Where did the Term Broadcasting Come from?

Michael Pollick

The term broadcasting is actually centuries old. It originally referred to a planting method in which a farmer scatters, or broadcasts, seeds over a wide area of prepared land. During the earliest days of commercial radio, several engineers in the Midwestern United States decided that the concept of broadcasting fit their own concept of radio transmissions. In the same way that farmers broadcast seeds over a large field, radio transmitters broadcast their signals over a large area of reception. This is especially true with amplified modulation (AM) radio waves, which are sent out through the open air in all directions from the transmitting tower.

Marconi's goal was to improve the closed-circuit technology of the telegraph.
Marconi's goal was to improve the closed-circuit technology of the telegraph.

When Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi began working on a wireless communication device, his main goal was to improve on the existing closed-circuit technology of the telegraph and telephone. In fact, he called his system radiotelegraphy, still retaining the idea of using Morse code as the basic messenger. The idea of broadcasting human voices or music would still be years away. Radiotelegraphy was intended to provide wireless communications for ships at sea or for other locations where wires would be impractical.

Broadcasting now refers mostly to television and radio.
Broadcasting now refers mostly to television and radio.

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It was only when the United State's extension of Marconi's wireless company perfected a means of transmitting voices and sounds that the concept of broadcasting became feasible. A few radio transmitting stations began broadcasting human voices and recorded music in the early 1900s, although very few people owned radio receivers. One of the earliest sponsors of radiotelegraphy, now shortened to radio, was a Florida-based fruit company seeking to maintain contact with their cargo ships in South America.

As farmers broadcast seeds over a wide field, radio transmitters broadcast signals over a wide reception area.
As farmers broadcast seeds over a wide field, radio transmitters broadcast signals over a wide reception area.

By the 1910s, amateur radio clubs formed across the United States and elsewhere, hoping to capture distant broadcasting stations whenever conditions were optimal. Engineers working for these fledgling broadcasting centers began to see the entertainment and commercial potential of radio, despite the prohibitive expenses of increasing power to the transmitters. One such engineer, David Sarnoff, would eventually become one of the guiding forces behind the National Broadcasting Company, otherwise known as NBC.

The term broadcasting is another example of technology fueling a new set of terminology. Other terms, such as lift-off, splashdown, websurfing and rebooting, are also the result of technical jargon eventually entering public consciousness.

AM radio waves are broadcast through the open air in all directions from the transmitting tower.
AM radio waves are broadcast through the open air in all directions from the transmitting tower.

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