Saturday, April 05, 2008


As we enter Chelmsford, the county town of Essex, we see the familiar sign “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. As a 22-year-old scientist on the verge of perfecting his dream that eventually changed the world for many people, he was already well ahead of patenting 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.”