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Early Radio and Television

This page contains selected articles from old UK radio magazines dealing with the early days of radio and television.

This page contains articles dealing especially with the BBC

Articles on radio transmitters

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1925 BBC Trademark ||    1927 Sir John Reith ||   1927 Sport on the Radio ||   1927 Morning Transmissions ||   1927 Alternative Programmes
1927 Letter: BBC to make radios? ||   1927 Letter: Too much chatter and singing ||   1927 Editorial: BBC 5th birthday
1935 Morning transmissions ||   1935 B.B.C. Inquiry ||   1940 BBC Overseas Service

The start of it all From Wikipaedia: The privately owned BBC was the world's first national broadcasting organisation. It was founded on 18 October 1922 as the British Broadcasting Company Ltd. by the British General Post Office (GPO) and a group of six telecommunications companies:- Marconi, Radio Communication Company, Metropolitan-Vickers (MetroVick), General Electric, Western Electric, and British Thomson-Houston - to broadcast experimental radio services.
The first transmission was on 14 November of that year, from station 2LO, located at Marconi House, London.

To avoid competition with newspapers, Fleet Street persuaded the government to ban news programmes until 7 pm, and the BBC could only use news from wire services instead of reporting its own. By 1925, the BBC reached about 80% of Britons through a network of regional and relay stations.

On 1 January 1927, the British Broadcasting Corporation, established under a Royal Charter, and with Reith as Director-General, became successor.

Experimental television broadcasts were started in 1932 using an electromechanical 30-line system developed by John Logie Baird. Limited regular broadcasts using this system began in 1934, and an expanded service (now named the BBC Television Service) started from Alexandra Palace in 1936, alternating between an improved Baird mechanical 240 line system and the all electronic 405 line Marconi-EMI system. The superiority of the electronic system saw the mechanical system dropped early the following year.

4th November 1925 - B B C Trademark THE B.B.C. TRADE MARK: WHAT IT STANDS FOR TO-DAY.

INVESTIGATIONS which we have carried out recently disclose the fact that there is a very general misunderstanding amongst the public as to what is the real significance of the B.B.C. trade mark on wireless apparatus. In order that the present significance of this trade mark can be explained, it is necessary to trace its history from the date of the inception of the Broadcasting Company.

Those who at that time were interested in broadcasting will remember that the Post Office licence to use a wireless set was issued on the condition that the set used should be marked with the B.B.C. trade mark, which, in those days signified:
(1) That the set was of a non-radiating type approved by the Post Office ;
(2) That it was manufactured by a member of the British Broadcasting Company, and was ipso facto of British manufacture.
BBC 1925 trade mark

When the separate constructor's licence was issued, that was also conditional on the principal parts used being of British manufacture and bearing the B.B.C. mark.

Subsequently this method was proved to be impracticable, and the Post Office system of testing the sets for non-radiation was discontinued. At no period has the B.B.C. stamp been a guarantee of quality, and to-day the mark has comparatively little significance.

Under the Trade Marks Act of 1905 special trade marks are permitted by the Board of Trade to be used where any association or person 'undertakes examination of any goods in respect of origin, material, mode of manufacture, quality, accuracy, or other characteristic, and certifies the result of such examination by a. mark used in connection with such goods.'

In the case of the B.B.C. trade mark, the only significance of the mark is that it indicates that the apparatus is of British manufacture and produced by a firm which is a member of the B.B.C.

Since any bona fide British manufacturer of wireless apparatus is eligible for membership of the B.B.C. without examination as to the standard of quality of his products, the trade mark must not be regarded as implying any standard of quality.

It would be interesting to know what would be the attitude of the Board of Trade if this trade mark had been applied for now instead of at a time when it actually had an important significance, and was virtually used under the authority of the Post Office.

It might be argued that the B.B.C. is not conforming to the conditions under which such trade marks are granted to an association, and is, in consequence, not entitled to authorise the use of this mark by its members.

12th January 1927 - Sir John Reith Sir John C. W. Reith, Kt

Some Landmarks in a Striking Career

THE career of Sir John Charles Walsham Reith, Kt., M.Sc., whose knighthood was announced on New Year's Day, has many of those meteoric qualities which figure in American business fiction, but rarely in actual life.

Still on the glorious side of forty (he is only 37), Sir John finds himself, in 1927, the executive head of all broadcasting conducted in Great Britain.

Educated at the Glasgow Academy, Gresham's School, Norfolk, and at the Royal Technical College, Glasgow, Sir John Reith began his career as an apprentice, in the North British Locomotive Works, obtaining his first business berth as an engineer with S. Pearson and Son, Ltd. Then came the war, and he entered the Royal Engineers. His term of fighting was brief, for, early in 1915, when holding the rank of major, he was so badly wounded at Loos as to be incapacitated for further active service. Sir John C W Reith, Kt

In 1916 he had recovered sufficiently to take up an important commission in America, where he was placed in charge of munitions contracts on behalf of the British Government. While in America the staff under his control numbered 600 inspectors.

Returning to England in 1917 Sir Iohn was for a short period engaged on special constructional work, and at the time of the Armistice he was holding an Admiralty appointment. He then undertook the difficult and delicate task of liquidating armament and engineering contracts until 1920, when, at the age of thirty, he became general manager of the Beardmore Works at Coatbridge, near Glasgow.

First Association with Broadcasting

When, in 1922, the vast enterprise of broadcasting was just emerging from the experimental chrysalis, an extra-ordinarily happy choice on the part of the powers that were placed Sir (then Mr.) John C. W. Reith in the managerial chair of the British Broadcasting Company.

Sir John Reith is "a son of the Manse," his father being the Rev. Dr. George Reith, who for fifty years was Minister of the College Church, Glasgow. His grandfather was general manager of the Grand Trunk Railway of Canada, and subsequently for thirty years head of the Clyde Navigation Company.

During his tenure of office as managing director of the British Broadcasting Company, Sir John Reith's forceful personality has largely dominated the policy pursued at Savoy Hill ; and if that policy has not entirely escaped criticism (what constructive policy ever does?), at least it can be said that British broadcasting has erred on the side of a healthy conservatism.

Replying to the accusation that the B.B.C. has been reluctant to consider the views of listeners, Sir John Reith himself said : "If it be arbitrary to decline to broadcast anything which in our opinion might be injurious morally and intellectually then we are open to this charge."

This, in a nutshell, expresses an attitude of mind, courageous and (be it whispered) rare, which has given Britain a broadcasting prestige and dignity unexcelled in any othercountry.

Sir John Reith's present post is that of Director-General of the British Broad- casting Corporation.

9th March 1927 - Sport on the Radio

Broadcasting Sporting Events

A Regular Feature of American Programmes Now Gaining Popularity in This Country.


THE broadcasting of running commentaries of football matches by the new B.B.C. cannot but be considered as having been responsible for considerably increasing the public interest in broadcasting.

Until 1927, owing to certain arrangements made with the Press, the old B.B.C. were unable to give any running description of sporting events, and consequently the public had to be satisfied with such "stunts" as the broadcasting of the sound of the horses' hoofs as they came round Tattenham Corner on Derby Day.

Possibly we have to thank sport for giving us broadcasting at all, as America's first effort was the broadcasting of a great fight, and from this commencement broadcastmg has flourished all over the world beyond the dreams of the original promoters of that first event.

On my return from America twelve months ago I was very astonished to find that the broadcasting of sporting events was prohibited in this country, as during my three years on the other side of the Atlantic I had the opportunity of listening to many different kinds of sporting events being broadcast.

All these events were most interesting, and I found myself taking a wholesome interest in those sports of which hitherto I knew little or nothing, such as baseball and the American football game.

Broadcasting and the Press

I believe that in the past the newspapers here were afraid that this type of broadcasting would sorely affect their sales and that potential readers, having heard the running commentary of an event "over the air," would no longer purchase a paper to read its descriptive version of that event.

This did not prove to be the case in America; in fact, I believe that sales of newspapers were stimulated by the broadcasting.

There is another section of thee community which still views this form of broadcasting with alarm; this embodies the promoters of sporting events, who fear that their gate-money may he adversely affected.

There is little fear ot this, however, as at most of the bigger events there is rarely sufficient accommodation to meet the needs of all the enthusiasts that attend these affairs; they certainly will not be kept away by it mere broadcast.

Broadcasting is, therefore, at help to the less fortunate public who are unable to attend these events personally, as it enables them to obtain at least a "wireless glimpse" of the proceedings, and produces potential enthusiasts of the future.

24th August 1927 - Editorial - Morning Transmissions MORNING TRANSMISSIONS

THE suggestion has been put to us, and we strongly recommend it for consideration by the B.B.C., that the 11 o'clock morning transmissions should be reinstated in place of the change to a later hour which took place recently.

Further, we would be glad to see this transmission extended also to Saturdays, and it seems strange to us that a Saturday morning transmission has not hitherto been introduced.

It will be remembered that one of the principal reasons for the establishment of the morning transmission was to enable sets to be demonstrated to prospective customers by the trade, and it seems probable that the need for such demonstrations is just as great, if not greater, on Saturday mornings than on other days of the week.

That arrangement was made at a time when the policy of the Broadcasting Company could be more directly influenced by the trade, since the directors were mostly themselves members of the trade, but it was soon appreciated that these morning programmes were equally welcome to the private listener, and especially to hospitals.

It is largely from the hospitals that the plea now comes for reinstatement of the 11 a.m. transmission.

In broadcasting circles the topic of conversation at the time these lines appear will no doubt be the alternative programme from the new Daventry station. We cannot expect too much at first, yet we may look forward in the hope that the alternative programme will be available in the morning hours as well as the regular broadcasting periods.

07 - 09 -1927 - Letter - Alternative Programmes LETTER - B.B.C. ALTERNATIVE PROGRAMME POLICY

Sir,-Your Editorial in to-day's issue on the subject of the alternative programmes appears to me to express very accurately the state of affairs which has arisen as a result of the introduction of 5GB.

I agree with everything that you have to say regarding the service to broadcasting which the B.B.C. is unintentionally doing by compelling listeners to resort to valve sets for a choice of even two separate programmes, but the B.B.C. has been so insistent in the past on assuring the public that they intended to consider first the crystal user that it will be interesting to see what explanation they will give for the present state of affairs.
E. P.
Peterborough. August 31st, 1927

[The earliest radio reception was effectively untuned, being little more than a diode formed by a natural crystal. It was possible to tune a crystal set using a variable capacitor and an inductance (coil) - you did not actually need to buy a valve set as the letter writer assumes]

28 - 09 - 1927

28th September 1927 - Letter - Wireless sets and the B.B.C.

I notice in your issue of September 21st a letter from a Mr C R Stewart, and a reply from the British Broadcasting Corporation, where Mr Stewart suggests the B.B.C. should undertake the design and manufacture of radio receivers.

Mr Stewart, in the first instance, has no regard apparently whatsoever for the number of perfectly reputable radio set manufacturers who have invested large sums of money in research and factory equipment, nor in the number of work-people that might conceivably be thrown out of employment were his suggestion adopted and these same manufacturers put out of business.

Up to a certain point the statement from the B.B.C. which you publish is reassuring, but it would be far more satisfactory and equitable if the wireless industry had this assurance in some more permanent form. Whilst the letter which you have published is entirely satisfactory as representing the fixed policy of the B.B.C. on this important subject, and whilst this policy would, I feel sure, be generally approved as right and proper by independent judges, it should not be overlooked that the B.B.C. itself is liable to changes in administration, that a new executive might hold entirely opposite views, and that there is at present nothing in the Articles by which the Corporation is bound, to prevent the adoption by such a new executive of the very policy which the Corporation at the moment so entirely condemns.

There is certainly no doubt that when the Articles of Association were drawn up and approved, the possibility of such an action on the part of the B.B.C. must have been entirely overlooked, as otherwise it seems unlikely the way would have been left open, as it the case at the moment. However, it is not too late to remedy this matter.

In spite of the criticisms which are often very unjustly levelled at the B.B.C., they have, in an incredibly short space of time, carried out a marvellous service to the public. Only those who have heard radio in many other countries can fairly judge. Let them stick to this magnificent work, and allow the manufacturer to stick to his particular problem, which is the design and production of first-class radio apparatus at the lowest possible price and, moreover, which is equally important, backed up by service after the initial sale.

(signed) W H Lynas, Managing Director, for and on behalf of Graham Amplion Ltd. Sept 21st.

28 - 09 - 1927

28th September 1927 - Letter - B.B.C. programmes

It seems ungracious to criticise where so much is excellent, and I think than many of us feel this so strongly that the intended letter is much too often never written.

I want to say something about the preponderance of vocal over band and string music. It is very large, as a glance at the programmes for any day will show.

I have suggested to the B.B.C. that an occasional programme of band or orchestra without any vocal items at all would delight a large number of listeners.

Even if the studio did justice to the tenors, sopranos, and baritones - which most certainly it does not - it is, I am sure, an unwelcome interruption. If they were given in a separate part of the programme - part 1 or part 2 - it would then surely suit all tastes.

One day last week 5GB had a "Military Band Programme" in the afternoon. Fifteen of the items were vocal and, I think, six band music. The same proportion existed in the evening programme, and, indeed, will be found in most of the programmes from the various stations.

It may be that the majority of listeners like this, but from what I hear I do not think they do.

Then there is the "running commentary." In my humble opinion the "Royal Tournament", the "Trooping of the Colour" and the "Tidworth Tattoo" were completely ruined by the incessant chatter of the commentators. Why should they do more than just tell us what is coming and leave us to enjoy the event!

On some occasions it seemed to me that the music and the noise of the crowd were deliberately reduced so that the "talk" of the commentators should not be interfered with. I noticed this at the broadcasting of the "Trooping of the Colour".

R.T.Watkin Williams, Honiton, September 19th, 1927.

23 - 11 - 1927 23rd November 1927

The B.B.C. birthday

The B.B.C. birthday anniversary was celebrated by a special broadcast conducted by the staff of the B.B.C. The broadcast, although frivolous in itself, served to mark the completion of the fifth year of a service which, it will be admitted, has already had a pronounced influence on the everyday life of this country, and is likely in the future to take an even more important position than it has ever done in the past period of five years. Much of the work of organisation of the broadcasting service has been in the nature of experiment, and the experience gained will, it is hoped, show results in the introduction of the regional scheme. No doubt there will be criticism of the regional scheme when it comes into operation, but whatever may be said, we know that it is the outcome of very careful deliberations on the part of the broadcasting authorities, and that it is introduced in the honest endeavour to provide this country with the most efficient system of distribution of broadcasting with alternative programmes. We take this opportunity of congratulating the B.B.C. on the progress which has been made up to the present, and we look forward to a continuance of the same enthusiasm on the part of the personnel of the B.B.C., which we are confident can only result in even greater developments in the near future.

Empire Broadcasting

Writing in a recent number of the B.B.C. journal World Radio, the Chief Engineer opens his subject as follows: "Flogging a dead horse is said to be a waste of time. Flogging any horse seems to be unnecessary. In view of the continued misrepresentation of a point of view by anyone who speaks and writes on the subject, in spite of repeated official statements, I am impelled, if not to flog, at least still to continue to try and urge the Empire Broadcasting horse to pull hard along the bumpy and difficult road of real progress."

Believing that we are included amongst those whom the Chief Engineer regards as "misrepresenting a point of view in spite of repeated official statements" we fell that we cannot let these comments go by without a word in reply. Flogging a dead horse is certainly a waste of time, we agree thus far, but we never considered that the B.B.C. was dead when we did a little flogging to urge forward the endeavour to achieve Empire Broadcasting. Our point of view was that the horse was not a horse, but a rather obstinate mule which suffered from inertia, or whatever one may like to call it, and required a certain amount of judicious flogging before it would start, though we felt confident that once started it would proceed satisfactorily along its course.

How Empire Broadcasting May Develop

Now that we know the development of empire broadcasting is under way it is interesting to consider the lines along which a service is likely to develop. Direct broadcasting from the home country to all parts of the empire would be the ideal arrangement from many points of view, but if we are going to have a truly efficient service with the minimum of failures to receive the programmes, it seems probable that the service will have to be developed on the principle of a chain of stations, each link in the chain re-radiating from a transmitter at its own location with the next point in the chain. Development on these lines will, no doubt, be slow and can only come as the result of a good deal of experiment which the existence of the Chelmsford short-wave station now renders possible. If it is found necessary to relay the home transmissions then, of course, the question of the cost of conducting the relays will have to come into consideration. It would seem probable that a short-wave transmitter in this country, definitely established on a service basis for programmes to the empire, would eventually have to be financed from some source of revenue other than the licence fees of the home listeners.

8/2/1935 Morning Transmissions Breakfast Broadcasting

ONLY the fact that another shift of engineers would be required is staying the hand of the B.B.C. in the matter of early morning broadcasts.

I would direct the attention of the B.B.C. to France, Holland and Germany, where morning broadcasts are considered, like the morning milk delivery, to be part of civilised life.

1935 B.B.C. Inquiry MAY 10th, 1935
The B.B.C. Inquiry
"To consider the constitution, control and finance of the Broadcasting Service in this country and advise generally on the conditions under which the service, including broadcasting to the Empire, television broadcasting, and the system of wireless exchanges, should be conducted after December 31, 1936."

THESE are the terms of reference of the Committee appointed by the Postmaster- General which met for the first time last week.

The idea of a Committee of Inquiry is very generally associated with a necessity for rectifying mistakes or adjusting grievances, so that the first impression created by the announcement that the Government have set up a Committee of Inquiry to consider the future of Broadcasting might be that the British Broadcasting Corporation were under a cloud and that their actions during the present term of their Charter, which expires at the end of 1936, were in question.

Nothing could be further from the truth, and we anticipate that the Committee will not only recommend the continuance of broadcasting on the present lines, but will endorse whole-heartedly the general policy which has been followed hitherto.

The Committee will, it seems, have to act quite largely in the capacity of a consulting body to whom the B.B.C. can bring some of their own problems to be solved. The problems of the B.B.C., some of which amount almost to grievances to-day, probably out-balance any criticisms of the B.B.C. from outside. In particular, there is the question of finance. It has never been a secret of the B.B.C. that the task which has been entrusted to them has tended all the time to strain the financial resources of their income. Of the gross receipts from licences during 1934, less than half of the amount was made available to the B.B.C. for broadcasting purposes, only 4s 9d (24p) of the licence fee being allotted to them as their share.

The expenditure of the Corporation must inevitably grow with the expansion of their undertakings. Empire broadcasting could be extended and developed to become a far more important service than it is to-day if its progress were not being hindered through lack of funds.

The service of television about to be launched will necessitate a heavy capital expenditure before it can provide entertainment over the whole country, and the cost of programmes, too, will prove a heavy item. As we have frequently pointed out, the success of television on the technical side does not cause us much anxiety, but the programmes must be f1rstrate and sufficiently attractive to compel the interest of the public, or otherwise television will not succeed. It would be little short of a tragedy if British ingenuity, and the heavy expenditure which has been incurred in technical development of television in this country, should fail to bring reward because of insufficient funds in the hands of the B.B.C. to enable them to provide attractive programme material.

Our own interpretation, therefore, of the task before the Committee of Inquiry is that they should suggest solutions to the problems of the B.B.C. which are beyond their scope to solve domestically and, in particular, to discover what further proportion of the licence fees should go to the Corporation to meet their increasing needs, and finally to recommend the renewal of the Corporation's Charter with, in all probability, only minor, if any, modifications.

January 1940 BBC Overseas Service B.B.C. Oversea Service


IT may not be generally known how rapidly this offspring of the B.B.C. Home Service has grown during the past twelve months or so. The B.B.C.'s original Charter, granted in 1925, contemplated a service within the United Kingdom only, and it was not until 1932 that the Empire Service started. This, like the Home Service, was originally confined to transmissions in English, and it was not until the beginning of 1938 that the first foreign language transmission was undertaken by the B.B.C. To this service, which was in Arabic, were very soon added news bulletins in Spanish and Portuguese, destined for Latin America.

It was on September 27th, 1938, the day of Mr. Chamberlain's broadcast at the height of the Munich crisis, that the B.B.C.'s first transmissions to European countries were radiated. These were news bulletins in French, Italian and German, and transmissions to Spain, Portugal and South Africa in their respective tongues were added during the following year.

Since the outbreak of war many additions to the foreign language news service have been made, and the languages now used, in addition to those already mentioned, include Czech, Greek, Magyar, Polish, Rumanian, Serbo-Croat and Turkish.

Until the outbreak of war there was but one service- the Empire Service. It was, however, realised that broadcasting would play a vital role in the conflict, and that there was immediate need on the one hand of expansion of technical and programme arrangements and on the other of unification within the inevitable limits of world time differences, wavelengths and available transmitters. From the Empire Service has therefore sprung the Oversea Service, which comprises three main groups of transmission.

What virtually incorporates the Empire Service, but is more widely radiated than in peacetime, is known as the World Service, primarily in English. This aims at providing transmissions each morning and evening to all parts of the English speaking world.

Next is the European Service in which is radiated news, talks and entertainments in twelve Continental languages. The third section incorporates the Arabic service and the bulletins in Afrikaans, Greek and Turkish.

The World Service, which is radiated on short waves only, is now transmitted almost continuously throughout the twenty-four hours. The European Service, which is radiated not only on short waves, but, during the hours of darkness, also on 261.1 metres, is transmitted for nineteen hours each day.

At present the B.B.C is transmitting on 15 of the 21 frequencies which have been notified for use by the station.

At the outbreak of war, 20 news bulletins were transmitted daily in the Empire Service, whereas the number now broadcast, in 17 different languages, in the Oversea Service is 54. This vast expansion has necessitated a considerable increase in staff, which has risen from approximately 100 to 250. This number, however, does not include the Oversea Intelligence Department, which has a staff of about the same number.

Mr. J. Beresford Clark, the Assistant Controller, B.B.C. Oversea Service, explained at a recent Press Conference, at which representatives from the Empire and oversea Press were present, that a welcome feature of the B.B.C.'s World Service since the war has been the extent to which items in its programmes, especially news bulletins, talks and authoritative official pronouncements, have been retransmitted by oversea broadcasting stations. In Australia, for example, 164 of the 167 oversea items retransmitted by Australian stations during September came from the B.B.C. In Portugal, the Emissora Nacional, the official broadcasting station, has radiated the Portuguese news bulletin ever since its inception.

The Director of the Oversea Intellgence Department referred to above is Mr. Malcolm Frost. Some of the special duties of this organisation were explained by him at the Conference. The monitoring service which was referred to last month, and has a staff of nearly 100, comes under Mr. Frost's direction. So far as the oversea transmissions are concerned, one of the most important tasks of the Intelligence Section is the provision of data relating to the listening habits of the country to which it is proposed to direct transmissions. Such details as the number and types of receivers in use, and the stations normally listened to, are of vital importance. For this purpose, a team of over 1,000 voluntary co-operators throughout the world are in touch with the Intelligence Section, and are a valuable source of information on the reception and effects of B.B.C. transmissions and their counterpart in foreign propaganda.

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