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Occasional posts on subjects including field recording, London history and literature, other websites worth looking at, articles in the press, and news of sound-related events.

07 April 2015

Challenging the BBC to broadcast unusual sounds in 1924

THE RADIO PRODUCER and sound artist Mark Vernon has sent me a clipping from the June 1924 edition of Popular Wireless Weekly, a magazine for radio enthusiasts which was published between 1922 and 1934.

It’s an editorial piece written in the facetious style which educated English people used to adopt when they were excited about something, but didn’t want to appear so. The cause of the excitement was the BBC’s first live outside broadcast the previous month in which the cellist Beatrice Harrison accompanied a nightingale’s song. This became an annual fixture lasting almost 20 years and there’s a Radio 4 retrospective about it available for listening here.

Popular Wireless article from 1924


The mentions of Wembley refer to the British Empire Exhibition which ran from 1924 to 1925.

With the exception of the nightingale and cellist, the BBC were generally reluctant to take their microphones out of the studio environment, and the earliest location recordings (as distinct from live broadcasts) didn’t begin until 1934 with Lawrence Gilliam’s feature ‘Opping ‘Oliday.

However, someone at the BBC may have recalled the Popular Wireless editorial when they commissioned a short series entitled Unusual Recordings, which included the sounds of a transatlantic cable-laying ship and various other workplaces. Only one of the programmes survives to the present day: it’s of Victoria Coach Station in 1935 and you can listen to it right here.

Popular Wireless Weekly was an early forerunner of those magazines where you have to buy every edition to collect the parts for a model battleship or tyrannosaur. The Weekly, of course, sold radio kits piece by piece and the Radio Museum website has the pictures and plans for its ‘Northern Star’ wireless set from 1933.

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