Why radio buttons are called radio buttons in UIs?

Amit Merchant · February 11, 2022 ·

Ever since I entered into this world of user interfaces, the one thing that I always come across while working are these radio buttons.

Radio buttons illustration

Now, element names in UIs are self-describing.

  • Inputs are called inputs because we are “inputting” values in them.
  • Select dropdowns are called select dropdown because we are “selecting” something out of many options.
  • Checkboxes are called checkboxes because, well, we are “checking” multiple options presented to us.

But why the hell does radio buttons are called “radio buttons”? I always wondered. So, I dig into this.

Etymology of Radio Buttons

After some digging, here’s what I found.

Our loving radio buttons are called “radio buttons” because they are named after the physical buttons used on older radios to select preset stations – when one of the buttons was pressed, other buttons would pop out, leaving the pressed button the only button in the “pushed in” position.

Here’s a photo of one such radio where it has a row of five pop-out buttons (with text “FM”).

Old Radio Device

As you can see, the radio buttons in UIs work in a similar fashion where they are normally presented in radio groups (a collection of radio buttons describing a set of related options). Only one radio button in a group can be selected at the same time.

And hence, they are called as “radio buttons”!

Reference: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radio_button

👋 Hi there! I'm Amit. I write articles about all things web development. If you like what I write and want me to continue doing the same, I would like you buy me some coffees. I'd highly appreciate that. Cheers!

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