Signal of strength: Eiffel Tower celebrates a centenary of radio broadcast

·2-min read

A hundred years ago this week, France's most famous landmark, the Eiffel Tower, was first used as an antenna for radio programmes. Looming high above the city's uniform skyline, the tower was an obvious choice to pioneer public radio in France, proving the country's prowess in broadcast technology.

On 22 December 1921, just three years after the end of WWI, "Radio Tour Eiffel" broadcast its first ever show, a live performance featuring legendary singers.

The trial was the beginning of a long series of broadcasts that continues today, with 45 television stations and 32 FM stations – including RFI – broadcasting from the Eiffel Tower.

According to the Lille-based publication Le Réveil du Nord of 24 December 2021, "a concert by wireless telephony took place at the Lille Theatre".

Famous artists of that era, the legendary Sacha Guitry, the soprano Jeanne Hatto, the tenor Maurice Dutreix and others sang in a microphone in a room in the Eiffel Tower, from where it was broadcast to a "wireless phone set" in the hall of the Lille theatre.

"A large audience attended this session," according to the dispatch.

According to the Eiffel Tower's official website, radio transmission facilities were installed at the instigation of General Gustave-Auguste Ferrié, France's pioneer in radio technology, who wanted to use the building as an antenna for civilian broadcasts.

The tower had been used by the French military since 1898, and played a crucial role in the transmissions of coded messages during WWI.

Returns from the concert were to be donated to the Radium Institute, led by Marie Curie (currently the Institut Curie), which pioneered in attempts to cure "cancer patients with a radium treatment".

Birth of public radio

Broadcast experiments for the general public started in November 1921.

Initially, only Parisians equipped with primitive christal radio receivers – uncommon at the time – were able to witness the birth of public radio, and listeners were few.

The first broadcasts were low key, and mainly designed to test the equipment and improve sound quality.

Initial broadcasts mainly consisted of music and weather reports.

After the historic broadcast to the Lille theatre, some 200 kilometers from Paris, more followed. On February 6, 1922, they eventually lead to the official opening of Radio Tour Eiffel.

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