Canadian media pioneer Reginald Aubrey Fessenden can be attributed with the way people use radio technology as a communications tool today. He invented radio as we know it and he himself made two of the most important radio transmissions ever.
Born in East Bolton, Quebec, in 1866, Fessenden had a knack for mathematics. He graduated with a mathematics mastership from the Bishop’s College School in Lennoxville, Quebec, at the age of 14.
By 1886, Fessenden was working with Thomas Edison in New Jersey, where he worked on audio reception of transmitted radio signals. Receiver design was his specialty at that time. He went on to become a Purdue University professor of electrical engineering by 1892.
By this time, the Canadian media pioneer had proven himself to be a founding father of the radio medium in the United States, too. In 1900, Fessenden was working with the US Weather Bureau, where he developed a method of combining two radio signals into a third, audible, tone.
This combined signal soon evolved into Fessenden’s ability to transmit the spoken word over radio frequencies. His first spoken radio transmission, thought to be the first such transmission ever, was a weather report.
That single most important radio broadcast was transmitted on December 23, 1900, from an island in the Potomac River, near Washington, DC. Fessenden’s fateful words - "One, two, three, four. Is it snowing where you are, Mr. Thiessen? If it is, would you telegraph back to me?" – traveled about a mile through the airwaves to Mr. Thiessen, who, in reply, confirmed that yes, it was snowing, indeed.
Millions of people everywhere now consider radio weather reports a daily ritual as we get dressed and ready to leave home for work or school. Even though we often take them for granted, radio-transmitted weather reports have become some of the most highly valued means to issue weather alerts and warnings, travel advisories, and all manner of information vital to human safety.
This Canadian media giant didn’t stop at using the radio to convey the weather. Fessenden’s also credited with transmitting the first entertainment broadcast over radio airwaves, too.
On Christmas Eve, 1906, Fessenden played his violin, over the radio, making this broadcast the first time radio was used to transmit music. He played ‘O Holy Night’ and then his wife, Helen, and a friend of hers sang a few Christmas carols.
Fessenden followed his passion for invention until his death at age 65. By then, he’d accumulated as many as 500 patents and Canadian media scholars, as well as media scholars everywhere, know him as the Father of Radio Broadcasting.