand the basis for their transmission? And Hertz believed in the ether too, as well as Lodge. How could these gentleman be accorded any honor for their work if they were clueless about the medium they were working with?

    Marconi, as well, did not understand the medium he was experimenting with and was the least educated in anything having to do with Maxwell or Hertz. At least the heresy of Tesla was based on his complete understanding of Maxwell’s mathematical theory. Yes, he did believe that Hertzian waves existed, but he believed that he had discovered a much more powerful electromagnetics that could be greatly effected through ground conditions and signal paths.

    No, any fair minded consideration would attribute the honor for the work done on its own sake and not dependent on whatever else that person might have thought about other related subjects.

    Then there was the denigrating comment about “poor old Tesla” conflicted with all of his misapprehensions. I would suggest less condescension until one had surpassed Tesla’s record of 700 world-wide patents, although I suspect anyone attaining that level of accomplishment would rather be in awe of what Tesla had accomplished.

    Lest we discount Tesla too much on the matter of Hertzian radiation, I would also like to suggest that the Master of Electricity might have had a few tricks up his sleeve that we haven’t as yet fully figured out.

    Did Tesla really discover a new form of electromagnetics that surpassed that of Maxwell and Hertz? If you are interested in that debate, try looking at the comments on the Canadian Vintage Radio Society website at:

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