Legends of the Ancient Web

Another thought-provoking talk from Maciej Cegłowski, tracing the early history of radio from hobbyists to commercial success:

Like the Internet, radio technology was on the horizon for a long time before it arrived, and it arrived in a rudimentary form that didn’t strike anyone as a qualitatively new technology, let alone one that could upend politics.

The world that radio arrived in already had ways to communicate in real time over long distances—telegraphs and telephones. It wasn’t clear at the outset that Hertzian waves could be detected at distances much greater than a few hundred meters, let alone that they might become a practical method to transmit the human voice.

At best, they might prove a useful method for detecting lightning at a distance, or communicating with ships at sea.

The world that radio was born into had a group of telegraphy enthusiasts who ran their own little networks, the Usenet of their day. And there was also an assortment of thriving small-scale telephone networks, including rural ones where the telephone wires were run over barbed wire fencing, connecting thirty or forty farms on a circuit.

Some of these people became the first radio “hams”—amateur hobbyists.