Radio technology: Receiving without the ability to transmit

Scenario: In my alternate-Earth scenario, Europeans did not colonize the Americas. They use navigation only to circumnavigate Africa and go to India. Maybe they know there is something to the West, but they don’t want to go there for some reason. Anyway, science keeps progressing and they discover the Radio technology. Problem: I would like the Europeans to discover the Radio and transmit information to the American civilizations, but only as a one-way transmission. In other words, the Americans are able to receive the radio transmissions, but they are not able to transmit it themselves. This is important in my scenario, because I want the Americans to learn the English language (or equivalent ‘franca’ language) without the need to both civilizations get directly in touch. Probably other civilizations will benefit from it (Indians, Chinese), but in this case they have an established relationship with the Europeans, which the Americans don’t have.

Scenario: In my alternate-Earth scenario, Europeans did not colonize the Americas. They use navigation only to circumnavigate Africa and go to India. Maybe they know there is something to the West, but they don’t want to go there for some reason. Anyway, science keeps progressing and they discover the Radio technology.

Problem: I would like the Europeans to discover the Radio and transmit information to the American civilizations, but only as a one-way transmission. In other words, the Americans are able to receive the radio transmissions, but they are not able to transmit it themselves.

This is important in my scenario, because I want the Americans to learn the English language (or equivalent ‘franca’ language) without the need to both civilizations get directly in touch. Probably other civilizations will benefit from it (Indians, Chinese), but in this case they have an established relationship with the Europeans, which the Americans don’t have.

Add Comment
1 Answer(s)

There are other potential issues with your scenario, such as CrossRoads brings up in another answer. If I recall, the Germans actually tried to see if the English were using radar technology in World War 1, but they were not checking in the same band that the English were transmitting, so their engineers reported back that their enemies were not using radar technology yet.

But you suggest this is a modern (or at least closer to it) time and technology, so I will ignore the other issues for a moment and just assume that both sides have some radio capability and that they either randomly happen to be using the same frequency ranges or that they are tuning into ranges they’ve found each other to be using (like SETI searches/tunes to other stars looking for life)…

The answer to you question is that, yes, you can have the ability to receive without having the ability to transmit. There could be multiple reasons for that, and any 1 or more of them could be thwarting your Americans simultaneously.

    Transmitting takes more power. This is my favorite for you, as all you have to do is say that the Americans don’t have the ability to transmit all the way across the ocean. That is easier than saying they cannot transmit at all.

    The signals can be highly directional. This is related to power, but it deserves its own mention. Maybe the Europeans figured out earlier how to send directional signals so that they could send at reduced power.

    Though the physics behind transmitting and receiving is similar, and you can use the same antenna to do both, the hardware to send and receive need not be the same. You can make one without having the other.

    Did the Americans even make it themselves? If you want to keep to history and say that the Europeans were technologically a bit more advanced, you could have the Americans find a European radio receiver washed up on shore.

    Maybe the Americans don’t even have an electrical power source at all. Maybe they just stumbled onto a way to passively collect the signals and don’t even understand how it works. Picture a cartoonish funny-looking huge receiver connected to the good old string and cup telephone method.

    The list could go on, but the point is yes, there are many ways that the Americans would be able to hear the European broadcasts but either not be able to broadcast back or at least not have the Europeans be able to receive the broadcasts back.

    Here is another possibly realistic one: the Americans have developed more sophisticated radio technology, but the Europeans have developed better power technology. This also helps with the “but they’re probably not on the same channel” arguments. Let’s say the Americans have developed radio technology that lets them scan and search for intelligent life on other planets continents, but their electrical power technology is much more limited. The Europeans have developed powerful batteries or other means of pumping a lot of power through their very limited radios. If the Americans transmit with very low power and/or Europeans have not developed good amplifiers, then in this scenario too you can get what you want. Though the Americans can probably transmit over very short distances in this one.

Another argument against the “they aren’t going to be on the same frequency” challenge is this: we use very narrow frequency ranges for communications now, but that was not always the case. The ranges used to be a lot wider. Before techniques were developed for tuning into a specific frequency, receivers would be receiving across an entire large band. If the transmit and receive devices are both operating on very, very loose bands, the likelihood they will overlap is greatly increased. If they have the technology to limit themselves to narrow bands, then they probably also have the tech to scan over the band and look for communications.

OP did not specify what level of technology this is, only that there are radio communications. And OP should not need to specify that, especially since there is no science-based tag. It is sufficient to say “They have the tech to do this, but not that,” and to change their mind to suit the needs of the world building.

Add Comment

Your Answer

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.