Christmas 2007 is set to be a lively time at BBC Essex with programmes tailored to suit all ages and interests. Television maybe important to some, but radio is vital to many. A generation of folk has grown up with BBC Essex since its birth 20 years ago on Wednesday 5th November 1986 and listeners have come to appreciate its presenters. For programme contributors and visitors who journey to New London Road, there’s always a warm welcome and cup of tea taken in that little glass-walled studio.
So as we enter Chelmsford - by any route – up comes the familiar sign indicating “The Birthplace of Radio”. Residents of the town have long regarded this as a matter of fact, yet visitors from all over the world marvel at what Guglielmo Marchese Marconi achieved when he first arrived in Chelmsford in 1896 from Bologna. He was a 22-year-old scientist on the verge of perfecting his dream that eventually changed the world for many people. Marconi had already successfully tested his wireless transmitter at his family home in Italy but could not patent his idea in his home country.
In 1900, Marconi’s Wire-less Telegraph Company issued the legendary 7777 patent allowing adjacent wireless stations to operate without interfering with each other, followed in 1901 by the first transatlantic signal between Cornwall and Cape Cod.
Marconi founded the Wireless Telegraph Company, building his first factory in New Street. There was much urgency for the building’s construction and this became the world’s first purpose-built radio factory, taking just 17 weeks for the 500 workers to erect it in 1912. Here, he and his associates carried out much of the early research into wireless telegraphy.
We’re familiar with the famous photograph of Dame Nellie Melba the Australian opera singer who made the first official radio broadcast in June 1920 from the New Street factory. Other transmitting research buildings were constructed, including the famous ex-army hut at Writtle, from which that famous wireless engineer, Captain Peter Eckersley began transmitting programmes on Tuesday evenings for half an hour. Eckersley was presenter, producer, actor-manager and writer His announcement; "This is Two Emma Toc, Writtle testing, Writtle testing", became almost a catchphrase of the day. Soon the sister company 2LO was created, then the BBC. 2MT did not itself become part of the BBC and closed down on in 1923. Peter Eckersley went on to become the founding Chief Engineer at the British Broadcasting Company.
The Essex writer, Arthur Mee, commented: “Now that the world is one vast whispering gallery, it is difficult to remember that it began at Writtle – the birthplace of British Broadcasting.”