Tag: John Reith

The place of broadcasting

Sir William Haley

The Place of Broadcasting

foreword taken from a broadcast by sir william haley, director-general of the british broadcasting corporation, on the 14 November, 1947

NO ONE can doubt any longer that Broadcasting has a place. At the end of twenty-five years it has established itself in almost every home in the United Kingdom. It has become part of the fabric of everyday life. It has had an influence on entertainment, on culture, on politics, on social habits, on religion, and on morals. It is the greatest educational force yet known. It has been used in war and in peace as an offensive and as a defensive instrument by great and small Powers…

Any celebration of British Broadcasting would be incomplete without a tribute to Lord Reith. Few men have had the opportunity to render so vital a service to their generation. No man has discharged a great responsibility with more seriousness or with higher purpose…

Broadcasting has its place in the life of nations, of the community, and of the individual. Its use between nations has been a mixture of good and evil. On the debit side there has been — and there still is — the outpouring of propaganda, the ceaseless sapping and erosion of other nations’ beliefs and morale, the misrepresentation and abuse of theoretically friendly Peoples, which some broadcasting systems undertake. On the credit side, there is the power of Broadcasting to pour out over the world a continuous, antiseptic flow of honest, objective, truthful news to which — as Hitler found during the war — the common man cannot permanently be denied access. On the credit side, too, there is the power of Broadcasting, without any unneighbourly purpose, to make the ways of life and thought of different Peoples better known to each other.

Broadcasting is not an end in itself. It will bring about a musically-minded nation only in so far as it gets people to play, and fills the concert halls. Its greatest contribution to culture would be to cause theatres and opera houses to multiply throughout the land. If it cannot give to Literature more readers than it withholds, it will have failed in what should be its true purpose. Its aim must be to make people active not passive, both in the fields of recreation and of public affairs. It will gain, rather than suffer, if it can do any of these things. For it will flourish best when the community flourishes best.

Heavily draped studios of early days

Heavily draped studios of early days

Interior of an old studio

Over the walls and ceilings of the early studios curtains were hung in seven layers, like a Victorian woman’s petticoats. Four tons of material were used to reduce reverberation; the artist’s voice sounded thin and rarefied as though he were on a mountain-top. Microphones, at the start, looked like ordinary telephone receivers mounted on columns later were slung in rubber, boxed in and moved about on heavy trolleys.

BEFORE November, 1922, broadcasting in Britain was carried on by industrial concerns in their research departments and by a few scientific amateurs only. To provide a regular service for a growing body of listeners, the Postmaster-General granted a licence to radio manufacturers to form the British Broadcasting Company, of which Mr J. C. W. Reith was managing director. Programmes began in the evening of 14 November from London (2LO) and next day from Birmingham (5IT), and Manchester (2ZY). Stations in Newcastle, Cardiff, Glasgow, Aberdeen, and Bournemouth were opened within a year. Each used a power of 1½ kilowatts, and could be heard, on crystal set with headphones, at a range of twenty miles. The eight bands of pioneers worked hours without limit, in conditions of severest discomfort. Nevertheless, in a few months, 4½ hours of programmes were transmitted daily without fail to some tens of thousands of listeners. In December, 1922, the News Bulletins were read in London and broadcast simultaneously, by means of connecting land-lines, from all stations. Orchestras were assembled at each station, so far as studio space permitted. Schubert’s ‘Unfinished’ Symphony was given from London in December, 1922, by seven players! The title of the second talk from 2LO was, somewhat unexpectedly, ‘How to catch a Tiger’. From Covent Garden, in January, 1923, came the first outside broadcast of opera. Plays were put on, though sound effects at first baffled producers. John Henry became the first successful wireless comedian. Relay stations were opened in 1924; next year Daventry (5XX) reached out to the further parts of Britain, carrying an alternative programme, including weather forecasts and gale warnings. When the first BBC gave way in 1926, without change of initials, high sense of service, or guiding spirit, it had won the goodwill of more than two million families.

Man at a piano, man at a microphone, woman sings into a microphone

The picture is of the very earliest days at Marconi House, showing a duet sung by Olive Sturgess and John Huntingdon into separate microphones; that above shows part of the bigger studio at Savoy Hill with soundproof listening cubicle in the corner, and the inevitable carafe of water for libations before the microphone.

Farewell, Savoy Hill…

A commissionaire watches a man lock a big door

Sir John Reith locks the door of Savoy Hill for the last time

Farewell, Savoy Hill . . .

WHEN Parliament decided that the BBC should have a Royal Charter for ten years from 1926, a new organization, operating a modern medium, was lent the dignity and colour of an ancient form. The BBC had its own coat of arms, and flew its own flag. It directed its own activities without interference and controlled its own monies. The Charter called on the BBC to develop broadcasting ‘to the best advantage and in the national interest’. The expanding policy of the years after 1926 showed that the BBC had accepted the full measure of that charge. A high standard of musical performances was set, symphonic and operatic. Plays specially written for broadcasting were encouraged. Men and women distinguished in the Arts and Sciences were invited to the microphone. A parliamentary ban on political controversy at the microphone was raised in 1928. In 1932, the BBC began a service on short waves to the Commonwealth. It was an act of faith and of high technical skill; success was certain after King George V’s Christmas Day broadcast. The metal instrument box had grown new and more powerful wings.

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