RESEARCH: papers, conference presentations, books, residencies

Radio Before and After Radio Waves

Conference presentation

ISSTC 2013, the annual convocation of the Irish Sound, Science and Technology Association at the Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art and Design, Ireland. 28-29 August 2013.


Radio was born in a brilliant burst of activity by amateur technicians, radiophonic artists, and Utopian thinkers (Khlebnikov, Weil, Marinetti, Arnheim), before being colonised as valuable property by private companies or as sovereign territory by state authorities. Subsequent community radio and free radio projects attempted to carve out a space for creative, pluralistic activities, though always in the margins.

In the current millennium, podcasts, web players, and phone apps have joined closed-circuit, satellite, and terrestrial broadcasting in a confusing constellation of radio possibilities and constraints. By examining eight transmission technologies (telegraph, ticker tape, telephone, the Théâtrophone, terrestrial radio, cable radio, satellite radio, webcast), this paper proposes to define broadcasting as the distribution of audio to a dispersed and unknown audience. This formulation not only permits, but indeed requires uncertainty.

A similar radical recuperation of "radio" defines it as a beam outwards from a central point, broadcast from the one to the many, over hidden channels, both spectral and ubiquitous. Such a conception allows us to follow R. Murray Schafer in proposing a radio that begins with "invisible voices in the wind, in thunder, in the dream".

Radio continues in ever-more fragmentary and ephemeral ways, only fully revealed to us as it fails. And fails again, sometimes better.