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  • 1864 – James Clerk Maxwell calculates the theories of electromagnetic radio waves or wireless signals.
  • 1879 – David Edward Hughes transmits and receives the first wireless signals.
  • 1887 – Heinrich Hertz proves the existence of radio waves. His work is so important that his name is still used today in connection with radio frequencies:- MHz - Megahertz, KHz - Kilohertz.
  • 1890 – Edouard Branly produces the first practical detector of radio waves, in the form of a glass tube filled with metal filings, which becomes conductive when it receives signals.
  • 1894 – Sir Oliver Lodge improves Branly's detector and develops a "Coherer" to detect and transmit radio waves over a short distance.
  • 1896 – Marconi arrives in Britain and files his first patent for improvements in transmitting and receiving radio signals.
  • 1901 – Marconi receives and transmits signals across the Atlantic.
  • 1904 – Dr John Ambrose Fleming of the Marconi Company patents the first valve - a diode, to be used in detecting wireless signals.
  • 1906 – R.A. Fessenden makes the first real broadcast of wireless telephony, when he sends speech over a distance of several hundred miles in the USA. As well as his own voice, he transmits a phonograph recording and plays the fiddle.
  • 1907 – Improving on Fleming's valve, Lee de Forest patents the first triode valve, which can amplify as well as detect wireless signals.
  • 1922 – In October 1922, the British Broadcasting Company is formed jointly by the Marconi Company, Metropolitan Vickers and The Western Electric Company. Before it begins broadcasting regularly from Station 2LO in November, the Broadcast Receiving Licence is introduced, at a cost of 10/- (50p) per year – about one third of the average weekly wage!
  • 1937 – Guglielmo Marconi, the man whose initiative had brought this boon to all the world, dies. Two minutes radio silence is observed internationally - a fitting tribute.

The Golden Age of Radio

Although electromagnetic radio waves were known to exist in the 1860s, more than 20 years elapsed before the first wireless signals were transmitted and received. A gigantic breakthrough occurred in 1901, when Marconi succeeded in transmitting wireless signals across the Atlantic, from Polhdu, Cornwall to Signal Hill, Newfoundland. Within the decade, valves had been patented, that could detect and amplify wireless signals.

The crystal detector first brought radio into our homes. Crystal sets were cheap, easy to build and provided adequate volume for one person. The most commonly used crystal was Galena, a sulphide of lead. You had to search with a spring of fine wire (the cat's whisker) for the crystal's sensitive spot. All the energy in the headphones came direct from the aerial which was as long as possible and a good connection to earth.

In the early days, broadcasts were restricted to seven minutes out of ten for a maximum of one hour a day and in 1919, enthusiasts could 'listen in' to W.T. Ditcham from Marconi's works Chelmsford, reciting train time-tables! Shortly after a song recital by diva Dame Nellie Melba in June 1920, the authorities banned entertainment broadcasting for its triviality and 'the considerable interference with other stations'.

Eventually, restrictions were lifted, the BBC was established and transmitting stations opened across the country. There were now demands for a loudspeaker so that all the family could 'listen in' together and crystal sets disappeared, to be replaced by all enclosed mains receivers.

Progress was rapid. By the end of the decade, valved portables had been introduced, combining aerials, receivers, speakers and batteries into one carrying case and the first mains operated sets were appearing.

The building of the National Grid and establishment of the Central Electricity Board in the 1930's resulted in mains receivers becoming standard equipment, dispensing with the need for batteries. Designs were further influenced with the use of Bakelite. It was cheap, easily moulded, lightweight and available in colours.

By the outbreak of WW2 in 1939, almost 9 million radios were licensed; three quarters of Britain's homes owned a set. During WW2 radio's role was vital. The BBC News and Overseas Service relayed the latest developments whilst programmes like ITMA and Workers' Playtime provided light relief to a troubled existence. From the end of the First World War until the advent and take-over of television in the 50's, radio reigned supreme. It became an indispensable part of family life and the nucleus of home entertainment.

Miniature valves were introduced in the post-war years, resulting in the popularity of small portables – but by the early 60s ‘the Tranny’ heralded a new era of radio design. By the end of the millennium, solar powered and wind- up receivers were available…as ecologically ‘green’ as the old crystal sets. The Radio Story had gone full circle.

Crystal Set. Mitchell Electrical and Wireless Ltd, 1922 ‘Miniature Wireless Marvel’ Crystal Set, 1923 Crystal Set. Amateur built. 1924 Crystal Set. Brownie Wireless Co, 1925 1 v. Receiver. Aeriola, c.1925 3 v. Receiver. Radiette, c.1928 3 v. Receiver, c.1926 Receiver. Gecophone, c.1927 4v. Receiver. Gecophone. 1924 Mains Receiver. Bush, model DAC90, 1948 Mains Receiver. Phillips, model 834A, 1933 Mains Receiver. (Wartime Civilian Receiver), 1944 Receiver, Kolstar-Brandes, model FB10, 1950 Pocket Transistor Radio ('Tranny'). Topp, model Juliette, 1965 Tranny. Fidelity, model RAD12, 1968 Pocket Tranny, c.1965