Marconi set up an experimental transmitting station at Poldhu Point, not far from The Lizard and Mullion in Cornwall. Here he built very large aerial systems that would be required to send his signal as far as possible - the aim was to send his radio signals across the Atlantic - the great "Atlantic Leap". One of the first aerial systems was circular in structure, but this was damaged by gales. Another type of aerial system was fan shaped, shown on the right. The transmitter was a simple, but powerful, spark gap type that essentially produced clicks that could convey the Morse Code.
At this time it was not possible to transmit actual sounds such as voice or music by radio waves.
The 12th December 1901 marked Marconi's very first trans-Atlantic transmission involved sending the letter S in Morse Code from his station on the cliff at Poldhu. This radio signal was received by Marconi at Signal Hill in Newfoundland, using a large antenna about 600 feet long suspended from a kite. The signal heard was just the three faint clicks dot dot dot that denote the letter S in Morse Code. After much more development work Marconi's radio system would provide the world with one of the most important communication tools known to mankind.
Marconi's work was a tremendous achievement and over the next few years Marconi's wireless telegraphy sets, which used Morse Code, were fitted to many to ocean going ships so that they could communicate with wireless telegraphy stations on the mainland.
Machrihanish Radio Station and Reginald Aubrey Fessenden: In December 1905 and unrelated to Marconi's experiments, the Machrihanish Radio Station was built at Uisaed Point, on the Kintyre peninsula, Scotland. The station was funded by the National Electric Signalling Company of Washington (NESCO), USA. Another very similar station was constructed at Brant Rock, Massachusetts, USA (Pictured on a postcard, shown right). The two sites were used for experimental trans-Atlantic radio transmissions.
These experiments were conducted by the Canadian inventor, Reginald Aubrey Fessenden (October 6, 1866 - July 22, 1932) using Continuous Wave (CW) and Morse Code. However the experiments were not especially successful due to difficult propagation between Scotland and the USA at that time. The 450 foot tall guyed mast at Machrihanish stood for twelve months until it collapsed in a gale in December 1906. It was not rebuilt.
Since 1900, Fessenden had also been experimenting with voice transmissions, rather than CW and Morse Code radio telegraphy. These experiments with voice would likely have used amplitude modulation (AM), but were not carried out at Machrihanish station. Rather than spark gap transmitters and coherer receivers Fessenden developed alternative methods of transission and reception, more suited to sound broadcasting. His experiments included the use of a Bartetter Detector, an Electrolytic Detector using nitric acid. Fessenden also worked on the Heterodyne principle of producing signals. However it was not until the invention of the Thermionic Valve ('Vacuum Tube') in 1906 that the oscillating heterodyne principle of producing a stable signal a realistic and practical possibility.
Although not corroborated, it is reported that Fessenden managed to transmit the first sound (voice) broadcast from the station at Brant Rock on December 24th 1906. The transmission being received by a number of ships on the Atlantic Ocean a few hundred miles away which had been equipped with Fessenden's experimental radio demodulator, .
The ships had been alerted by radio telegraph (Morse Code) that the sound transmission was about to be made. The transmission is said to have included Fessenden reading a passage from the Bible and also playing O Holy Night on the violin. (These stories are somewhat controversial as there does not appear to be any solid evidence and independent corroboration, for example from other monitoring radio operators). [Reference] [Reference]
The Sinking Of The Titanic: Returning to continuous wave spark gap transmitters; Marconi's wireless telegraphy system saved the lives of over 700 passengers aboard the Titanic which sank in April 1912. The distress calls were sent out to near-by shipping using the Marconi apparatus and were received by the Carpathia which was to effect a rescue. Marconi's work was widely credited for saving the lives of hundreds of people. The military also found a use for the wireless equipment which was used during the First World War.
2MT Writtle (Near Chelmsford, Essex)
It was the invention of the Thermionic Valve, by Flemming and De Forest, in 1906 that allowed Marconi to eventually produce a reliable 'Carrier Wave' that could be 'modulated' so that voice and music could be transmitted, rather than the spark-gap transmitters that had been used to produce the dots and dashes used by the Morse Code signals that had hitherto been employed. Using this new method of modulating the carrier wave enabled Marconi to transmit speech and music from his experimental station 2MT in 1920.
Marconi sited this experimental station, 2MT, in an ex army hut at Writtle, Essex . The station was initially allowed to transmit its test transmissions for only half an hour a week.
Dame Nellie Melba made one of the first broadcasts from 2MT at 7.10 pm on 15th June 1920. Consisting of a concert of opera music to entertain the listeners, the broadcast opened with a recital of Home Sweet Home and finishing with the national anthem. Those early wireless listeners - the early radio amateurs - heard the broadcasts from Chelmsford to Paris, Madrid and Berlin.
Two years later, on 14th February 1922, 2MT in Writtle would commence broadcast daily half hour programmes of news and entertainment which lasted for a period of nearly three years. Listeners could tune in using crystal sets, the simplest form of radio receiver that required no external power or batteries. All that powers the headphones of a crystal set is the energy collected from its aerial which is derived from the radio waves sent by the transmitter of the radio station to which the set is tuned.
Above: Marconi's 2MT station in Writtle in a old army hut
Captain Peter Eckersley was the first engineer at 2MT in Essex. and also became an on-air announcer. Eckersley found that he had a flair for radio broadcast entertainment and put on many performances, along with his small team of colleagues, from the studio in the old army hut. The programmes would consist of records, spoofs, plays and other music. Peter Eckersley on 2MT
By May 1922, seeing the commercial potential of radio broadcasting, Marconi's company was in talks with wireless set manufactures and other interested organizations to set up more broadcasting stations around the country under an umbrella organization called the British Broadcasting Company (BBC).
The main companies involved in the creation of the British Broadcasting Company and guaranteeing its finances for an initial period of two years were The Marconi Co; The General Electric Co; The Radio Communications Co; Metropolitan Vickers Co; Western Electric Co and The British Thompson-Houston Company. Their joint mission was, of course, to make money from the sale of radio sets - and people would only want to buy into this exciting new technology if there were wireless programmes to listen to.
Captain Peter Eckersley
A very early Marconi transmitter at the 2MT station in Writtle, Essex.2LO LONDON
1923 Wireless Maps of Great Britain
Ken Baird of DX Archive http://www.dxarchive.com/mw alerted us to two fascinating Philips' Wireless Maps of Great Britain produced by The Wireless Press Limited.
Source: Ken Baird of DX Archive
FULL SIZE Version (5000 pixels wide) here - http://www.dxarchive.com/mw/map_radio_map_of_britain.html
The map, above left, does not have a specific production date, but if the information on the map was up to date when printed, the printing date must be somewhere after the start of 5SC in March 1923 and before the start 2BD on 10th October 1923.
The maps show broadcasting stations such as the famous 2LO station; commercial (utility) stations; aviation stations; direction finding stations along with amateur radio and experimental stations.
1924 to 1926 - The Empire Chain of Transmitters
In 1910 the idea of the Imperial Wireless Chain was first suggested. However construction of the stations did not commence until 1924, by which time the stations would be known as The Empire Chain. Marconi was involved in establishing these long distance communications using transmitting stations and sister receiving stations throughout the British Isles.
The stations handled the transmission of ship-to-shore messages, International news, telegrams, telephony, telegraphy and early facsimile (Press Pictures) throughout the British Empire across the globe. These were utility stations providing communication links around the world, rather than broadcast radio stations that the general public would listen to.
Built for the General Post Office, the chain of stations included one of the original experimental sites at Leafield, plus later additional sites at Rugby, Criggion, Ongar, Portishead, and Bodmin (the first of Marconi's 'Beam Stations') - all operating on the 3 - 30 MHz short wave (H.F.) bands.
The stations were built by Marconi using a T shaped towers placed in two circles, one supporting the aerials for High Frequency transmission and the other towers supporting the aerials for Low Frequency operation. For example, Rugby used 16kHz, the transmitter output power was up to 500,000 Watts (1950's). Marconi also built a transmitting station at Dorchester, for their own use, known locally as the 'Dorchester Beam Station', with a receiving station at Somerton.
Beam wireless stations provided considerable competition for the existing, privately owned, under-sea cable companies. To avoid the financial collapse of the submarine cable companies, a merger took place with the wireless stations in 1929 to form Cable and Wireless Limited.
The Empire Chain later became the External Telecommunications Executive (ETE), under the formation of the General Post Office (GPO) (now sadly all disappeared). These stations closed many years ago. [Thank you to Peter Atwell for providing additional information and links to further material below.]
Returning to public broadcasting stations - 1924 saw more expansion with the opening of 5PY Plymouth on 28th March, the 2EH Edinburgh relay of 5SC on May 1st and in June stations 6LV and 2LS were opened to bring a relay of 2ZY to Liverpool and Leeds/Bradford. On September 15th 1924 BBC Belfast, 2BE, was opened. Other relay stations were also opened; 6KH in Hull; 5NG in Nottingham; 2DE in Dundee on 12th November 1924; 6ST in Stoke on Trent and 5SX in Swansea, which opened on the 12th December 1924. The relay stations in the system broadcast with a power of 100 watts. On December 28th the BBC's Chelmsford transmitting station began to transmit an alternative programme.
During 1923 the number of radio receiving licenses, which cost 10 shillings, grew to 500,000 driven by the high quality programmes transmitted. BBC London, 2LO, moved from Marconi House to new studios at Savoy Hill, while BBC Birmingham, 5IT, moved to new studios at The Picture House on New Street.
On November 14th 1923 John Reith became Managing Director of the BBC and declared that the BBC must bring the best broadcasting to the widest possible number of homes. John Reith was a Scottish engineer who envisaged that the BBC's mission must be to "inform, educate and entertain".
On 31st December 1923 Big Ben chimed in the new year for the first time by radio, while just a matter of weeks later, in February 1924, the Greenwich Time signal ("The Pips") was broadcast for the first time on BBC radio. By the mid 1920's programmes from the BBC could be received my most of the population.
The BBC broadcast programmes of talks, variety entertainment and classical music concerts from its London studios at Savoy Hill.
A list of the original low power local stations:
*a Taken over by the BBC on
Of the nine transmitters,
seven were manufactured by Marconi’s and six of them
were of the ‘Q’ type with choke modulation and
independent drives to ensure frequency stability. The
one at Marconi House, London, preceded the ‘Q’ set, but
had about the same output power. (As already mentioned,
the other two — at Birmingham and Manchester — were made
by the Western Electric Company and the Radio
Communication Company respectively).
On 15th November1922 on its
first day of transmission as BBC Manchester the station
broadcast Kiddies Corner, its first children's programme
and also, along with London, the results of the general
Dublin: Radio 2RN provided a local service to the Dublin area using a 1.5 kilowatt transmitter. Not a BBC station, 2RN was established in 1926 and operated on behalf of the Irish government by the Department of Posts and Telecommunications.
Caernarfon: Moving his trans-Atlantic station from Poldhu, Marconi sited a new transmitting station near Caernarfon in 1914 near Waunfawr (Rhyd Ddu) for continued communication with North America via a station in Nova Scotia and to establish a radio communication link with Australia. The input power to this high power station was around 160,000 watts. This was not a broadcast radio station (like 2LO, 5IT etc|), but was a commercial station sending paid for messages outside the British Isles. Caernarfon (Carnarvon) was the transmitting station - the Marconi Company built the Long Wave receiving station at Tywyn (Towen) approximately 35 miles to the south.
Marconi's very high power transmitting station at Waunfawr, Caernarfon (c. 1914) (GEC Marconi)
Until 1924 the BBC had been providing local programmes on the medium waves from the chain of relatively low power transmitters established around the country. In June of that year 5XX, a new experimental transmitting station at Marconi's Chelmsford site, was opened using the long waves enabling the BBC to be heard over most of the country and also overseas with the alternative National Programme enabling people in Britain, who were beyond reach of a local medium wave transmitter, to hear the BBC.
The experimental long wave station at Chelmsford was deemed a great success and to a permanent site was sought out and on July 25th 1925 the 5XX transmitter was moved to Daventry in Northamptonshire. Daventry was a more centralized location and with a new more powerful 25kW transmitter on 1562 meters (187.5 kHz) enabled improved coverage across a greater area of the UK. By this time there were over 1½ million radio receivers in use, many were still crystal sets, but valved radios which could amplify the signals enough to enable loudspeaker operation, though more expensive, gradually gained popularity.
With the new 5XX Daventry station in operation the BBC experimented with stereophonic broadcasts for the first time with a concert from Manchester being broadcast from all transmitters, 5XX long wave transmitting the right hand channel, while the local medium wave stations broadcast the left hand channel.
The 5XX Long Wave Transmitting Aerials
THE ROYAL CHARTER - Company becomes Corporation
The BBC's licence expired 31st December 1926 and a government committee recommended that the British Broadcasting Company should be replaced with a public authority. The first Royal Charter was agreed upon and published on 20th December 1926 enabling the British Broadcasting Company to be nationalized and therefore to become the British Broadcasting Corporation with the granting of the first 10 year Royal Charter.
While the BBC was no longer an independent commercial company, the aim of the charter was that it would remain independent of central government interference as the corporation would, from there on, be overseen by an appointed Board of Governors, John Reith being the first Director General (DG) who was also knighted in 1927.
In 1929, the rather puritanical, John Reith felt that he had to sack Peter Eckersley, the original engineer at 2MT, for having an extra-marital affair and for subsequently getting divorced.
Under Reith's leadership the BBC continued its mission to "inform, educate and entertain" and contained broadcasts of talks, variety and concerts. However, due to pressure from the newspaper industry the BBC was not allowed to transmit its news bulletins, assembled by the news agencies, until after 7pm - after the newspapers had been printed, distributed and sold! This was a measure taken so that newspaper sales would not be lost to a BBC radio news service.
By the early 1930's the premises at Marconi House at Savoy Hill were becoming inadequate for the BBC's needs therefore the corporation had to find and establish a new operating centre. In 1932 the BBC moved into purpose built studios at Portland Place in London - the famous and now iconic Broadcasting House.
Popular entertainment programmes broadcast by the BBC in the 1930's included "ITMA" - It's That Man Again and "Band Wagon".
THE REGIONAL SCHEME
Tn 21st August 1927 the BBC opened the new 5GB station at the Daventry transmitting site using medium waves, this brought a new Regional Programme as an alternative to the long wave National Programme to the Midland Region. 5GB was a new departure for the BBC, not only did it mark the start of a new policy 'The Regional Scheme', but it also required a high power transmitter of between 30 - 50 kilowatts, bigger than any transmitter previously built.
The Geneva Plan of 14th November 1926 had reduced the number of medium wave frequencies available to the BBC so from now on the BBC would develop this pattern of services under The Regional Scheme. It was this development that led to the eventual demise of the original pioneering low power local stations such as 2LO, 2ZY and 5IT by 1931. These original low power local stations closed and were replaced by the two BBC radio services; National and Regional.
With the successful establishment of 5GB at Daventry the Regional Programme was provided on Medium Wave for the Midlands area. 5GB was deemed to be a great success and there followed the establishment of seven regional services across the UK, each broadcasting programmes from its own local studio - The regions covered were Midlands, West, North, South East, Scottish, Welsh and N Ireland. The National Programme was broadcast from the centrally located transmitting station 5XX on long wave from Daventry, backed up by medium wave fillers in areas where the long wave signal was weak.
This new Regional Scheme required the BBC to build new, more powerful, transmitting stations that could carry both the National Programme and the Regional Programme services to the whole country. The first of these "Twin Wave" stations to be purpose built specifically for the Regional Scheme was Brookmans Park in Hertfordshire - a meticulously chosen site capable of providing signals to London and the South East. The station was a huge undertaking, using four large lattice towers, two towers used to support the aerial system for each service.
The Brookmans Park station opened in 1929 using wavelengths of 261 meters* for the National Programme at 70 kilowatts and 356 meters for the Regional Programme at 40 kilowatts. Because the National Programme used shorter wavelengths (higher frequencies) the range was somewhat less than that of the Regional Programme on 356 meters, however the long wave transmitter 5XX at Daventry also transmitted the National Programme and would fill in any areas of poorer reception. The BBC ensured that the new transmission arrangements would provide robust reception for listeners with both valved radios and humble crystal sets which were still being used.
[ * Interestingly, 261 meters was later used in London for the start of the first commercial radio station in the UK, LBC, in 1973 and shortly afterwards by Radio Clyde in Glasgow from Dechmont Hill, BRMB Radio in Birmingham from Langley Mill, Piccadilly Radio in Manchester from Ashton Moss, Metro Radio in Newcastle and Plymouth Sound from Plumer Barracks]
On September 6th 1934 the BBC opened a new Twin Wave station located near the town of Droitwich to serve the Midlands region. Droitwich was to replace the existing transmitting site at Daventry. Initially the 5XX service was moved from Daventry to Droitwich using powerful new transmitters that produced 150 kilowatts. Five months later, on February 17th 1935, 5GB opened from Droitwich radiating the Regional Programme on medium wave with a power of 50 kilowatts; this replaced the original 5GB 25 kilowatt transmitter at Daventry.
Eventually further high power "Twin Wave" stations would be built at Moorside Edge (North), Washford Cross (West) and Westerglen (Scottish). Additional high power transmitting stations were also established at Lisnagarvey ('N.Ireland' on 977 kHz at 100 kW), Burghead ('Scottish' on 767 kHz at 60 kW), Stagshaw ('North' on 1122 kHz at 60 kW), Clevedon ('West' on 1475 kHz at 20 kW) and Start Point ('West' on 1050 kHz at 100 kW) to bring a Regional Programme to most areas of the UK. Additionally Penmon (Welsh) and Redmoss (Scottish) carried lower powered (5kW) transmissions of the Welsh and Scottish regional programme.
John Reith had been keen to provide an overseas radio service since 1924 and eventually after technical and financial delays, a licence to broadcast on short wave was obtained from the Post Office in 1926, and the experimental station G5SW, using the short waves, opened at the Chelmsford site on 11th November 1927. It was intended that G5SW would transmit programmes from Britain to the Empire from a 10 kW transmitter.
The G5SW short wave transmissions were also a success for the BBC and this led to the establishment of a permanent Empire Station at Daventry in December 1932 using two 15 kW transmitters and a number of directional aerial arrays to beam the signals to various parts of the globe - the first programmes from the BBC Empire Service being broadcast on 19th December 1932. King George V made the first Round-the-Empire broadcast and the Christmas Day broadcast on December 25th 1932.
Television and More
In 1934 the BBC was still experimenting with television, but dropped the Baird 30 line experimental system in favour Baird's new 240 line system. The Selsdon Committee (Jan '35) recommended that the BBC trial the Baird 240 line system alongside the Marconi-EMI 405 line electronic method, which used the Emitron electronic camera. Radio was still being expanded and the BBC moved the 5XX long wave station from Daventry to its new home at Droitwich in October 1934.
On 17th February 1935 the BBC moved Midlands regional transmitter from Daventry to Droitwich to form the Midlands 'twin-wave' station, on the same day BBC Belfast was renamed BBC Northern Ireland and changed wavelength from 267 to 307 meters, with improved reception. In June the BBC installed a mast, studio and television transmitter at Alexandra Palace and continued experiments using the Marconi-EMI 405 line system alongside the Baird 240 line system. Vision was on 45 MHz while sound used 41.5 MHz. A regular television service started from Alexandra Palace in November the competing systems being trialled one at a time on alternate weeks.
After two years of regular experimental television transmissions the Television Advisory Committee recommended that the BBC adopt the 405 line Marconi-EMI system in January 1937. Sir John Reith, who incidentally was quite unimpressed by the new medium, retired from the BBC in June 1938. He did not want to leave his post, but had effectively been pushed by a government that no longer wanted such an independent minded man at the helm of the national broadcaster at a time of impending war. At 10pm he asked to be driven from Broadcasting House to Droitwich, where he closed down the transmitters for the last time as Director General.
On the 11th November 1936 the BBC broadcast King Edward VIII's abdication. On 1st January 1937 the BBC's Royal Charter renewed for a further ten years, while in September 1938 the BBC started the European service with programmes in German, Italian and French. From February 1938 listeners across Eire and parts of Western Britain were able to hear a new service transmitted from Eire, southern Ireland, from Radio Eireann on 531 meters.
Between the full establishment of the Regional and National Programmes in 1931 and 1939 there would be many transmitter and frequency changes. By 1939 the BBC was transmitting the National Programme from a main high power station at Droitwich on 1500 meters (200 kHz) long wave with 150 kW. Additional transmitters for the National Programme were at Brookmans Park, serving London and the South East (40 kW); Moorside Edge for The North (40 kW) and Westerglen for Central Scotland (50 kW) all using 1149 kHz (261 metres) medium wave.
Regional Programmes were being provided from transmitters at Moorside Edge (North - 668kHz / 449 metres - 70kW); Westerglen (Scottish - 767kHz / 391m - 70kW); Burghead (Scottish - 767kHz / 391m - 60kW); Washford (Welsh - 804kHz / 373 m - 70 kW); Penmon (Welsh - 804 kHz / 373 m - 5kW); Brookmans Park (877kHz / 342m - 70kW); Lisnagarvey (977kHz / 307m - 100kW); Droitwich (Midlands - 1013kHz / 296m - 70kW); Start Point (West - 1050kHz / 285m - 100kW); Stagshaw (North - 1022kHz / 267m - 60kW); Redmoss (Scottish - 1285 kHz / 233m - 5kW); Clevedon (West - 1474kHz / 203m - 20kW).
However, all this was to change in September 1939......
The very popular comedy series It's That Man Again (ITMA), starring Tommy Handley, began in the summer of 1939. ITMA was to become a classic radio series that ran for ten years until Tommy Handley's death in 1949. It was set on board a commercial pirate radio ship and gained it's unusual title from a popular phrase at the time: Newspapers reporting another Adolf Hitler story would often write "It's that man again" as the headline. It was not long after the ITMA programme made its first appearance on radio that the crisis with Hitler caused war to break out. Germany invaded Poland on 1st September, annexing Danzig, Britain and France responded by declaring war on Germany on 3rd September 1939.
RADIO DURING THE WAR YEARS
War broke out in 1939 and the nature of programmes provided by the BBC was quickly changed to adapt to the situation. On September 1st the BBC quickly closed its television service from Alexandra Palace for fear of the German air force being able to use the television signals for direction finding. The Regional and National radio programmes were also closed and replaced by a single Home Service
Radio Luxembourg closed the English service on September 21st 1939, followed later the same year by Radio Normandie. Meanwhile, on 10th November 1939 the BBC Home Service began Garrison Theater with Jack Warner.
The new BBC Home Service used two frequencies formerly used by the North Regional and Scottish Regional Programmes: 668kHz (449 metres) and 767kHz (391 metres) medium wave. Two groups of transmitters were established - each group synchronized together to impede enemy direction finding capabilities. The old Daventry 5XX long wave transmitter was converted to medium wave operation and joined the Home Service group.
The Home Service was supplemented by the overseas European Service initially using 1149 kHz (261 metres) medium wave, i.e. the frequencies vacated by The National Programme. The 150kW long wave transmitter at Droitwich was also converted to medium wave operation and together with the other former National Programme transmitters, was synchronized on 1149kHz and broadcast the Forces Programme during the day (until 2300 hrs) and the European Service during the hours of darkness.
On 7th January 1940 the BBC Forces Programmes was introduced on 877kHz medium wave (The former frequency used by the London and South East Regional Programme) from four 50kW transmitters (Brookmans Park; Washford; Moorside Edge and Westerglen) with lower power supplements at Droitwich, Stagshaw, Redmoss and Burghead. As with the Home Service all the Forces Programme transmitters used the same frequency, synchronized together to impede enemy direction finding capabilities of the enemy.
From March 1940 the frequency used by the European Service was changed to 804 kHz (373 metres) from the transmitters at Westerglen, Moorside Edge and Brookmans Park, with Droitwich being added in March 1941. 804 kHz was the frequency previously used by the Welsh Regional Programme.
In October 1940 the Start Point transmitter in South East Devon was converted from 877 kHz to1050 kHz to transmit the European Service. (1050 kHz was used by the West Regional Programme before the war). A new high power medium wave transmitter installed at Droitwich in February 1941 using 1149kHz with 400kW. These two transmitters broadcast the European Service, leaving other transmitters available for the Forces Programme.
Group H: The synchronization of the Home Service transmitters on to just two frequencies caused many interference problems for domestic listeners, with one Home Service transmitter interfering with another on the same frequency - this caused reception to sound very "mushy" in many areas. To overcome this problem the BBC initially installed a network of 61 low power relay stations around the UK using 203 meters (1474 kHz) called 'Group H', and which was later expanded. This network of low power relays filled in the coverage gaps (the mush areas) from the main transmitters. All of the Group H stations were manned 24 hours per day so that any single transmitter could be quickly closed down should there be an air raid.
On the 19th November 1940 a BBC transmitter at Adderley Park in Birmingham was completely destroyed in a bombing, with some loss of life. At midnight on July 20th 1941 the BBC commenced its "V for Victory" campaign. The "V for Victory" broadcasts started with a message from Prime Minister Winston Churchill directed towards the European countries then occupied by the Nazis. "The V sign is the symbol of the unconquerable will of the people of the occupied territories and a portent of the fate awaiting the Nazi tyranny." From then on the BBC's broadcasts employed a call-sign that used the opening bars of Beethoven's 5th Symphony, which has the same rhythm as the Morse code for the letter V (dot dot dot dash).
Subsequently, in 1941, the old (5XX) Droitwich transmitter was converted from medium wave operation (804 kHz) back to long wave use. The old long wave 5XX transmitter at Daventry was also brought back into service and a new long wave transmitter was installed at Brookmans Park. These three transmitting stations were established as a long wave group to broadcast the European Service on 200kHz (1500 metres). In February 1943 these transmitters were replaced by a very high power transmitter at Ottringham in the East Yorkshire Riding, again using 200kHz. The Ottringham transmitting station was a massive affair consisting of a 600 kilowatt transmitter and six 500 feet high masts.
The table above gives an idea of the frequencies used for radio broadcasting during the war. It should be noted, however, that the transmitters and frequencies used did vary quite substantially over the period of the war, these continual changes cannot be reflected in such a table. A more extensive listing produced by Martin Watkins can be downloaded as a zipped spreadsheet from here: Martin Watkins' AMFREQS Spreadsheet
Together with domestic radio, the BBC broadcast radio programmes to other countries. The overseas service to Albania began on 13th November 1940, the Icelandic Service on 1st December 1940 and the Persian Service on 28th December 1940.
On July 4th 1943 (see note below) the American Forces Network (AFN) was established on 877 kHz / 342 meters, this provided an uplifting service of record programmes that was popular with the American forces based around Europe using facilities provided by the BBC. AFN also proved popular with British audiences who could hear records and music, including jazz and country styles, not normally heard on the BBC.
Initially starting with five regional transmitters, AFN expanded the number to fifty five transmitters located all around the UK using a number of frequencies; 1375, 1402, 1411, 1420 and 1447 kHz. It is thought that many of these transmitters may have been of low power - about 50 watts. After the end of the war AFN had additional transmitters in Central Europe and as far as North Africa.
It was the popularity of AFN and the increasing numbers of American forces based in Britain that encouraged the BBC to 'fine tune' their own Forces Programme, renaming it The General Forces Programme, and lightening up the output giving it a wider appeal with material that would be popular with the American troops. The station adopted a more American style and played more American material. This new sound was a big hit and certainly helped the listeners endure those troubled times.
During the war years the BBC's programming necessarily changed. "ITMA" continued alongside other light entertainment and morale boosting programmes such as Vera Lynn's "Sincerely Yours" and "Hi Gang". Meanwhile the BBC also established a war reporting unit to bring accurate news to a worried population. The BBC also designed and produced a portable sound recording machine that its radio news reporters, including Frank Gillard, Wynford Vaughan-Thomas, Godfrey Talbot and Richard Dimbleby could use in the field. Half of the British people tuning into the regular evening news broadcasts.
(Note: The date of the start of the AFN service has not been fully established and July 1943 is the only date I can find at the time of writing.)
ABSIE and SHAEF - The American Broadcasting Station In Europe
American Broadcasting Station in Europe (ABSIE) began five weeks before DDay, established by USA's Office of War Information (OWI) with the help of CBS and was operated by the OWI and Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force's (SHAEF) Psychological Warfare Division. The aim of American Broadcasting Station in Europe was to provide "...the truth of this war to our friends in Europe — and to our enemies". Like the BBC, ABSIE provided news, talks, music and propaganda and also broadcast information for the underground movement. Broadcasts were made in various languages.
ABSIE used twelve transmitters situated in the UK using two frequencies plus some additional short-wave transmission facilities provided by the BBC.
Details of the "GROUP H" Transmitting Stations - transmitted the Home Service, all using 1474kHz (203.5 m), 0.05-10kW
No. | Station Name | Type of Location | Service Date | Closed Down
1 Belfast Studio premises 1.11.40 14.8.43
2 Cardiff Studio premises 1.11.40 14.8.43
3 Edinburgh Studio premises 1.11.40 14.8.43
4 Glasgow Studio premises 1.11.40 14.8.43
5 Leeds Studio premises 1.11.40 14.8.43
6 Bristol (i) Studio premises 1.11.40 13.9.41
(ii) Clifton Rocks Tunnel 14.9.41 28.7.45
7 Manchester Studio premises 1.11.40 14.8.43
8 Newcastle Studio premises 1.11.40 14.8.43
9 London Swains Lane Tel.-
OB reception point 1.11.40 14.8.43
10 Birmingham Studio premises 1.11.40 14.8.43
11 Plymouth Studio premises 15.1.41 28.7.45
12 Nottingham Hosiery Dyers' plant 15.1.41 28.7.45
13 Stoke-on-Trent Minton's China works 16.1.41 28.7.45
14 Liverpool Biscuit factory 16.1.41 28.7.45
15 Aberdeen (i) Studio premises 21.1.41 26.10.44
(ii) Redmoss, open site 27.10.44 28.7.45
16 Hull Oil jetty * 8.3.41 12.10.44
17 Brighton Garage 24.3.41 28.7.45
18 Tunbridge Wells Laundry 22.4.41 28.7.45
19 Reading (i) Restaurant buildings 5.5.41 10.2.43 [Destroyed]
(ii) Seedsmen's grounds 22.2.43 28.7.45
20 Cambridge (i) Room in Shire Hall 20.5.41 29.6.43
(ii) Building in Shire Hall grounds 30.6.43 14.8.43
21 Dundee Jute factory 12.6.41 28.7.45
22 Ipswich Swimming baths 14.6.41 28.7.45
23 Lincoln Asylum 26.6.41 28.7.45
24 Ayr Carpet works 18.6.41 28.7.45
25 Leicester (i) Mortuary 27.6.41 26.4.43
(ii) University buildings 27.4.43 28.7.45
26 Hastings Garage 27.6.41 28.7.45
27 Sheffield School 28.6.41 14.8.43
28 Gillingham Shoe factory:
(Jezreel's Tower) 5.7.41 14.8.43
29 Wrexham Leather works 11.7.41 28.7.45
30 Aberdare Brickworks 20.7.41 28.7.45
31 Barrow Brickworks 5.8.41 28.7.45
32 Redruth (i) Garage 8.9.41 19.2.44
(ii) Lannar Hill, open site 20.2.44 28.7.45
33 Blackburn Mill 15.9.41 14.8.43
34 York The Yorkshire Museum 19.9.41 14.8.43
35 Worcester Brickworks 19.9.41 14.8.43
36 Middlesborough Institute for the Blind 21.9.41 10.10.44
37 Torquay Brickworks 24.9.41 28.7.45
38 Swansea Brickworks 25.9.41 14.8.43
39 Northampton Water tower 26.9.41 14.8.43
40 Peterborough Laundry 10.10.41 28.7.45
41 Shrewsbury Castle 25.10.41 14.8.43
42 Exeter Coach-house 26.10.41 28.7.45
43 Swindon Open site 30.10.41 28.7.45
44 Carlisle Mill 3.11.41 9.10.44
45 Moorside Edge Transmitting station 13.11.41 28.7.45
46 Whitehaven Brickworks 15.12.41 28.7.45
47 Inverness Mill 7.1.42 14.8.43
48 Oxford Water tower 5.1.42 28.7.45
49 Folkestone School 22.1.42 28.7.45
50 Ramsgate Water works 24.1.42 9.9.44
51 Taunton Sewage disposal works 30.1.42 14.8.43
52 Blackpool Swimming baths 24.2.42 28.7.45
53 Guildford Open site 24.2.42 28.7.45
54 Gloucester Reservoir 24.2.42 14.8.43
55 Weymouth Laundry 3.3.42 28.7.45
56 Scarborough Poor Law Institution 10.3.42 12.10.44
57 Doncaster Engineering works 20.3.42 14.8.43
58 Bournemouth Refuse destructor 23.3.42 14.8.43
59 Hitchin Water tower 2.4.42 14.8.43
60 Fareham Open site 7.12.42 28.7.45
61 Norwich Sweet factory 5.10.44 28.7.45
Compiled by Martin Watkins from information gathered from "BBC Engineering 1922 - 1972" by Edward Pawley.
* Re: Hull, Oil Jetty: Len Green notes: "In 1941, I happened to serve as a Youth in Training, for a while. I can't recall the TX being on an Oil Jetty. As best I can remember it was in a building behind a tall chimney (to support the aerial) on Holderness Road. Regards, Len Green." June 2011. I wonder if the station could have been moved from one location to another at some point? It's not unheard of to move transmitter locations. Len adds: "Very good point. I was there from September 21, 1941 but, for the moment, I cannot find the exact date I moved on to Manchester. It was early the next year if my memory is still in good working order. So, by deduction, the move, and I have no reason to doubt it, would have occurred after that date. Will keep you informed as I tear into old documents to check. Regards, Len."
Before we move on to part 2 and post-war radio you may want to know more intricate detail about the various wavelengths (frequencies) that have been used by radio in the UK. A great many wavelength changes have occurred over time, especially in the early years as the number of transmitting stations rapidly expanded into an ever more crowded radio 'dial'. The many changes were made to accommodate all the new radio transmitting stations that were being established in the UK and around Europe so as to minimize the effects of interference. Interference at night time can be especially prevalent when medium waves travel greater distances due to being reflected from the ionosphere. World War Two from 1939 to 1945 brought about many more alterations as special transmission arrangements, noted above, were brought into force.
(The ionosphere is a region of the upper atmosphere between 85km and 300km above the surface of the earth. The layer is ionised by the solar radiation and can refract radio signals back down to earth so that they are received at much greater distances than would normally be received during the day. The ionosphere is identified as three regions during the day; D; E and F. The D layer, at about 85km abouve the surface, absorbs medium wave radio signals during the day, so they are not refracted back towards earth. However, at night, the D layer disappears leaving the E and F layers (the F layer splits into F1 and F2.). With the D layer now absent, medium wave radio signal can continue out toward the F layers at around 200 to 300 km where the signals can be refracted back down towards the earth).
I cannot list all the wavelengths used, or offer a blow by blow account of all the frequency and transmitter re-organizations that have taken place in my brief history, but Martin Watkins kindly sent me an Excel spreadsheet of all the medium wave (AM) radio frequencies that have been used year on year from the 1920's to today (with the exception of the Group H chain shown above). This is a task that has so far taken very many hours of hard graft on Martin's part. We think it is the definitive list of all time. Please download the AM Frequency listing by clicking HERE. Thank you Martin it is an amazing achievement! The file is about 372KB, and is very well worth looking at. Martin kindly refined and updated the list on 15th January 2008.
FM Too - Martin has very kindly compiled an additional comprehensive FM transmitter listing, and that can be downloaded HERE.
With DAB development - Here
Free software for viewing spreadsheets: OPEN-OFFICE can be downloaded for free HERE
Lord Haw Haw
Lord Haw Haw, real name William Joyce, was a British citizen hanged for treason after defecting to Germany and broadcasting Nazi propaganda to Britain and unoccupied Europe from German transmitters and the captured radio transmitting stations in France and Luxembourg.
Lord Haw Haw - Germany Calling 1940
Lord Haw Haw - Germany Calling 27-2-1940
Lord Haw Haw - 28-12-1941
Lord Haw Haw - Final BroadcastMore: http://www.archive.org/details/WWII_News_1940
These historic recordings are from the Internet Archive. Many more can be found here:
Credits: Some photographs presented here are from Pye Wireless advertising material while others are from unknown sources. Other information has been gleaned from radio features produced by BBC Radio and LBC / IRN and from BBCi.
References used and Further Reading:
History Calling: Guglielmo Marconi and the radio telegraph system: http://www.conferencecallsunlimited.com/history-calling.php
More about The Second World War at http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/2WW.htm
Droitwich Calling http://www.bbceng.info/Operations/transmitter_ops/Reminiscences/Droitwich/droitwich_calling.htm
Brookmans Park Transmitting Station Pictures and Memories http://www.bbceng.info/Operations/transmitter_ops/Reminiscences/brookmans_park/brookmans_park.htm
Brookmans Park Twin Wave Station http://www.brookmans.com/history/bbc/index.shtml
BBC Ottringham Transmitting Station http://www.bbc.co.uk/humber/content/articles/2006/02/19/bbc_ottringham_feature.shtml
Further BBC Reminiscences http://www.bbceng.info/Operations/transmitter_ops/Reminiscences/Reminiscences.htm
BBC Archives - Monograph series / quarterly engineering journal : http://www.bbc.co.uk/rd/pubs/archive/index.shtml
MB21 - http://www.mb21.co.uk Meldrum - http://pp.meldrum.co.uk
BBC TV - Andrew Marr's "The Making Of Modern Britain" - 2MT audio recording
AFN information: http://www.northernstar.no/afrs.htm
ABSIE and SHAEF: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,792219,00.html#ixzz0cVQBEDE1
Internet Archive (Audio) Lord Haw Haw - William Joyce: http://www.archive.org/details/LordHawHaw-WilliamJoyce-GermanyCalling1-7of23
Internet Archive WWII News and Related Sound files from 1940(Audio): http://www.archive.org/details/WWII_News_1940
Reginald Fessenden and the Machrihanish Radio Station : http://www.secretscotland.org.uk/index.php/Secrets/MachrihanishRadioStation
Reginald Fessenden : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reginald_Fessenden
Empire Chain Stations:
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