Signs on entry to the county town declare, ‘Chelmsford. Birthplace of Radio’. The story of wireless in Essex is little known and much forgotten.
In 1899, Guglielmo Marconi opened the world’s first radio factory in Hall Street, and later, in 1909, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics “in recognition of [his] contribution to the development of wireless telegraphy": (http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/1909/). The name Marconi is synonymous with Chelmsford. Many men and women once had apprenticeships with this electronics Company, now a shadow of its former self following the end of the Cold War. But in terms of the wireless the year 1920 saw the beginning of the first broadcasting service. Captain H J Round had developed the first transmitter over which Dame Nellie Melba was heard in June that year. This famous artiste was sponsored by Lord Northcliffe of the Daily Mail to give a 30 minute concert over the airwaves, and many listened in. But the service was sporadic.
An except from ‘Essex Pie’ tells the story of how radio came to Writtle. “We received a letter from head office saying that the amateurs, in the form of the Radio Society of Great Britain, wanted the Marconi Company to design, install and maintain a station on their behalf and that we had better do the job at Writtle.” P. P. Eckersley: 'The Power behind the Microphone', 1941. (http://www.vam.ac.uk/activ_events/adult_resources/memory_maps/historical/writtle/index.html)
So it was in 1922, broadcasting from an ex-Army hut in Lawford Lane in Writtle, “Two Emma Tock”, 2MT Writtle, became the first regular entertainment broadcaster (http://www.radio-electronics.com/info/radio_history/gtnames/round/hjround.php). Beginning on 14th February on Tuesday evenings for just half an hour Captain P P Eckersley entertained listeners with gramophone records and merry banter. Programmes were planned in a nearby public house – the Cock and Bell – now Blue Bridge Restaurant and Bar (renamed and opened about two years ago) and if some stories are to be believed the pub piano was occasionally rolled down the road to the makeshift studio. These were pioneering days!
The website http://www.2mtwrittle.com/ says:
‘2MT Writtle – The Birth of British Broadcasting’ by Tim Wander charts the full story of the early struggle to achieve a national broadcasting service in this country – from the famous 1920 broadcast of Dame Nellie Melba in Chelmsford, through Writtle’s sparkling success to the birth of the BBC in 1923.
“Peter Eckersley became Britain’s first DJ, and the light-hearted spirit which pervaded the whole proceedings and sheer joie de vivre that bubbled across the ether were not only a first but truly unique in the history of broadcasting.
“Often a one-man show, but always a team effort, the radio station known as 2MT at Writtle established an individuality all its own which forever remained a pleasant memory to its broadcast audience and wrote a crucial chapter in the history of radio and broadcasting.”
In 1982, Essex Radio (now no more) produced a documentary ‘Sixty Years of Radio’ commemorating the beginning of regular commercial broadcasting.
Today the ex-Army Hut from which 2MT was broadcast is housed at the ‘Chelmsford Science and Industry Museum’ at Sandford Mill, Chelmsford. It is open to the public on Sundays in August each year. Chelmsford Amateur Radio Society have a report for 2009 (http://www.g0mwt.org.uk/sandfordmill/sandford-2009-08/sandford-2009-08.htm) and photographs of the hut where radio commenced ( http://www.g0mwt.org.uk/sandfordmill/sandford/sandford.htm).
Page from BBC Essex website about ‘Marconi Day’ celebrations held at Sandford Mill in April 2007: http://www.bbc.co.uk/essex/content/articles/2007/04/24/marconi_feature.shtml
Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2MT