Book header

Announcing a major new book

From Marconi to Melba
The Centenary of the First British Radio Broadcasts
Tim Wander

2020 marks the centenary of British radio broadcasting, which forms an integral part of Chelmsford 2020 – a Year of Science and Creativity.

This new book tells the story of Marconi’s early work, the historic Chelmsford broadcasts during 1920, Writtle station 2MT in 1922, and then the extraordinary growth of the BBC.

Over 280 pages in a new all colour A4 format, with many images never seen before or colourised to bring new life to these amazing stories.

Limited to just 500 copies. Each one will be hand signed and numbered by the author.

Coronavirus update: 2020 Book and Badges

Following Monday’s announcement by the Government discouraging all but the most essential of social interactions it will come as no surprise that the various bodies involved have taken the responsible decision to cancel the public events programme until at least the end of April while the UK population follows the strict guidelines set out to help slow down the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

As such the Marconi Veterans Dinner has been postponed.

All books pre-ordered with postage paid will be sent to arrive by April 25th.

I will contact those planning to collect directly.

The Chelmsford Badges have arrived!!

RRP £19.95

Order price 2020 book only £16.50 P+P £4.50

Order price 2020 badges only £10.00 inc UK P+P

Order price 2020 book with badge £24.50 + £4.50 P+P

"It started here"

2020 logoChelmsford Celebrates the Centenary of the First British Radio Broadcasts 1920-2020 2020 logo

 Chelmsford’s Year of Science and Creativity 2020

On the eve of WWI, when the science of radio was perhaps less than twenty years old, the ether crackled with countless radio signals and the monotonous clatter of Morse code. During WWI technology developed apace as portable equipment was invented for ground to air and even air to air communication. It was the dawn of a new communications era.

Following the war, the first broadcasts were, in the great tradition of radio, complete accidents. Two senior Marconi engineers, H.J. Round and W.T. Ditcham, who ran the high power experimental station at the Marconi Works in Chelmsford first brought entertainment to the airwaves. From January to March 1920 their transmitter tests soon became far more than speech ‘telephony’ experiments, their regular evenings of music and news became true firsts in the history of radio.

During these impromptu and experimental concerts Miss Winfred Sayer, a local girl who sang with the amateur group Freddy and the Funnions, became the first lady to sing on British radio during March 1920. After the first experimental broadcasts the Daily Mail Newspaper approached Marconi's to fund a first professional 'wire-less' concert. They hired the world-famous opera singer Dame Nellie Melba.

On the evening of her concert, June 15th 1920, she was shown the huge 450 ft. twin masts towering over the factory and the town, and it was explained to her that from the top her voice would be heard throughout the world. Her answer is now radio folklore, “Young Man, if you think I’m going to climb up there you are very much mistaken”.

Dame Nellie sang and was heard throughout Europe, and her historic concert was quickly followed by summer concerts from world famous artistes Lauritz Melchior and Dame Clara Butt. Nothing like it had been heard before - it was a new type of entertainment in a new world – and what happened next was to change the world. Today we can hardly imagine the sense of amazement as for the first time live words and music came from the air, directly into people’s front rooms.

Alongside these earliest days of broadcasting an entire new industry was born. Its technology developed easily out of what previously had been the cutting-edge technologies of the telephone and telegraph industries and the heavy electrical equipment companies. The development of many new inventions would follow, from gramophones to radio transmitters, receivers, televisions, radar, and eventually, digital computers.

For the first time in perhaps a thousand years, the radio would replace the fireplace as the focus of family life. In the days before television and the internet dominated family entertainment, it was the wireless set, with its warm wooden cabinet, numerous knobs and glowing dials which provided the focus for countless cosy evenings at home.

Today, as we fast approach the centenary of the Birth of British Broadcasting it is perhaps a little humbling to think that our entire modern age of media, broadcasting and even the internet started in a temporary concert studio. In reality it was really nothing more than a hastily converted packing shed, in the middle of the New Street Marconi Works.

From radio and these first broadcasts, during the 20th Century, the modern electronics industry emerged. Today it is one of our largest global industries. As technology improved, radios would become smaller and cheaper and contemporary society now uses a vast array of electronic devices built in automated or semi-automated factories operated by the same industry.

The pace was incredible, just look at your mobile phone, no longer just a telephone, is a computer and camera…and so much more. All this started in Chelmsford……in 1920……one hundred years ago.

From Marconi to Melba –
The Centenary of First British Radio Broadcasts
RRP £19.95

Book cover
  • 280 pages – Full colour - A4 - Over 260 images
  • Each copy signed and numbered - strictly limited edition
  • ONLY 500 copies
  • Not available on Amazon
  • Publisher: TRW Publishing; 1st edition (April 2020)
  • Language: English
  • Gloss art 150gm paper, 250 gm colour cover

Chelmsford Centenary Badge

badge design Badge

Centenary Badge RRP £10.00


BBC Radio Circle Badges

Badge In 1921 the Education Act raised the school leaving age to 14. State primary education was now free for all children and started at age five. Even the youngest children were expected to attend for the full day from 9am to 4.30pm. In the country, pupils at some schools were still practising writing with a tray of sand and a stick, progressing to a slate and chalk as they became more proficient. Classes were large, learning was by rote and books were shared between groups of pupils, as books and paper were expensive. Nature study, sewing, woodwork, country dancing and traditional folk songs were also taught.

On February 14th 1922 Britain's first regular radio station took to the airwaves led by the irrepressible Peter Eckersley. One of the stations many innovations was a children's section featuring poems, rhymes and funny stories - the first time radio recognised that children were also an audience.

The new British Broadcasting Company (BBC) began transmitting in late 1922. With Eckersley as the BBC's Chief Engineer, the broadcast schedule included a Children’s Hour, broadcast daily from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. originally from the BBC's Birmingham station call sign 5IT. It was soon joined by other regional stations, then the BBC Regional Programme nationwide. It was the time of day during the week when children could be expected to be home from school, and was aimed at an audience aged about 5 to 15 years, with the biggest listening figures being at weekends when parents joined in too.

This proved so popular that in 1923 the BBC set up birthday clubs for listeners to the Children’s Hour, called Radio Circles. Initially, these clubs were run by individual radio stations and each issued distinctly different membership badges showing its call sign. With the nationalisation of radio under the BBC in 1926 and with developments in transmitter technology, the local stations were reorganised on a regional basis.

Local and national newspapers, in part fearful of the huge loss of their readership to the new radio soon formed their own Children’s Corners, or similarly named columns. Just like the radio these were hosted by ‘uncles’ or ‘aunties’, often the same journalists (with the same names) who were appearing on the new regional radio stations. They all featured topics and competitions especially for youngsters. Often the column was based on a club, which the kids were encouraged to join in order to receive benefits, such as a membership card and badge and by the early 1930s newspaper’s children clubs were in full swing. One club welcomed over 50,000 children in its first three months, and the largest boasted over half a million members.

By 1928, the Radio Circle clubs (also known by names such as the Fairy League and the Radio Sunbeams, depending on the station) had also been reorganised. Thereafter, each station issued a standard badge and certificate showing the iconic sunbeams, rabbit and cockerel, differentiated only by an attached bar showing the region's name. The Radio Circles were essentially clubs for 'Children’s Hour' listeners, who paid a membership fee of one shilling (this was later replaced by an annual subscription). Members received their Radio Circle badge and other gifts such as a certificate or calendar and were also invited to events such as picnics and Christmas parties. The main function of the Circles (other than encouraging links between children and the BBC) was to "motivate children to devote time and energy to good causes in their local areas”.

In 1933, the BBC decided to discontinue the Radio Circle clubs, citing time and administrative costs as major factors. On the 31st December that year, the club’s birthday requests were broadcast for the last time.

The BBC’s Children’s Hour programs transferred to its final home, the new BBC Home Service, at the outbreak of the second World War. Parts of the programme were also rebroadcast by the BBC World Service. They continued until 1964 until they ended with much public outcry and disappointment at the passing of what had been a national institution for generations of children. But the Radio had created a new social revolution and identified children as a new audience, a new demographic and indeed, future new customers.

As the experimental station MZX at Chelmsford and 2MT at Writtle were pre-BBC stations, no badges were ever issued. One hundred years later we are proud to put this omission right and present this new CHELMSFORD 2020 Centenary Radio Circle badge.



Chelmsford Celebrates 100 Years of Radio Broadcasting IN:

2020 The New Street Experiments and Chelmsford Broadcasts -
27 February - 6 March - First Chelmsford Broadcasts
15 June - Dame Nellie Melba's historic concert at 7.00 pm on 15th June 2020

New Street Works

"With financial sponsorship from the Daily Mail newspaper, the Marconi Company was persuaded to broadcast the world's first live recital by a professional musician - the legendary Australian diva, Dame Nellie Melba. In a makeshift studio at the Chelmsford factory, using a microphone created with a telephone mouthpiece and wood from a cigar-box, she opened her recital at 19:10 on 15 June 1920 by singing 'Home Sweet Home' and after other popular favourites and several encores, closed with the National Anthem. Her voice, carried from an aerial with towering masts, was heard from as far as Iran and Newfoundland; the signal was received so strongly in Paris that gramophone records were made."

30 July - Lauritz Melchior Concert, New Street Works
August - Dame Clara Butt Concert, New Street Works
November - Shut down of Chelmsford experimental station MZX
2021 29 December - 63 wireless societies file a petition signed by 3,300 members
2022 The Writtle Broadcasts - 2MT and British Broadcasting
February 14th 2022 First broadcast of 2MT

1 May - Marconi station 2LO began broadcasting, for one hour a day from the seventh floor of Marconi House in London's Strand for one hour daily tests on 350 metres (857 kHz) AM

2022 The Birth of the BBC
18 October – The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) is formed
14 November – First BBC broadcast from the Marconi London (station 2LO)
15 November – First broadcasts from Birmingham (station 5IT) and Manchester (station 2ZY)
24 December – First broadcast from Newcastle upon Tyne (station 5NO)
2MT at Writtle operates all year alongside BBC

8 January – First outside BBC broadcast, the British National Opera Company's production of The Magic Flute from Covent Garden
17 January - 2MT Writtle closes down
18 January – The British Postmaster General grants the BBC a licence to broadcast

10 New Street



Contact Us

For more information e-mail:

2020 logo