Thursday, 14 February 2013

OUGD505 // What is good // 90 Years of BBC Radio

Last year on the 14th November 2012 it was 90 years since BBC had been broadcasting. To celebrate this at 17:33 every BBC radio show across the world was stopped and a song which was composed by Damon Albarn from the Blur was played across all the stations.

The song was 3 minutes long which was being played and broadcasted from the London Science Museum by Simon Mayo. This was first time since 1922 that something had been simultaneously played over all BBC stations.

The song was called 2LO calling. 2LO Calling began with the chimes of Big Ben and featured the first ever broadcast from the 2LO transmitter and the number one song at the time - Three O'Clock in the Morning. The three-minute piece also featured messages from listeners around the world along with the sound of the blackbird and skylark, commentary from the Cameroon election and the ubiquitous BBC pips. Albarn also chose to include a famous quote from philosopher Bertrand Russell:
"Love is wise, hatred is foolish."
It featured in Morse code, the series of clicks, tones, dots and dashes historically used to transmit information.

The song was called 2LO calling because the 2LO transmitter made the first broadcast - from the British Broadcasting Company as it was then known - on 14 November 1922.

More than 55 BBC radio stations came together for Radio Reunited. It is estimated the broadcast could have reached up to 80 million listeners.

The Science Museum is marking the 90th anniversary of BBC Radio with a display featuring part of the original 2LO transmitter.

Tim Boon, head of research and public history at the Science Museum, said: "The first broadcast by the 2LO 90 years ago marked the moment when radio moved from the realm of the 'amateur enthusiast' to the first proper public broadcasting service in Britain.

"This exhibition takes visitors back to a time when everything, from the technology to the content of the programmes was still new."

News clip from the exhibition in the science museum. 

2LO Calling - the piece that was broadcasted across all BBC stations.

Breakdown of the content within the song.
Broadcast entertainment really began in the USA in 1920. There, many hundreds of stations were soon in operation, swamping the airwaves. In Britain, the approach was more cautious. Experimental stations were tried at the Marconi site at Chelmsford, Essex, in 1920 and in 1922 at Writtle, a village nearby. The Writtle transmitter had the call sign 2MT.Follow the time codes below for a breakdown of where the different elements for Damon Albarn's piece marking the 90th anniversary of BBC Radio come from.

00:00 Radio 4 broadcasts the chimes of Big Ben – the ‘bongs’ – live every day at 6pm and at midnight.

00:18 In 1922 the radio transmitter 2LO broadcast for one hour a day from Marconi House in the Strand. This audio, recorded in the 1930s, recreates the BBC’s first ever transmission.

00:26 The pop hit of the day, Three O’Clock in the Morning, a waltz by American bandleader Paul Whiteman, one of the first pieces of music played on the BBC.

00:35 The songs of the blackbird and lark are from the British Library’s sound archive – a collection that includes wax cylinders and MP3s.

“Hello future”. The first message in the piece was sent by a BBC Radio 6 Music listener. One of the BBC’s first digital stations it first broadcast on 11 March 2002. The clip is voiced up by Nico, the resident Kid Critic on Steve Lamacq’s 6 Music show.

00:44 The shortwave radio sample is from Freesound – a database of audio that anyone can add to or download from.

Bertrand Russell delivered the first Reith Lecture in 1948. The Morse code is his quote, "Love is wise, hatred is foolish".

00:50 “If time travel does exist...” Will we ever know if time travel exists? Stephen Hawking once held a party for time travellers but no one showed up. This message was recorded by a child at Bath Community Academy.

00:51 Pashto is spoken in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In English the message, sent to the BBC World Service, means “Please destroy all weapons.”

00:59 “We’ll be living on Mars…” At the closest point in its orbit Mars is 35 million miles from Earth. In October 2012 Nasa's Curiosity rover found soil on Mars to be similar to Hawaii's after sifting and scanning its first sample on the Red Planet.

01:07 “Everything is connected”. Kevin Kelly is obsessed with the meeting of technology and biology and is widely regarded as a digital visionary.

01:10 “Keep talking to one another…” Message sent to BBC Radio Cornwall.

01:18 “Proud…” The message sent by a listener to BBC Radio Lincolnshire is in response to London’s staging of 2012 Olympic Games.

Message sent in to the BBC Persian Service from Iran
“I hope 90 years from now, no one misuses religion…” The BBC Persian service has been broadcasting since the 1940s.

“ We can do better.” Message sent from Australia to BBC Outlook on the World Service.

01:27 “I hope it doesn't get too hot...” The Great Barrier Reef is the largest collection of corals in the world. Climate change and pollution are among the threats to this fragile ecosystem.

“Dressed up…” The World Service broadcast the audio of 2011’s election in Cameroon. President Paul Biya retained the position he’s held since 1982.

01:32 “We are all caught up in this rat race…” Message recorded in London.

01:38 “How time flies! Recorded in Nigeria and sent to the World Service’s Hausa language service.

01:47 “Fresh air, woods…” Recorded by a Dane living in London.

01:48 “I think it’s gonna be a bright colour… “ Recorded by a listener in Gwent.

01:58 “I think there’ll be more people…” The global population is currently estimated at around 7 billion. In 2011 the UN predicted it may hit 10.1 billion by the year 2100.

02:10 The BBC first broadcast the Greenwich Time Signal aka ‘the Pips’ in 1924. Each pip is a 1 kHz tone (about half way between musical B5 and C6). This is a rare opportunity to hear them not on the hour since as a rule the BBC only allows them to be used for time-keeping purposes.

02:15 Radio Reunited concludes with a piece inspired by the ‘pips’ that Damon Albarn specially composed which he plays it on piano and glockenspiel.

BBC 90 years of History
This links to the BBC website which has a interactive timeline of the last 90 years of the BBC, with the main events plotted and information on each one. 

Clips throughout the 90 years of broadcasting that are of significant relevance.

2LO was the second radio station to regularly broadcast in the United Kingdom (the first was 2MT). It began broadcasting on 11 May 1922, for one hour a day from the seventh floor of Marconi House in London's Strand. This building, opposite Somerset House, was demolished in 2006, apart from the listed fa├žade, which will be incorporated into a new hotel complex.

A first hand account of a broadcast from 2LO is given in The Spell of London by Henry Vollam Morton.
Initially the power was 100 watts on 350 metres (857 kHz). 2LO was allowed to transmit for seven minutes, after which the 'operator' had to listen on the wavelength for three minutes for possible instructions to close down.

On 14 November 1922 the station was transferred to the new British Broadcasting Company, which was itself replaced in 1927 by the British Broadcasting Corporation.

The radio station was replaced by the London BBC Regional Programme and the BBC National Programme.

The 2LO transmitter now resides at the Science Museum, having been donated by Crown Castle International on 7 November 2002.

The 'LO' part of 2LO's callsign was adopted in 1924 by the metropolitan radio station in Melbourne which, since 1932, has been a part of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. The station, 3LO, still has this callsign allocated to it but, since 2000 it has used the on-air name 774 ABC Melbourne.

The amateur radio callsign G2LO is currently held by the staff association at Arqiva, formerly Crown Castle International, formerly the BBC Transmitter Department.

The History of 2LO
Broadcast entertainment really began in the USA in 1920. There, many hundreds of stations were soon in operation, swamping the airwaves. In Britain, the approach was more cautious. Experimental stations were tried at the Marconi site at Chelmsford, Essex, in 1920 and in 1922 at Writtle, a village nearby. The Writtle transmitter had the call sign 2MT.

Another Marconi station was licensed in 1922, based at the company head office, Marconi House in the Strand, London. Its call sign was 2LO. The transmitter was located in an attic room and the aerials were strung between towers on the roof. The building is now the Marconi Wing of Citibank House, and is close to Bush House, home of the BBC’s World Service.

The 2LO transmitter was designed by Henry Round and Charles Franklin of Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph Company, and brought into use in May 1922. It remained in its original configuration for only a very short time; within weeks it was rebuilt to take advantage of new regulations allowing increased transmitting power.

During 1922 a consortium of leading radio manufacturers set up the British Broadcasting Company. The BBC took over the 2LO call sign and transmitter and opened with a broadcast from Marconi House on 14 November, given by Arthur Burrows, 2LO’s programme director. In 1925, 2LO’s duties were assumed by a new transmitter located at Selfridges, Oxford Street, but the original was kept in reserve until 1929 in case of breakdown.

At first, valve radio sets with a loudspeaker were extremely expensive. Home construction reduced the costs somewhat, but most listeners started with a simpler and cheaper receiver called a crystal set, and listened through headphones.

 Crystal sets consisted of a tuned circuit and a crystal detector, and had no batteries as the power delivered to their headphones all came from the transmitter. Most designs used a wire ‘cat’s whisker’ touching a favourable spot on the crystal at just the right pressure. The slightest vibration, such as slamming a nearby door, could cause listeners to lose the programme altogether, until they carefully adjusted the set to bring it back.

Well-off listeners in 1923 could afford to buy a valve set, such as the Burndept Ultra IV, which cost £75 at 1923 prices. Learning to operate such equipment could be a daunting prospect (rather like buying a new home computer today), involving several pages of quite complex instructions to absorb.

‘Straight’ radio sets probably needed a garden aerial, but paradoxically sets with a ‘superheterodyne’ circuit had to have a less efficient indoor frame aerial. This was because such sets used an oscillator which was capable of radiating interference if the incoming signal was too strong. This unwitting transmission of interference (or ‘oscillation’) was a big problem for several years, and was taken very seriously by the Post Office - offenders ran the risk of having their licence withdrawn. Eventually better circuit design largely eliminated it.

In 1929, 2LO closed down and was replaced by high-power transmitters at Brookmans Park, Hertfordshire. The Marconi House transmitter was taken there as a reminder of the pioneering days. Twenty-five years later, however, it was in need of tender loving care. This was administered by enthusiastic BBC engineers Charles Sutton and Ray Milligan, who rebuilt the transmitter, as far as possible, to its original design.

In recent times 2LO has been kept at the former Daventry transmitting station in Northamptonshire. During 2002, the Science Museum reached an agreement with the BBC and Crown Castle International Ltd, the owners of 2LO, for the transmitter to be donated to the Museum. A few weeks before 2LO was handed over to the Science Museum, Barry Marshall, the Museum’s Conservation Manager, visited its then home at Daventry to prepare the equipment for transport.

The delicate transmitting valves on 2LO needed careful handling while the transmitter was moved first to Birmingham for the BBC’s 80th-birthday concert at Symphony Hall on 7 November 2002, and from there to the Science Museum’s store at Blythe House, West Kensington. At a reception after the BBC concert Lord Puttnam, an NMSI Trustee, formally accepted 2LO on behalf of the Science Museum from Gavyn Davies, BBC Chairman, and Peter Abery, President and Managing Director of Crown Castle UK Ltd.

Science Museum London
The Voice of the BBC looks back to the BBC’s first broadcast on 14 November 1922: a moment when radio listening changed from a specialist hobby to a national pastime. This small exhibition explores early radio, from the performer in front of the microphone, through transmission, and finally to listeners across the country.

In the early 20th century, radio underwent a rapid transformation. Unlike existing communications technologies, such as the telegraph and the telephone, radio could provide information and entertainment to thousands of people simultaneously.

By the 1920s demand for radio was difficult to ignore and countries around the world had to decide how to use and regulate it. The exhibition marks the moment when a British idea of broadcasting began.

At its heart is part of the ‘2LO’ transmitter. Originally located in Marconi House on the Strand, London, 2LO was the station from which early BBC programmes were transmitted. Before each show the presenter would announce, ‘This is 2LO, London Broadcasting Station calling!’ Though this transmitter was replaced in 1925 it continues to symbolise the excitement and creativity of the early days of broadcasting.

On 14 November 2012, to mark the 90th anniversary of this first broadcast, the BBC will transmit a special edition of Simon Mayo’s Drivetime from the Science Museum. At 17.33 a composition by Damon Albarn entitled Radio Reunited will be transmitted across more than 60 BBC stations.

National Media Museum, Bradford
The National Media Museum also celebrates the 90th anniversary of BBC with a display of seminal radio artefacts, including one of the original Big Ben microphones used to capture the sounds of the bell in 1924; a ‘Lip microphone’ dating from 1937, specially designed by the BBC to block background noise from sports commentary in the 1930s; and a famous ‘biscuit tin’ radio, dropped by parachute over occupied Europe during World War II. This display is a small part of almost 1,000 unique and rare objects, which have been donated by the BBC to the Museum so they can be curated and exhibited for the nation.

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