Canadian Inventions — Radio

Copyright Image

Glenn Gould: Canadian

“Bach Piano Concerto No.7 in G minor BW”
…for my friend Sisyphus and her sore brain.


In 1906 A Canadian Inventor Stepped Up To The Mic…

…and became the first person to transmit his voice via electromagnetic waves. On Christmas Eve, 1906, Reginald Fessenden — born near Montreal — made the first radio broadcast in history. Radio operators on ships in the Atlantic and Caribbean became the first people to hear a human voice emitting from equipment specially fitted to receive the broadcast. These radio operators and their Captains heard Fessenden speak for a few moments, then he played a record, and finally played “O Holy Night” on his violin, singing the last verse as he played. Fessenden then asked his listeners to send letters telling him where they were when they heard the broadcast… making him the first in a long line of night-time Radio Disc Jockey’s to wonder aloud “is anyone out there?”

There is a lot of confusion regarding how certain inventions come aboot. The Light Bulb was invented, for example, by James Woodward — a Canadian who, several years later, sold the patent to Thomas Edison. The alkaline and Lithium batteries were also invented by a Canadian, and credit again was given to Edison. It has also been assumed that because Guglielmo Marconi managed to send a few beeps and boops to and from a transmitter that he invented radio. He didn’t. This gets a little more complicated because Marconi did his beep boop thing in Canada, and his experiments were mostly paid for by the Canadian government, while the majority of Fessenden’s work was done privately in America. This has long been a problem with the Canadian Government… we rarely trust our own until they’ve become successful elsewhere, meanwhile any old European Fascist can use their accent to get a taxpayer grant.

Marconi later won, along with Karl Ferdinand, the 1909 Nobel Prize in Physics “[for]their contributions to the development of wireless telegraphy”. But it was Fessenden, again, who invented wireless telegraphy back in 1900. In fact almost all of Marconi’s work, especially the work which won him a Nobel Prize, was based on Fessenden’s inventions. When he was a child Fessenden had watched Alexander Graham Bell — a fellow Canadian (kind of) — give a demonstration on how to use the telephone. Two decades later, in 1900, near Virginia, Fessenden transmitted the world’s first wireless telephone message using Wireless Telegraphy: “One, two, three, four. Is it snowing where you are Mr. Thiessen? If it is, telegraph back and let me know.”

In the end, though, it was Marconi who got rich by being a better businessman and self-promoter… he was also great friends and a dinner companion with Italian Premier Benito Mussolini, but this seems to get left out of the school textbooks. Ahem. Anyway. Reginald Fessenden went on to improve the Light Bulb, work later credited to Thomas Edison. Fucking Edison. Fessenden won the Scientific American’s Gold Medal in 1929 for the Fathometer, a device which could determine the depth of water under a ship’s hull. Eventually Fessenden held 500 patents, including the invention of the turbo-electric drive for ships, insulating electrical tape and many other underwater wireless communication devices including “the first practical man-made sonar oscillator”, which allows for ship to submarine communications. And what else did Marconi do? Oh yeah, he had some pleasant dinner conversation with Mussolini. Because they were both fascists… and good friends.

Reginald Fessenden, the man who invented three forms of wireless communications, died mostly in obscurity in Bermuda. The Canadian Encyclopedia still does not recognize his work and when American science texts mention his work they usually refer to him as the “American Marconi.” When he died his patents had all been sold by his much richer investors to large American companies, although he had recouped some money through several lengthy lawsuits. Reginald Aubrey Fessenden was born October 6, 1866, in Sherbrooke, Quebec, and died July 22, 1932. According to Wikipedia “three of his most notable achievements include: the first audio transmission by radio (1900), the first two-way transatlantic radio transmission (1906), and the first radio broadcast of entertainment and music (1906).” Those are some spectacular achievements… someone should tell those Nobel people.


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About Gabriel

I’ve lived in more than fifty places. I've been paid to pick stones out of fields, take backstage photos of Britney Spears, and report on Internet privacy issues. My photos have been published in several newspapers, and a couple of magazines.
This entry was posted in America, Canada, Canadian Inventions, Canadian Music, Canadian News, Canadian Politics, CSN:AFU Greatest Hits, Facism, Humor, Humour, Punk. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Canadian Inventions — Radio

  1. That was great…my favourite piece at the moment and a Canadian I hugely admire…I am absolutely entranced by GG. I cannot hear enough of him on CD’s and am waiting for a biography of his life to be sent to me from Amazon. Impatiently.

    GG was quite obsessed with recording as an art form I believe. He made a kind of composition based on his recordings of Canadian life, sounds, speech and all sorts. Wove the recordings he had made into a contrapuntal fugue type of piece. The ‘music’ or ‘instruments’ were the different sounds of Canada. He was before his time with that sort of creativity. Can’t wait to get my hands on that biog. If I ever come to Canada my first stop will be the museum where all items GG are housed. Befuddled memory has caused me to temporarily forget the details, but I believe that the recording was made by him for the 1967 Centennary, I think the documentary was called “The idea of North” with recordings that were made from the journey along the Hudson(?) shoreline on the (?) Nantuck Express rail track.

    Interesting about the Canadian inventions that were nudged out of the limelight in favour of European or American names. I think that you are doing a great job here highlighting and educating Canada’s importance. I have heard other Canadians dismiss their own culture and in particular ‘the Arts’ as being second rate. You know, like when I was a dancer, the Canadian ballet dancers were always under-estimating themselves; still I hear people claim that Canada doesn’t promote its arts. I have only been to Canada once, to London, Ontario. I thought it was a great place.

    Go CSN:AFU! Enlightenment weekly; better than a documentary. Thank you.

  2. Bugger …….out of my mouth pours crap. Serious brain ache, or ‘bra’ache’ (i.e. when nothing you write makes sense because you’ve left your brain cells elsewhere). Oh f*ck it. I know what I was trying to say above, just edit or delete it. I need to play the YouTube again and have a cup of tea

  3. Gabriel says:

    Don’t be so harsh on yourself Lilacs, I think you did great… no deviations into subconscious outlandishness and you stayed well within the boundaries of the English language which, if that was your intention, is way better than some of my bra’ache’s.

    Aboot Canada’s self-promoting cultural sector… when it comes to the English part of this country we pretty much suck at marketing and distribution of anything “artistic”. Mostly for the reasons I’ve written aboot [here].

    Basically our talent gets sucked into the massive vortex of the American Cultural Machine, leaving us with the rookies, has-beens and Idealists who want to make a point of not becoming part of the American Cultural Machine.

    When it comes to things like “the light bulb”, “the battery” and “the radio” the inventors couldn’t do the marketing and investment bits… everything up until the marketing stage we’re great at, but for some reason we suck at power point presentations and “communications strategies”… and guess which country invented Communication Strategies and Marketing… hint: we share a 3000 mile relatively open border with them.

    Even today it’s pretty much a given that when a Canadian company reaches a certain size it will be consumed by Americorp. Tim Horton’s, a donut shop started by a hockey player (that’s aboot as freaking Canadian as it gets) was bought by Wendy’s. Which was great for Wendy’s considering that the only thing keeping them in the black right now are the 15 million Canadians who buy their coffee and donuts at Tim Horton’s.

    Don’t forget your avatar… I thought the last one was pretty cool.

    (if I didn’t edit properly just leave any additional corrections and I’ll fix it… but I think it looks fine.)

  4. Kate says:

    Um, ya we now that little light bulb thing (Im canadian 2), but it wasn’t James Woodward, it’s HENRY Woodword, plus he did it with the help of his less famous partner, Matthew Evans. He was probably less famous because of the fact that he worked at a hotel, and didn’t have the teaching that Woodward had. ( -:

  5. Gabriel... says:

    Thanks for coming by Kate. One of my first posts on this blog was aboot the light bulb. During the research I found references to Mr. Woodword as both “James” and “Henry”, sometimes in the same web site and once in the same paragraph. I’ll change the original Light Bulb post to reflect that. If you find anything else please let me know.

    My original light bulb post: here.


    here; here; here


    here; here; here

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