It was from a cramped former military hut that 90 years ago the first 'entertainment' broadcast was made over British airwaves.
Known as '2MT' it began reaching out to the public far beyond the its immediate surroundings in Chelmsford, Essex. While nothing like the commercial stations which compete for our attention today the informal manner in which it was presented revolutionised the way radio was perceived. This led to the realisation of what could be achieved and paved the way for the first BBC broadcasts.
The man who enabled this leap in technology was Guglielmo Marconi, the famed Italian inventor of radio, but here in the Home Counties he saw his spotlight stolen by 2MT engineer Captain Peter Eckersley, the first DJ on British airwaves.Famed for his frenetic style of presenting, Captain Eckersley played some of the most popular records of the day by simply pushing a gramophone close to the microphone- using the opening doors of the gramophone as a rudimentary fader.
Capt Eckersley is heard in the clip (above) delivering a tongue-in-cheek comment about the lack of resources at his disposal. He declares: “Serious things have happened tonight, we did expect to get a famous singer, but she failed - singers fail you know.”
His show from the village of Writtle became a fixture for listeners who could tune in on Tuesday nights between 8pm and 8:30pm.
The series came just two years after Guglielmo Marconi first established 2MT. He used the station to broadcast one of the first ever radio shows - a concert that could be heard across the country.
Although 2MT only ran off a paltry 250 watt transmitter, listeners on two valve receivers could pick up Capt Eckersley’s broadcasts as far away as Scotland. They were an immediate success.
The hut is now in a museum in Chelmsford. Curator Dr Geoff Bowles told Yahoo! News: “Radio amateurs were amazed at hearing voice on the air instead of just morse code.
“The 2MT was the start of broadcasting as we know it in this country.”
The broadcasts, put together on a shoestring budget, mostly used radio engineers to perform as on-air actors, bringing with them their own distinctive personas.
The hut that hosted the shows was a former outhouse that backed onto the Marconi laboratories in the village and were strewn with radio equipment and makeshift instruments.
“It confirmed the idea of broadcasting at all,” Dr Bowles said. “I doubt that the BBC would have come around without it because the pressure would not have been there without the Marconi broadcasts.
“The people who really wanted the BBC were the amateurs who listened in to 2MT. Until they knew there was a potential listening public, BBC radio wouldn’t have happened.”
Soon after the success of the 2MT, 2LO was established in Strand, London- forming a precursor to the BBC. Capt Eckersley became the BBC’s chief engineer, eventually taking most of the team based at Writtle with him. Though 2MT only survived until January 1923, it left an indelible mark on British broadcasting.