Learn About the History of Two-Way Radios in the Military

While it may seem commonplace to see photos of military soldiers using two-way radios from wars throughout history, that wasn't always the case. In fact, using two-way radios revolutionized the way branches of the military worked and greatly improved a soldier's chance of survival when they were deep in the trenches. Here are just a few of the most important points from the history of two-way radios in the military.

  • Before true two-way radios were used in the military, two-way telegraphy transmitters and receivers were installed in military ships. This allowed for communication between far-away ships that were out of sight of land.
  • In 1923, Senior Constable Frederick William Downie of the Victorian Police in Australia invented the first true two-way radio. This made the Victorian Police the first police force in the world to use wireless communication in its cars. Before that, police officers had to make calls from public telephone boxes.
  • Next, two-way radio equipment was installed in military aircrafts. This enabled pilots and scouts to send back observations of the ground in real time without dropping messages from above.
  • The first walkie-talkie was invented in 1940. It was called the Motorola SCR-300, and it was created by an engineering team at the Galvin Manufacturing Company, which later became Motorola. While today we think of "walkie-talkies" as handheld radios, back then, the walkie-talkie referred to a device that was carried on the soldier's back.
  • During World War II, both the Allies and the Axis forces used the first type of hand-held walkie-talkies (or radio transceivers) in their air and ground troops. It was called the AM SCR-536. While they only allowed one station to transmit messages at a time while the other station listened, they used a simple communication protocol so that others didn't interrupt one station's messages. These walkie-talkies didn't transmit audio, but they could communicate through Morse code.
  • On military ships, certain officers held the position of "radio operating officer." This meant that their sole responsibility was to handle radio messages. These positions were eliminated once voice transmission became possible.
  • After World War II, a company called Raytheon invented the AN/PRC-6. This used 13 vacuum tubes for the receiver and transmitter, plus another set of 13 vacuum tubes as spares. It also had a 24-inch antenna and an optional handset that could be connected with a 5-foot-long cable.
  • In the 1970s, the US Marines developed a squad radio to replace the AN/PRR-9 helmet mount. In 1976, Magnavox created the AN/PRC-68, which was eventually issued to the Marines and the Army in 1980. These portable "ham" radios were often abbreviated as HT, which stood for "handie talkie."
  • Today, the military still uses modernized versions of this type of walkie-talkie. Most military organizations use options like the AN/PRC-148 Multiband Inter/Intra Team Radio (MBITR), which can communicate on a variety of bands and also has encryption capabilities. These are often used in marine and aviation capacities when fixed radio mounts would be very costly.