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The Invention of the Two-Way Radio

Few super spy or criminal movies or stories are complete without a two-way radio. Everyone's seen the secret agent inside a building communicating with his director positioned outside the building to convey information while awaiting confirmation to move in. Kids call them walkie-talkies and use them to play CIA agent games, but two-way radios are more than just a way for super-secret agents to communicate. In fact, sometimes they're used for much-less exciting means. That doesn't mean, however, that the history of the two-way radio isn't exciting.

Early Origins

Despite the fact that the presence of two-way communication was used as early as 1907 in military and commercial means, the first real two-way radio didn't make its appearance until 1923. Despite some controversy surrounding who really created the first two-way radio, Frederick William Downie, Senior Constable of the Victorian Police in Australia developed the first real two-way radio. This made the Victoria Police the first to use wireless communication devices in their police cars. The first two-way radio systems made it possible for police to transmit information quickly and efficiently. Their means of communication prior to the invention of the radio was to stop every half hour to call in their locations and check for updates.

Downie's adaptation of the two-way was a milestone for police. Immediate notification of crimes taking place made it possible for police officers to increase their response time. This invention is credited for saving many lives and apprehending a number of criminals. It wasn't long before police officers and emergency officials began using Downie's radio all over the world. Today, it's used everywhere.

Technological Advances

When the Victoria Police placed the first two-way radios in their police cars, they were so big they required use of the entire back seat. While this was inconvenient in regards to transporting criminals and suspects, it did help police transmit and receive information much faster. Today, the two-way radio has changed dramatically. Rather than taking up the entire back seat of any car, they are now small handheld devices that fit into the palm of a hand.

Over time, two-way radios have changed dramatically. Senior Constable Frederick William Downie adapted the first radio to make communication from both ends possible, and over time others have taken his idea and worked it so that it was more compact, more easily used and so that it can be used in longer distances. Today, two-way radios are both handheld and integrated into vehicles. A family can carry one around a cruise ship to maintain contact with friends and family once the cell phone signal is lost and an emergency vehicle comes equipped with a built-in two-way radio for transmissions.


One of the first uses of the two-way radios were for communication at sea. Ship captains and lighthouses used these radios to communicate, though the very first two-way transmissions did not go both ways. They transmitted sound to a receiver to send messages. Military personnel used these radios to ensure communication was available between land and ship as well as platoon to platoon.

Modern Two-Way Radios

Modern two-way radios are used for virtually any and everything. Children can purchase two-way radios, often referred to as walkie-talkies, for as little as a few dollars each to assist their imaginations in spy games. Ambulances, police cars and other emergency responders use them in their emergency vehicles to receive and transmit information to their departments. This information typically consists of alerting emergency officials when and where to go, what type of emergency has occurred and so that emergency officials can relay their estimated time of arrival to an emergency location.

A good example of how a modern two-way radio is used is by firefighters; while one or two enter a burning building to check the safety of the structure, they will use a two-way radio to alert the men outside the building of the interior conditions, letting them know whether or not it is safe to enter the building. However, two-way radios are not simply for emergency workers and fanciful children; they're also used by construction workers, subcontractors and many other laymen.

Last updated by Joe Wood