The History of Walkie Talkies

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Trackitt UK

 There was a time when the two-way radio was one of the most cutting-edge technological advancements to be available to consumers. Before becoming a more specialized piece of equipment, when the walkie-talkie was invented it was one of the most advanced pieces of technology available to the military. 

Nowadays the two-way radio is viewed as a vital part of kit which mostly allows for employees to communicate on sites. However, this was not the case when walkie-talkies were first invented. They were a core part of how the military operated. There remain numerous uses for two-way radios in the current day, although many of their original functions have been usurped by the mobile phone. There is some debate over when the walkie-talkie was invented, but most accounts date the invention back to the 1930s. 

 

Who Invented the Walkie-Talkie?

The first iteration of the two-way radio was titled the “packset” and was invented by Donald Lewes Hings, CM MBE in 1937. Don Hings was a Canadian inventor born in England. There were a number of people and companies working on similar devices at the time, as the world was figuring out the numerous applications of radio waves. What came to be known more commonly as the “Walkie Talkie”, the “packset” was originally designed for pilots to effectively maintain contact with one another. The invention seemed to come at just the right time with World War II looming just around the corner.

It was during the war when it became evident just how useful these “Walkie Talkies” could be. Being able to instantly communicate over long distances whilst still allowing for mobility completely changed the dynamic of communication. At the start of the war, the devices being used were made of metal, could weigh upwards of five pounds, and were about 17 inches tall. Iterative advancements in form factor were made afterward with their continued use.

During the war, there was a period of intense research and development with the Model C-58 Pack Set emerging as the device which garnered the most widespread use and earned iconic status. This was a fantastically well-designed machine both in terms of performance and production, with tens of thousands of units being produced. Some of the features championed by the C-58 included a range of antennas and power supplies, privacy measures in the form of voice scramblers, and even a filter to reduce the noises emerging from battlegrounds so that messages could be easily interpreted despite gunfire and noisy vehicle engines.

Galvin Manufacturing was a big name in the two-way radio industry during this time and made its fame with the acclaimed Motorola, the car radio. This company pioneered two major developments in the technology, the handie-talkie in 1940, as well as creating the FM-band two-way radio technology. These first saw use in police cars in 1941, and shortly afterward in the war on the battlefield in 1943.

Giving soldiers the ability to coordinate whilst separated was truly a game-changing innovation in warfare and became a vital part of how soldiers would be organized in the battlefield. This piece of innovative technology being a part of the war likely saved countless lives simply through them being able to communicate more efficiently. . However, it was in the consumer market where the two-way radios really began to thrive.

Consumers

Before really hitting widespread adoption by consumers in the 1970s and 1980s, walkie-talkies were already being used by a number of children for toys, and by businesses which required a lot of coordination and communication within a geographic location. One particular industry which had almost immediate widespread adoption was the truck and lorry driving industry.

Regulation in the US for unlicensed frequencies and channels started being introduced in 1977, although the idea had been around since as early as 1967. In the UK, similar licensing regulations were put into place throughout the 70’s to the point where Ofcom’s regulation of the radio wavebands and channels are today. With the introduction of mobile phones, the usage of two-way radios started to become a more niche necessity, made particularly true by the introduction of smartphones as of 2005. Nowadays the landscape is much more different, although their importance to the people who use them cannot be understated.  

Current Day Two-Way Radios

The two-way radios of today certainly have a lot of unrecognizable features compared to their older counterparts. Be it lone worker protection features, GPS location tracking, Fire panel alert integration, VOIP Telephone system interconnects or text messaging, there has certainly been a lot of progress since the first “packset”.

Their efficiency in terms of distance covered and the clarity of signal has also improved. In terms of usage, they are still being used by a variety of businesses who need constant and instant communication, especially in areas without Wi-Fi or mobile network coverage, and friends or families separated by distance.