Sunday 12 February 2012

First radio station - and first awkward presenter

How would radio stations sound now if the engineering and IT staff did all the broadcasts, rather than presenters? I suspect that the audio levels would be better, at least.

But, that is how it started really, almost ninety years to the day as I write this. Just as those who assembled the text on early web pages were techies, so were the early broadcasters.

14th February 1922 saw the launch of the first British radio station to make regular entertainment broadcasts. The station was called 2MT, broadcasting from a site near to the Marconi labs at Writtle, near Chelmsford in Essex. After many experiments, engineers sought a regular licence to transmit. Following considerable pressure, it was duly granted. A triple-stack of engineers then put down their soldering irons, put on their parkas and disappeared each Tuesday to an old nearby army hut to broadcast the first regular programmes. One gets the feeling alcohol may have been involved.  You can see the first 'broadcasting house' on the picture. It looks, actually, very much like the prefab in which my first hospital radio station was based. It's true. The 'station' closed in January 1923.

The best known on-air was Captain Peter Pendleton Eckersley.  Lots of syllables - ideal for an accapella name-check.  He had decided that radio would be for entertainment; so his performances were all about records, singing and comedy, spiced by sound effects such as the banging of milk bottles. They were generally inventive shows. Peter went on to become the Chief Engineer at the new British Broadcasting Company. Unsurprisingly though, he and John Reith, who had a rather different vision for the medium, fell out.  There was a call to HR; and Peter left. This audio offers a chance to hear Peter again in full flow. Then, hear him a few years on; telling of those early days.  Peter died in 1963.

How fascinating this all is. One sees the very seed of the debate where the BBC's 'mission to inform' is contrasted with the importance of 'audience size/populist appeal'. Also here, in Peter's own words, you witness the first 'awkward presenter'. A clearly gifted communicator who wanted to do things his way. He probably would not have stuck to a Selector log, and maybe missed an ad break or two. Or, as you hear him dismiss here the Post Office and the UK's procedural obsession, he might have turned up doing lates on LBC.

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