# How Radio Works by Marshall Brain

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4 A cell phone is also a radio and is a much more sophisticated device (see How Cell Phones Work for details). A cell phone contains both a transmitter and a receiver, can use both of them simultaneously, can understand hundreds of different frequencies, and can automatically switch between frequencies. Here are some of the important characteristics of a typical analog cell phone: Modulation: Frequency Modulation (FM) Frequency range: 800 MHz Number of frequencies: 1,664 (832 per provider, two providers per area) Transmitter power: 3 watts A typical cell phone contains both a transmitter and a receiver, and both operate simultaneously on different frequencies. A cell phone communicates with a cell phone tower and can transmit 2 or 3 miles (3-5 km). Simple Transmitters You can get an idea for how a radio transmitter works by starting with a battery and a piece of wire. In How Electromagnets Work, you can see that a battery sends electricity (a stream of electrons) through a wire if you connect the wire between the two terminals of the battery. The moving electrons create a magnetic field surrounding the wire, and that field is strong enough to affect a compass. Let's say that you take another wire and place it parallel to the battery's wire but several inches (5 cm) away from it. If you connect a very sensitive voltmeter to the wire, then the following will happen: Every time you connect or disconnect the first wire from the battery, you will sense a very small voltage and current in the second

5 wire; any changing magnetic field can induce an electric field in a conductor -- this is the basic principle behind any electrical generator. So: The battery creates electron flow in the first wire. The moving electrons create a magnetic field around the wire. The magnetic field stretches out to the second wire. Electrons begin to flow in the second wire whenever the magnetic field in the first wire changes. One important thing to notice is that electrons flow in the second wire only when you connect or disconnect the battery. A magnetic field does not cause electrons to flow in a wire unless the magnetic field is changing. Connecting and disconnecting the battery changes the magnetic field (connecting the battery to the wire creates the magnetic field, while disconnecting collapses the field), so electrons flow in the second wire at those two moments. Simple Transmitters: Make Your Own To create a simple radio transmitter, what you want to do is create a rapidly changing electric current in a wire. You can do that by rapidly connecting and disconnecting a battery, like this: When you connect the battery, the voltage in the wire is 1.5 volts, and when you disconnect it, the voltage is zero volts. By connecting and disconnecting a battery quickly, you create a square wave that fluctuates between 0 and 1.5 volts. A better way is to create a continuously varying electric current in a wire. The simplest (and smoothest) form of a continuously varying wave is a sine wave like the one shown below:

7 Frequency Modulation - FM radio stations and hundreds of other wireless technologies (including the sound portion of a TV signal, cordless phones, cell phones, etc.) use frequency modulation. The advantage to FM is that it is largely immune to static. In FM, the transmitter's sine wave frequency changes very slightly based on the information signal. Once you modulate a sine wave with information, you can transmit the information! Receiving an AM Signal Here's a real world example. When you tune your car's AM radio to a station -- for example, 680 on the AM dial -- the transmitter's sine wave is transmitting at 680,000 hertz (the sine wave repeats 680,000 times per second). The DJ's voice is modulated onto that carrier wave by varying the amplitude of the transmitter's sine wave. An amplifier amplifies the signal to something like 50,000 watts for a large AM station. Then the antenna sends the radio waves out into space. So how does your car's AM radio -- a receiver -- receive the 680,000-hertz signal that the transmitter sent and extract the information (the DJ's voice) from it? Here are the steps:

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