Pioneering Commercial Radio the ‘D-I-Y’ Way

Stephen Williams
late of Radio Normandy, Radio Paris and Radio Luxembourg

It was while I was at prep-school that a friendly master invited me to listen to his wireless-set, a very novel experience for me. There was no broadcasting then in Great Britain so it was to a continental station we tuned – to the Eiffel Tower in fact. There was only a violin playing but it turned me into a wireless fanatic from then on. My schoolmaster encouraged me to build a crystal set of my own to be ready for British wireless which was due to start in a few months. He suggested the ‘ingredients’ I should use – two empty cotton reels for aerial insulators, wire from old electric bells for tuning coils, an old all-metal bicycle pump as a variable condenser, broken lead soldiers fused with flowers of sulphur to form the crystal, and the only two items I should have to buy – a pair of headphones and a 100ft coil of aerial wire. I built the set, at a total cost of thirty shillings (1 .50 in today’s money), and on this contraption I was able to listen proudly to the debut of the BBC on 14 November 1922, and from the moment I heard the announcer say ‘This is 2LO calling, 2LO, the London Station of the British Broadcasting Company’, I was seized with an ambition to have a job like his.