It couldn't be more commonplace today, but the idea that a radio signal could be both sent through the air — and received — was an astounding technological achievement. And a crucial step towards accomplishing it was taken right here in the Bay State.

The fact that you can hear WGBH News on your radio is thanks, at least in part, to an obituary. When the influential German physicist Heinrich Hertz died suddenly in 1894, the press coverage lit a spark for a brilliant young would-be inventor in Italy named Guglielmo Marconi.

"He read about a laboratory experiment in which Hertz had managed to generate some kind of electronic wave which could then be picked up on the other side of his lab," said Gavin Weightman, author of Signor Marconi's Magic Box. "And it was miraculous. That gave him the idea that you could use that for communication."

And so Marconi’s tinkering began. Retrofitting the equipment of the day — and designing his own — Marconi figured out how to send and receive radio signals. First across a mile. Then two. Eventually, even across the English Channel.

"He was intent on creating a commercial system which at one level would rival the existing electric telegraph system that already existed," Weightman said.

The world was indeed wired at the time. But cables were expensive and they broke. But if Marconi’s system was going to compete, he’d have to work out how to transmit across the vast Atlantic Ocean. In 1903, he came to Wellfleet on Cape Cod, determined to do just that.

"It was kind of an interesting time. This foreign gentleman was coming here and negotiating with the locals to buy land and supplies. It was a big deal," said Frank Messina, vice president of the Marconi Maritime Center in Chatham.

Marconi erected four huge, though crude, antennas and a transmitting station.

"What was being transmitted was not voice, but was Morse Code," Messina said. "That's all he could do, there was a long dash and a short dot.

A year earlier, Marconi had successfully sent a signal from Cornwall, England to Newfoundland in Canada. All he could manage was a single letter: S. But on January 18, 1903, Marconi broke the future wide open. From his station in Wellfleet, Marconi sent a full message — more than 300 letters — from U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt to King Edward VII in London. The era of real wireless communication had begun.

"Very quickly it became apparent that this communication system, in a addition to the business application, competing with the cable company could be something which could communicate to ships," Messina said.

Marconi’s wireless was a game changer and a lifesaver for ships. They could now communicate with each other, and with stations ashore. In 1912, as the Titanic began to sink, the distress signal sent out from it’s Marconi wireless was picked up by the RMS Carpathia, which rescued more than 700 survivors.

"After the Titanic was lost, there was an international convention, which mandated that all ships with 50 or more passengers had to have a Marconi radio," Messina said.

Breakthroughs in radio technology came fast and furious, from all quarters after 1903. As early as 1906, Reginald Fessenden was broadcasting voice and music. And while there is no shortage of trailblazers in the field, from Fessenden to Nicola Tesla, Weightman says that above them all stands Marconi.

"There’s no doubt, Marconi was the man who turned science, and a laboratory experiment into a huge successful industry," he said.

The age of wireless communication was ushered in when Guglielmo Marconi sent the first real transatlantic message through the air to England from Cape Cod right here in Massachusetts, 112 years ago this week.

An earlier version of this story erroneously cited 1901 as the year Hertz died.

If you have a forgotten tale from Massachusetts history, or if there is something you're curious about, email Edgar at curiositydesk@wgbh.org.