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Rufus P. Turner: An Early Expert and Proponent of the Radio, the U.S.’s Widest Reaching Medium

This profile on Rufus Paul Turner is the seventh post in a month-long series of profiles on Black STEM innovators in honor of Black History Month. Today’s post also celebrates World Radio Day, by focusing on Turner, an author, professor, and radio engineering expert. Read the next post in the series on Velma P. Scantlebury, M.D., the first black female transplant surgeon in the U.S. in honor of National Organ Donor Day.

There is still much to be learned about radio waves, as shown in recent news by scientists who’ve detected unidentified extraterrestrial radio waves delivered in a pattern from nearly a billion light-years away. Though more research needs to be conducted on these celestial signals, much of what we do know about radio waves is credited to Rufus Paul Turner.

Born in 1907, Turner began his career early in his life. At age 15 Turner began experimenting with crystals, an essential part of early radios, and wrote the first of his many articles about radio electronics when he was just 17 years-old1.

Turner continued to write about crystal diodes until the transistor was invented in 1948 which inspired him to create his own crystal-powered radios. Turner used his experience in inventing his own radios to write articles, including two that received wide acclaim:  “Build a Transistor” published in Radio-Electronics and “Transistors Probable With a Punch” published in Popular Electronics1.

After earning a B.A. in English from Los Angles State College (now California State University at Los Angeles) in 1958 and a master’s in English at the University of Southern California, Turner was hired as an English professor at Los Angles State College1. While teaching at this college, Turner was also taking master’s classes at the University of Southern California where he graduated with a PhD in English in 19661,2.

Turner wrote almost 3,000 articles and 40 books, most of which were on the technology behind radios, though he also wrote on other topics such as technical writing, and worked in a variety of technical roles including in the electronics and aerospace industries over his entire career1,2.

Turner’s incessant curiosity and desire to share his knowledge with anyone interested, readied the next generation of radio enthusiasts and technical professionals to continue the development of the radio, which is still considered the widest reaching medium in the U.S. today3.

References:

  1. Fikes, R. (2007, January 23). Rufus P. Turner (1907-1982). Retrieved from https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/turner-rufus-p-1907-1982/.
  2. Hackaday. (2020, February 13). Do You Know Rufus Turner?. Retrieved from https://hackaday.com/2016/02/15/do-you-know-rufus-turner/.
  3. Statista. (2020, February 13). Radio’s Unparalleled Reach. Retrieved from https://www.statista.com/chart/3589/weekly-reach-of-media-platforms/.