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Lets Sit Around The Wireless in The 1920s

a family around the radio at christmas in 1920sFrom the Truth About Father Christmas to the Fund for Children, find out how Radio broadcasting became the centre of 1920’s family entertainment.

It’s hard to imagine a time where carols weren’t blaring from our Radio over the whole of December however in the roaring twenties that was exactly the case.

The BBC Radio, which was formed in the 1920’s with the help of Marconi, had only just 6 broadcasting stations (unlike the 59 BBC stations we have now) around the UK in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, Glasgow and Cardiff.

On Christmas Day 1922 listeners to the radio would be tuning in to listen to the BBC broadcast “The Truth About Father Christmas” , the first radio broadcast at Christmas, as well as the first transmitted religious programme and the only festive broadcast of the season!

Arthur Burrow presenting at BBC

Radio, like today, played a big part in family entertainment in the 1920’s, not only at Christmas but throughout the whole year.  Think too, of all the festive months gone past when you sat with the family hanging your decorations on the tree whilst listening to the radio.

On the 14th February, 1922, listeners would be able to hear the voice of programme director, Arthur Burrows reading the evening news.  At that time the daily news could not be broadcast before 7pm to avoid upsetting the newspapers, unlike today where we hear news on the hour every hour.

1922 november radio licenseThis was also the beginning of radio licences, these were charged at 10/- (10 shillings – 50p) half of which went towards the BBC, today our annual TV licence is £145.50 – if only it could go back to 50p!

Daily transmissions included afternoon shows from the BBC Dance Orchestra and Children’s Hour (a show which continued for 40 years), as well as a range of variety shows – not your usual popmaster quiz then?!

Newspapers refused to carry the transmission times of radio programmes because they feared their sales would be affected if radio became too popular…a paper which didn’t tell us when our favourite Christmas shows were on? This would cause outrage in today’s world.

It wasn’t long before the Radio Times appeared on the shelves giving details and times of upcoming radio shows including Christmas specials – phew!

The Christmas 1923 issue saw a colour illustration of a family sitting together around the radio and was called “Just a song at Twilight”  It was the first ever edition of the publication to feature a coloured front cover and was a roaring success.   Future releases also featured festive pictures and the 1924 Radio Times featured a children and adults party with “Santa Claus Calling” on the front cover.

Radio Times Christmas Edition 1920's

Radio gave the people of Britain a chance to hear the monarch speak and King George V was first heard on radio during a broadcast from the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924.   His speech was relayed on loudspeakers outside major department stores and the crowds were so large that they stopped the traffic in the road – a bit like the Queen’s speech on Christmas day.

The opening of a new radio transmitter meant that nearly everyone in the UK could tune in to the radio and by 1926 there were 2.25 million licenses issued showing the popularity of ‘the wireless’.  Today vintage radio styles are as popular as they were back in 20’s.

Just as today, sport in the 1920’s was well supported and on 15th January, 1927 the first ever sports live broadcast featuring a Rugby International match between England and Wales at Twickenham was heard. Other sporting events such as Association Football, Grand National, Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, FA Cup Final, Cricket, Royal Tournament, Trooping the Colour and Wimbledon Tennis soon followed.

Old time radio shows which were popular of the day continued to air on BBC Radio including one of their most popular shows ‘The BBC Christmas Fun for Children’ which was first broadcast on 11th November 1927, this went on to become the ever popular – Children in Need, and in November 1929, The Week in Westminster, the world’s longest-running political programme (now on Radio 4), started under the name The Week in Parliament, a series of talks by women MPs and also the first Greenwhich Time Signal started broadcasting in 5th Febuary 1924 and is still going strong 90 years on.

children in need

As the decade drew to a close the first transmission of John Logie Baird’s experimental 30-line television took place and after the close of radio programmes, the BBC started transmitting experimental television pictures, although still some time away, the rest, as they say, is history.

To read more about radio history in the 1920’s read more

What Christmas radio shows do you like to tune into?  Do you know some fun information based on the 1920’s?  Why not comment below and take part in our Christmas’s ByGone era.

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