The radio broadcasting industry has been in existence for over 80 years. The pioneers of this industry were amateur telegraphers who were using new innovations made possible by the invention of the first vacuum tube for signal amplification (the Audion tube, invented by Lee De Forest in 1906). The organization of the first post-WWI broadcasting company, known as the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), provided the template for what is still one of the most influential media in global society.
The first true commercial radio broadcasts were still dependent on the government for authorization to use the air waves, which had taken control of all two-way transmitting to prevent wartime enemies from spying. The Westinghouse Company, General Electric and Western Electric received licensing from the government to build transmitters and receivers, and AT&T received permission to broadcast signals over the air waves. This paved the way for more commercial-based programming by newcomers such as the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) and the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) in the 1920s. The concept of organizing of a radio station began at this point.
The basic structure of a radio station is much like any business model. Ownership is at the top, whether it is a sole proprietor or a board of directors. The responsibility of delegating labor and financial operations falls to upper management, who are supported by administrative staff. This would be the station manager or the program director of a radio station. Employees charged with the daily operation of the business itself are the on-air talent, the sales staff and receptionists or other front office staff. Additional staff in a radio station consist of special programming and production staff, if any, and engineers who look after the technical operation of the station.
The goal of any radio station, regardless of its profit structure, is to gain and maintain listeners. The station must provide what its audience wants, whether it is news, talk, classical music, or Top 40 programming. For-profit stations depend on advertising revenue to finance their operation, other than in-house promotions such as sponsored concerts or special live remote broadcasts. This requires a larger and more intensive sales effort and the staff to handle it. Nonprofit stations rely on listener contributions, corporate sponsorship and funding from government agencies or private institutions. This type of station will have a staff specifically focused on fundraising, grant writing and community-based communication in order to maintain financial support to stay on the air.
Licensing aspects require all radio stations to direct elements of staff to maintain the legal status of the station. This applies to both operating licensing, overseen by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and content licensing. Content refers to music that a station includes on its playlists or other programming that is owned under copyright, such as syndicated sports programs and special music broadcasts. The staff that handles this aspect can be a legal team, as in the case of large corporate stations, or management staff, such as the station manager.
Most radio stations today operate on a 24-hour basis. The actual daytime operation starts at around 6 a.m. with the “morning drive” program, followed by the mid-morning show that often runs through the noon hour. The afternoon programs generally run from 2 to 6 p.m. (known as the “afternoon drive”), when programming is broken up either into a 6 to 10 format or a 6 to midnight format. After-hours are not regulated by the FCC, and this is generally when a station offers programs that are unique and specific to their target audience.