Tuesday, October 18, 2022

BBC 100 - How it happened

If you were one of the many radio hams who had taken advantage of the supply of surplus radio parts following the ending the war, you would have enjoyed the broadcasts by the Marconi Company from Chelmsford. In1922, you would have received the first broadcasts from the British Broadcasting Company. This had been formed by leading electrical manufacturers: Marconi, GEC, BTH, Metropolitan Vickers, Western Electric and the Radio Communication Company.

A public hungry for new and exciting technology were, by and large, in for disappointment. Of the leading companies which formed the BBC, only GEC was really involved in consumer products and it was only they who produced reasonably priced receivers for the new broadcasts. It will be apparent that at this stage the wireless was a very small part of a very much bigger and more diverse business.

In wireless, the amateur reigned supreme. Crystal sets, often made from kits, outnumbered the more expensive valve radios even though they had severe limitations of use. The other five companies owning the BBC produced only components, many producing valves alongside light bulbs. There was, early on, one exception: Burndept, a small company set up by an amateur enthusiast who produce high quality but rather complicated receivers. Marconi, through their Marconiphone company, produced valve receivers, but not many. They subcontracted manufacture to the company that would become Plessey, but only for a limited period, and Plessey reverted to component manufacture. Pye was another company involved in a small way in those early days. 

Marconi’s approach was half hearted, and allowed small manufacturers and amateurs to dominate the body of licence fee payers, indeed so successfully that there were many more experimenter licence holders than full licence holders, much to the disadvantage of the BBC and its founders. 

I write more about the early radio manufacturers in How Britain Shaped the Manufacturing World, available from Pen & Sword

Radios being repaired at COD Greenford in WW2, from my book War on Wheels.

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How Britain Shaped the Manufacturing World is now available to pre-order

Phil Hamlyn Williams has completed his sixth book beginning an exploration of British manufacturing. His great-grandfather exhibited at the ...