Exhibition: On the Radio, six decades of radio design

On the Radio, the new exhibition at San Francisco International Airport, provides travelers a chance to dream away with an overview of more than sixty years of radio design.

Sparton 558–B “Sled”, 1937, Courtesy of Steve Kushman

Radio is one of the great technological triumphs of the 20th century.  Envisioned for wireless communication, radio became a universal mass media and captivated audiences across the world.  For the first time in history, populations separated by thousands of miles could be notified of important news at a moment’s notice.  Radio was the most exciting and accessible technology of its time and galvanized the imagination of countless listeners.

Developed to compete with landline telegraph and telephone systems, radio was not initially intended for entertainment. In 1897, Guglielmo Marconi patented a wireless telegraph that generated electromagnetic radio waves from a spark-gap transmitter, and in December 1901, the Italian inventor relayed Morse code signals from England to Newfoundland. Promoted as radio telegraphy and commonly known as wireless, it allowed for the immediate transmission of information over long distances and was perfectly suited for communication with ships at sea.

The “Mystic” Radio Bug and headset, c. 1927, Courtesy of Steve Kushman

Between 1922 and 1924, the number of radio stations in the United States skyrocketed from twenty-eight to more than 1,400.  By the 1930s, a new series of compact, high-powered radios incorporated improved vacuum tubes and circuitry.  This was the golden age of broadcasting and millions of Americans gathered around their radios every night to hear live comedies, serials, musical performances, and news reports.

As television took the spotlight in the 1950s, radio programming shifted to recorded music and talk shows.  Transistorized portables and automobile radios cranked out rock ’n’ roll and Top-40 hit songs, deejays and radio show hosts became overnight stars, and the number of receivers in the United States doubled.  Radio had cultivated a massive and mobile audience, shaping popular culture and strengthening national unity.

X–11 Aladino, 1949, Courtesy of Steve Kushman

On the Radio highlights more than sixty years of radio design, from crystal sets and luxury consoles, to stylish tabletop models and pocket-sized transistors. The exhibition is located post-security in Terminal 3, Departures Level, San Francisco International Airport and is accessible to ticketed passengers from March 10, 2018 – September 30, 2018.

Leave a Reply