Radio is the technology of using radio waves to carry information, such as sound, by systematically modulating properties of electromagnetic energy waves transmitted through space, such as their amplitude, frequency, phase, or pulse width. When radio waves strike an electrical conductor, the oscillating fields induce an alternating current in the conductor. The information in the waves can be extracted and transformed back into its original form.
Radio systems need a transmitter to modulate (change) some property of the energy produced to impress a signal on it, for example using amplitude modulation or angle modulation (which can be frequency modulation or phase modulation). Radio systems also need an antenna to convert electric currents into radio waves, and radio waves into an electric current. An antenna can be used for both transmitting and receiving. The electrical resonance of tuned circuits in radios allow individual frequencies to be selected. The electromagnetic wave is intercepted by a tuned receiving antenna. A radio receiver receives its input from an antenna and converts it into a form that is usable for the consumer, such as sound, pictures, digital data, measurement values, navigational positions, etc. Radio frequencies occupy the range from a 3 kHz to 300 GHz, although commercially important uses of radio use only a small part of this spectrum.
A radio communication system requires a transmitter and a receiver, each having an antenna and appropriate terminal equipment such as a microphone at the transmitter and a loudspeaker at the receiver in the case of a voice-communication system.
Each system contains a transmitter. This consists of a source of electrical energy, producing alternating current of a desired frequency of oscillation. The transmitter contains a system to modulate (change) some property of the energy produced to impress a signal on it. This modulation might be as simple as turning the energy on and off, or altering more subtle properties such as amplitude, frequency, phase, or combinations of these properties. The transmitter sends the modulated electrical energy to a tuned resonant antenna; this structure converts the rapidly changing alternating current into an electromagnetic wave that can move through free space (sometimes with a particular polarization).
Amplitude modulation of a carrier wave works by varying the strength of the transmitted signal in proportion to the information being sent. For example, changes in the signal strength can be used to reflect the sounds to be reproduced by a speaker, or to specify the light intensity of television pixels. It was the method used for the first audio radio transmissions, and remains in use today. "AM" is often used to refer to the medium wave broadcast band (see AM radio), but it is used in various radiotelephone services such as the Citizens Band, amateur radio and especially in aviation, due to its ability to be received under very weak signal conditions and its immunity to capture effect, allowing more than one signal to be heard simultaneously.
Frequency modulation varies the frequency of the carrier. The instantaneous frequency of the carrier is directly proportional to the instantaneous value of the input signal. FM has the "capture effect" whereby a receiver only receives the strongest signal, even when others are present. Digital data can be sent by shifting the carrier's frequency among a set of discrete values, a technique known as frequency-shift keying. FM is commonly used at Very high frequency (VHF) radio frequencies for high-fidelity broadcasts of music and speech (see FM broadcasting). Analog TV sound is also broadcast using FM.
Angle modulation alters the instantaneous phase of the carrier wave to transmit a signal. It may be either FM or phase modulation (PM).