Born in Bologna, Italy, Guglielmo Marconi would have been one-hundred-forty years old today. Widely recognized as the inventor of Radio, Marconi may have actually set out to perform a different task solving a different problem.
“Every day sees humanity more victorious in the struggle with space and time.”
That was the genius of Marconi for me. Radio transmission was a means, not an end. It wasn’t a trophy, but a tool. As a memorial to his birth, let’s celebrate what a remarkable tool it is.
When something massive happens in some far-off corner of the world, a local jock can make that more intelligible locally. At their best, jocks DJ conversation, not just tracks. They pull things out of their callers, add to them, and pass them to the next caller to build upon. As the picture develops and morphs before your very ears, ‘space and time’ indeed melt away.
Equally, there’s something incredible to be able to listen-in on a conversation from that faraway land and hear the picture through their local filter, with their accents, in their idiom. In that way we can understand other perspectives, closing the gap between ‘them and us,’ making the world smaller.
Just as Marconi envisioned.
So, sure — Marconi invented the Radio, and for that he is rightly praised including the Nobel Prize. But today, let’s celebrate the spirit and the science behind what he did that’s endured and evolved into various forms over time, yet continues true to his mission.
He connected us, all of us, in a way folks like Jobs, Stone, and Zuckerberg would later emulate.
Forgive me if this is a bit Paul Simon, but tuning in a static-filled Yankees broadcast in my bedroom baptized me into the great Yankee diaspora. Hearing Phil Rizzuto, Bill White and Frank Messer’s stories helped me understand baseball better. More importantly, they helped me understand my Dad better too.
In high school it was WBNY that told me there was more going on musically than the gilded turds that marked the early eighties. The older kids in the neighborhood had Led Zeppelin and ACDC. That was cool but it wasn’t really mine. BNY helped me find mine. Not only that, it sponsored the shows that would connect me to others just like me. If I pull on the strings that tie me to most of my friends and girlfriends from those days, BNY is at the other end.
When I moved to Chicago after college, it was WXRT that helped me get my arms around the City of Big Shoulders. I got a sense for its history, taste level, and where like-minded folks hung out. It was an audio tour par excellence.
When I left Chicago for Boston after nearly a decade, I took XRT with me. Thanks to technology making Marconi’s brainchild more portable, I still check in from time to time. Pounding away on my laptop or iPhone, it seems impossible that I’ve lived in Boston considerably longer than I lived in Chicago. Listening to XRT, it’s like I never left at all.
Marconi’s killer app: Eraser of Space and Time.
And for that, Mr. Marconi, I thank you. I have too much of one and not enough of the other. Radio helps me find the time signal through the space noise, and for me, its impact is unmistakable.