The old BBC: material changes and programme developments
27 Jan 2017 0 comments. tbs.pm/10367
Reprinted from the BBC Year-Book 1930, published in November 1929
The most important event in 1925 was perhaps the opening at Daventry, on the Borough Hill, near the traditional site of the Dane Tree, of the High-Power Station 5XX, which replaced the existing station at Chelmsford. The official opening by the Postmaster-General, attended by the Board of Directors, various distinguished guests, including the Mayor of Daventry, and senior officials of the Company, took place on July 27th. Unique both as regards wave-length and power, 5XX filled many gaps between the existing stations, and reached out to the further parts of the British Isles, bringing into easy communication with London many of the most isolated areas. Daventry, it must be realised, has always been a transmitting station only, deriving its programmes from studios or outside sources under the control of other stations, its general destiny being managed in London, its local staff being responsible for the technical side of its programmes only. A small studio was actually provided on the Daventry premises, but it was never anticipated that it would be put to regular use.
Another similar change was the erection of a new 2LO London transmitter in Oxford Street, in place of the old one at Marconi House, which, however, still remained in service order as a stand-by for emergency or experimental work. This new transmitter was double the power of any other main station transmitter, being 3 kilowatts, and the service area, in view of this and the increased efficiency in design and construction, was very considerably enlarged.
The question of accommodation for some time had been a cause for anxiety. Demand for space had long outgrown the supply. Studios which originally had been considered large would now barely contain an orchestra augmented for symphony work. Manchester’s Dickinson Street offices and studios became almost intolerable. Reached by a luggage lift and in reality the top floor of a warehouse, the studio was so small that when an orchestra chorus and soloists were employed simultaneously, the door had almost to be closed forcibly upon the last entrant. The Newcastle premises also were equally inadequate. New premises were found, therefore, and occupied, with great relief to all concerned, at Manchester on December 12th, 1924, at Newcastle on December 23rd, 1925, and at Birmingham on January 20th, 1926. The Manchester premises, though much larger, were rather grim, being three floors below street level and facing the River Irwell, at this place at all events not an attractive stream. The Newcastle building was very pleasant, incidentally having been built in the eighteenth century as a maternity home, and the studio for a glorious month had the honour of being the largest in the country. It was outstripped by Birmingham, where the specially built studio, a blaze of blue and gold, would contain two, three, or even four, of the studios at most of the other stations. Cardiff had already moved in 1924 to better quarters in Park Place, and in December 1925 these same quarters were enlarged. Lastly, Savoy Hill, which had sent out colonies some time before, extended northward, and three new studios were added, two of medium size and a small one for talks. These and various new offices were in the north-west corner of the Savoy Hill building, which had been demolished in the war by an aerial torpedo, but in the early autumn of 1925 was rebuilt to suit the B.B.C.’s requirements. The new studios had an improved system of ventilation, which was subsequently fitted to the larger original studio; the sound-damping curtains were also made adjustable, being suspended on runners, and were lighter in weight and effect.
A service of alternative programmes was instituted in the New Year (actually on Monday, December 28th, 1924), when 5XX (still at Chelmsford) transmitted programmes in contrast to those of all other stations on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays in each week. On Tuesdays and Thursdays the programme, though in contrast to that of London 2LO, was derived from a London studio, but on Saturdays was provided in rotation by the eight original main stations. Belfast was excluded owing to the effect of the submarine cable between Scotland and Ireland on programmes relayed in either direction.
The 5XX Weather Forecast at 10.30 a.m., and the Shipping Forecast after the News in the evenings, was started as a daily service on July 5th, and owing to the great range of the station, shipping all round the British coasts have continuously made good, and often vital, use of these forecasts. Gale warnings, given out at the first possible moment, and in reality supplements to the standard forecasts, have on several occasions been known definitely to have saved ships from disaster.
Experimental transmissions for amateur wireless engineers were started on March 2nd. These transmissions were weekly, and outside the normal programme hours. Entirely technical, they were undertaken by all the B.B.C. stations in turn, and among other diversions, consisted of periods of transmission at half power, three-quarter power, full power, over-modulation and so on.
During the autumn, the B.B.C. service of time signals was included in the Admiralty List by the Astronomer Royal, and the B.B.C., to guarantee the service, arranged for the superimposition of the Greenwich dot seconds on any programme which overran its time and trespassed on the time signals included in the list.
By the end of 1925, the programme hours for London and most other stations averaged over ten each week-day, and for Daventry, 5XX, over eleven.
The Radio Supplement, now known as World-Radio, appeared for the first time on July 17th. For a long time, at first a column and then a page had appeared in The Radio Times showing wave-lengths, call signs, and programmes, of Continental stations, but lack of space and the tendency of this feature to grow made it necessary to issue it separately.
At the risk of including rather a tiresome catalogue, mention must be made of other important programme events of the year 1925. Chief in importance is one further occasion on which H.M. the King broadcast at the opening of the second year of the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley. A number of great artists made their first appearances before the microphone: John Barrymore on March 8th, Tetrazzini on March ioth in a concert provided by the Evening Standard, Paderewski on March 15th, Chaliapine on November 3rd, and Sir Harry Lauder on December 23rd. On May 15th Mr. Alan Cobham gave Miss Heather Thatcher a Hying lesson in an aeroplane over London which was transmitted from the aeroplane, and received and re-radiated from the Company’s stations. The Railway Centenary was celebrated with a special programme on June 25th, in which an actual broadcast of a train leaving King’s Cross, and from the same train twenty-five minutes later, was included. A microphone for the latter was carried in the front of the locomotive’s tender, and a special transmitter housed in a van at the front of the train. A descriptive transmission from a coalmine at Sheffield on June 27th included the actual relay from points underground of explanations and demonstrations of a coal-cutter, a shot-borer, an explosion of shot, a fall of coal, the filling of tubs, the noise of trains and the signalling apparatus of cages. While not actually the first transmission from the bottom of a coal-mine, for a concert had been relayed from a pit at Normanton in 1924, it was the first transmission of its kind combining genuine information with a novelty value. Another broadcast from the air on November 13th consisted partly of a concert from an aeroplane near Croydon, and partly of a practical demonstration of Direction Finding by the late Captain Hinchcliffe.
During the summer concerts were relayed from practically every seaside resort of importance in the country, the Outside Broadcast Engineers consequently being more than usually busy.
A Musical Advisory Committee was formed during the summer of 1925, and has met at regular intervals ever since.
BROADCASTS FROM THE THEATRES
With the exception of the Opera transmissions from the Old Vic, the International Opera Syndicate’s Seasons at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, the B.N.O.C. seasons in London and in the Provinces, and the various Ballet seasons at Covent Garden, relays of performances from theatres, for reasons already explained, had been very few and far between. During the two years from June 1st, 1923, to May 31st, 1925, such relays had amounted to not more than a dozen and a half, of which eight only had been of the genus “Musical Comedy” or “Revue.” In the early summer of 1925, however, negotiations were successfully concluded with the Theatrical Managers’ Association, and an agreement come to whereby the B.B.C. could relay once in every fortnight an excerpt from a theatre lasting for half an hour. The B.B.C.’s earliest contentions were soon vindicated, for not only were these excerpts, judiciously chosen and prepared for the microphone with the greatest care by everyone concerned, successful as parts of the broadcast programmes, but, as box office returns showed, were invaluable as attractions to the theatres themselves.