# Could biological radio be limited to family members?

I have a creature with high-frequency biological radio transmitted via an antenna growing from their heads. However, the creatures can only freely communicate at range with their blood relatives (mother, siblings, and direct offspring).

The result of this evolutionary design is to keep frequencies low-traffic. These creatures are numerous and could result in very busy frequencies. Also, the creatures are cannibals and want to keep outsiders from detecting their presence.

The only way to communicate for unrelated creatures is via physical contact between their antennae, which allows full communication, but only while contact is sustained. I'm not entirely sure how this would work, but it is important to their social structure.

I was planning to achieve this by making the set of frequencies a creature emits and receives nearly true-breeding genetic traits. However, I'm concerned that genetic code as we understand it does not possess enough articulation for thousands of family units to each have their own narrow bandwidth.

Is blood-limited biological radio feasible, and how could I incorporate the contact-based outside communication element?

As a bonus, ideally, this bandwidth would "shrink" as the creatures age, so that an older creature would lose the ability to freely communicate with siblings/parents and could only communicate with offspring. This is an evolved trait to encourage the fledglings to leave their family unit. If the feasibility of this could be worked into an answer, that would be helpful as well.

• (1) Earth biology cannot make high-frequency radio. (2) Which means that those creatures belong to an extra-terrestrial world. (3) Extra-terrestrial biology will most surely have some weird and wonderful extra-terrestrial mechanism for encoding heritable traits. (4) Epigenetics is a real thing, especially for traits transmitted down the maternal line. Oct 21, 2022 at 17:56
• "Also, the creatures are cannibals and want to keep outsiders from detecting their presence." Then they probably shouldn't have a radio transmitter in their heads. Even if the messages aren't intelligible to a non-family member, they can still be detected. Oct 21, 2022 at 19:40
• Please remember that you are allowed one and only one question per post. Asking more than one question (you're asking two excluding the bonus: is it feasible and how to incorporate the contact-based element) is an actual reason to close questions. (Click "Close" and read "Needs More Focus.")
– JBH
Oct 22, 2022 at 2:16

# Sounds Fine

Biological radio is hard to believe. But taking it for granted, then it is easy to believe every person has something like a barcode in their head, and their brain can only decode radio from someone with a similar barcode.

This is instead of having different families on different wavelengths. You have them all on the same wavelength, but they just encode and decode differently.

There is no reason this barcode has to be genetic. But if you want it to be genetic the human genome has 3 billion base pairs, and 100 base pairs is already enough for $$100^4 = 100,000,000$$ different barcodes.

Another option is that biological radio is so hard to understand that only babies can do it. Babies are much better at learning language than grownups. Once they are over a year old they cannot learn anymore. This means they can only understand the people they grew up with. They would also understand adoptive siblings for example even if there was no blood relation -- if the sibling was adopted when one of them was a newborn.

As a bonus, ideally, this bandwidth would "shrink" as the creatures age, so that an older creature would lose the ability to freely communicate with siblings/parents and could only communicate with offspring.

This is explained by the outgoing bio-radio accumulating more errors for older people. They acquire a psychic slur as they age. Eventually your parents are so slurred you cannot understand them. Later on they cannot understand you. But then you have your own baby and they learn your own brand of error-ridden radio and you are good for a while at least.

Just one thing- time-slice sharing implies that the creatures have a system of organizing their communication. Ideally, my creatures don't know others are communicating at all unless the other is within the family. Does that complicate things?

Have it so the air is always full of unidentifiable psychic chatter. Everyone can hear everyone else on the planet. But they cannot identify which chatter is coming from whom, or whether any of the strangers in the same room are currently speaking.

• "They would also understand adoptive siblings for example even if there was no blood relation." Under this premise, this would only be true if the adoption took place early enough for the adoptive ones to learn the "family language". Adopt a child orphaned at six, they're forever locked out of family meetings. Oct 21, 2022 at 18:31
• Just to confirm, if all signals were on the same wavelength, and the difference was coding/decoding, would the creatures not have a problem with a busy signal? I.e. if there are 20 creatures in a small space all sending out/receiving their own signals, would they all be able to easily do so? Oct 21, 2022 at 18:33
• @ZeissIkon You're right. One of them has to be a newborn for this to work. So an eight year old child whose brother was adopted at age six will not be able to understand each other. Oct 21, 2022 at 18:33
• @MarkPrice Cell phones do this all the time. A combination of frequency agility (with a well defined band) and time-slice sharing is all that's needed; both are WWII technology if done by machines. Oct 21, 2022 at 18:35
• @MarkPrice I believe modern wireless technology is good at that sort of thing. Oct 21, 2022 at 18:35

This is a honking mess if you really want to stick to some semblance of Real Life physics and physionomics1

Assuming for no reason other than convenience that you have two parents that come from two unrelated (or so distantly related they might as well be unrelated) families. Each parent brings that family's intrinsic frequency with them. Those intrinsic frequencies would be, for the purposes of this analysis, random. Let's stay sane and suggest that the genetic frequency spectrum is the FM-Radio spectrum. So parent A comes with, oh, 89Mhz and parent B comes with 102Mhz.

Problem #1: Neither parent can really communicate with each other. If they can, then just about everybody can communicate with each other. We've already violated the basic premise of your question.

Problem #2: The way genetics as we understand it works, Their children might broadcast on 89Mhz, or 102Mhz, or on a frequency one of the grandparents or an even more distant ancestor broadcast on, like 107Mhz. My point is, we're already throwing everything we know about how life works out the window just to make the premise of your question work. This is because the only thing "natural" about radio is the use of the electromagnetic spectrum.

So, while you want something "feasible" in terms of how radio works, we're already throwing out whatever might be "feasible" in terms of how life works. So asking if bio-radio is "feasible" isn't valuable as we pretty much need to ignore the biological foundation it would be built on just to get the result you're looking for.

So let's ignore that aspect of your question and simply invite the alternative question, "how could I use something that sounds like Real Life to explain my bio-radio behavior?"

That we can do!

Carrier Frequencies, Modulation and Notch Filters

Over-simplifying radio to the point that angels weep, radio is comprised of carrier frequencies, modulation, and notch filters.

• A Carrier Frequency is the frequency you tune you radio to. If your favorite radio station is on 94.8Mhz, that's the carrier frequency. In your world, once your progenitor or progenitors become established as a "family," there is a single carrier frequency. There's something2 pre-procreation that shifts the carrier frequency a child received from their parents just a little bit.3 This is important so that directly-related but distant relations can't talk to one another. So the further out vertically in the family tree you are, the harder it is to hear someone. (It's important to integrate a very minute shift of carrier frequency for each child. Close enough so that during the majority of their life it can be said they all have the same carrier frequency. You'll see why below.)

• Modulation is the imposition of one signal onto the carrier frequency. If you don't know what that means, draw yourself a big, wide sine-wave on a piece of paper. Now trace over it, but as you do, wiggle the pencil up and down. Congratulations! You just learned how radio basically works. You "tune in" to the carrier frequency, then extract it. The result is the signal superimposed on it. Personally, I think the signal you just extracted from the carrier wave (called demodulation) is Johnny Rivers' Rockin' Pneumonia. Yeah, Baby! Why is modulation important? Because how something is modulated matters. There are different methods. Don't worry about what they are! There's no way on the planet that biological modulation can work the way radio modulation does. But a chromosomal-based modulation is something I think hits suspension-of-disbelief. The specific mix of chromosomes sets the modulation. Because the chromosomal mix between siblings is close, they can hear each other clearly. But it separates with the introduction of new chromosomes. Which means cousins have trouble hearing each other. And the further out horizontally in the family tree you are, the harder it is to hear someone.4

• A notch filter is one of a number of methods of blocking signals from carrier waves you don't want to deal with. Demodulating multiple carrier waves is a nightmare. Think about trying to listen to multiple radio stations all at once, clear as a bell. It's not like trying to have a conversation in a crowded room because that noise decreases with distance. Multiple radio stations don't. Yeah. Bad. In Real Life notch filters aren't perfect which is why stations are allowed to operate only at specific, intentionally separated frequencies.5 But the basic premise of a notch filter is that all signals from frequencies outside of the notch can't be heard. This is your aging modifier. As a person ages, the notch gets narrower. Remember when I said each sibling had a unique carrier frequency that was a minute shift from, let's call it... "true center?" If the individual gets old enough, the notch filter grows so narrow that they can't hear anybody. They become "telepathically" deaf. But this isn't all!!! The cool thing about a notch filter is that you can have individuals born with a "disorder." They're notch filter is unusually wide, which means they can hear other transmissions with the same problems we would have trying to listen to multiple radio stations simultaneously. Such people may never grow out of this and would, perhaps, be maddened all their lives. Others might have a naturally narrowing notch filter that would allow them to hear their siblings in old age.

That was ugly... summary time!

• Children have a carrier frequency that's a minor shift from the parent's carrier frequency. It's inside the notch filter. These slight shifts eventually fall outside the carrier-frequency-centered notch filter of ancestors, prohibiting communication after too many generations (forward or backward).

• Children have a chromosome-based modulation to the carrier frequency. As the mix of chromosomes become too separated (cousins, 2nd cousins, etc.) the ability to demodulate the signal decreases. Get too far away (5th cousin?) and you can't understand what you're hearing at all—if it was near enough to your carrier frequency in the first place.

• Everyone had a notch filter that excludes everyone outside the family. People can be born with too-wide a notch filter, allowing them to hear multiple conversations/families at once, driving them mad. They could also be born with too narrow a notch filter, causing them to become "deaf" to family members at a young age. The notch filter narrows as the individual ages, excluding one generation after another and one set of cousins after another until the individual becomes deaf.

And that's as close as I would recommend getting to real radio broadcasting in a biological context based on the premises of your question.

No, it's impossible for biological radio to ever exist. The selection of frequency, filtering, and the act of modulating are synthetic concepts that can't be replicated by biology in any way. Note that I am NOT saying telepathy cannot exist, which may use the electromagnetic spectrum. But that's something else entirely that has nothing at all to do with the human invention of R.A.D.I.O. ("Rural Area Delivery of Information and Organization," didn't know it was an acronym, did you?).

1Yup, I just invented a new word. Think of it as a squishy-squashy mashup of Physiology and Economics. I define it as, "the price you pay to be who you are." I'm liking it the more I think about it. ©2022 JBH. Trademark pending. No touchy!

2Like puberty, but don't use puberty. You need something that defines the moment of becoming a family that shifts the carrier frequency away from what the carrier frequency was for the progenitor's parents. I'll explain all that in the main body of the post, just know that you need some other event (call it a "second puberty") that precedes the ability to procreate and allows procreation that establishes this shift in the carrier frequency.

3OK, ignore footnote #2. The minor shift from parent to child solves the problem and you no longer need a pre-procreation, post-puberty event. At least it does if you completely ignore trying to use specific frequencies! Remember when I told you to not actually try to use Real Life? If you try to work out how the child of parents A with frequency X marries a child of parents B with frequency Y who together create a grandchild with, what, frequency Z? This whole process fails really, really, really fast if you try to use specifics. Don't use specifics. Just define the world rules in terms of "Real Life Radio" and move on with your story.

4You could have a LOT of fun with this. Over modulation has another name: noise. Static is nothing more than chaotic modulation on the carrier frequency. A family reunion could really stink because of all the static!

5There are reasons other than that, too, but we're ignoring them. Simplifying... angels weeping... you get the picture.

• This is massively helpful. For what it’s worth, the offspring do not need to understand both parents, only their mother, and mating doesn’t require complex communication for these creatures. Someone mentioned epigenetics in a comment, which may close a few holes on that end, but I’m also realizing how little of these mechanics I can actually go into in my story anyway without it getting bloated. Oct 22, 2022 at 7:36
• You are absolutely correct. Meta post: Why asking for the details isn't always a good idea.
– JBH
Oct 22, 2022 at 7:48