The prime purpose of radio is to convey information from one place to another through the intervening media (i.e., air, space, nonconducting materials) without wires. Besides being used for transmitting sound and television signals, radio is used for the transmission of data in coded form. In the form of radar it is used also for sending out signals and picking up their reflections from objects in their path. Long-range radio signals enable astronauts to communicate with the earth from the moon and carry information from space probes as they travel to distant planets (see space exploration). For navigation of ships and aircraft the radio range, radio compass (or direction finder), and radio time signals are widely used. Radio signals sent from global positioning satellites can also be used by special receivers for a precise indication of position (see navigation satellite). Digital radio, both satellite and terrestrial, provides improved audio clarity and volume. Various remote-control devices, including rocket and artificial satellite operations systems and automatic valves in pipelines, are activated by radio signals. The development of the transistor and other microelectronic devices (see microelectronics) led to the development of portable transmitters and receivers. Cellular and cordless telephones are actually radio transceivers. Many telephone calls routinely are relayed by radio rather than by wires; some are sent via radio to relay satellites. Some celestial bodies and interstellar gases emit relatively strong radio waves that are observed with radio telescopes composed of very sensitive receivers and large directional antennas (see radio astronomy).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.