A Science Odyssey Radio Transmission

How Radio Waves Are Emitted: Part II

Diagram of atoms within a wire with electrons between them and circles around the wire representing an electromagnetic field

Back to our radio signal. The electrons in our wire are moving, but not in one direction. These electrons are moving back and forth.

Actually, the wave displayed in the activity is a representation of the back and forth movement of electrons. If the wave has a frequency of 200,000 Hz (cycles per second), the electrons in the wire are moving back and forth 200,000 times a second.

When electrons move in a wire, an electromagnetic field is created around that wire. There's no magic behind this; it's just the way things work.

Just as the electrons move in the wire, they move in the transmitter's antenna. And just as an electromagnetic field is created around the wire, a field is created around the antenna.

But there is a difference between the wire and the antenna. The wire is shielded (surrounded by another wire) to keep the electromagnetic field in. The antenna, on the other hand, is designed to radiate the electromagnetic field.

The electromagnetic field travels from the antenna in all directions and at the speed of light. It travels until it hits your radio's antenna as well as hundreds of other receiving antennas.

And what happens at the receiving antenna? Just as a current in a wire produces an electromagnetic field, an electromagnetic field produces current in a wire (or antenna). This current is then amplified and processed by the radio.

The Early Years of Radio

FM vs AM: What's the Difference?

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