The BBCs early radio network offered the world's first public wireless service. The early 1930s were ground-breaking years for medium wave radio. New high power regional transmitters were replacing the city based stations of the 1920s. The first one began transmitting from Borough Hill near Daventry, replacing the stations in Birmingham and Nottingham covering the Midlands. Other transmitters followed suit covering London and the South, the North, Scotland and the West. These would broadcast both the National Programme produced in BBC Broadcasting House (see “Brave New Home”) and a Regional Programme produced in local studios. Situated on remote hilltops for maximum reach they increased the BBCs audience dramatically. Culturally they crystallised the country’s regional identities, defining a nation’s self-image thereon.
Because European agreements restricted the BBC to ten MW band allocations, only five twin-wave transmitters were planned. The fourth was Westerglen near Falkirk, known to be operating by September 1932. Since this was received in Edinburgh, my grandfather’s EKCO discs may provide evidence of its airdate. Indeed the MP3 below suggests a broadcast of the Scottish Regional Programme from Westerglen on 30th June 1932.
Shortly after 9pm that day my grandfather records the BBCs National news which would have been relayed on all BBC transmitters. He then introduces the BBCs Scottish Regional news from Edinburgh. This would only have been radiated by the Westerglen transmitter indicating that it had started operating by 30th June 1932.
Turning to the BBCs Long Wave broadcasts, this relied on a single transmitter 5XX operating from Borough hill since 1925. Reputedly 5XX replaced an oak tree which had marked the centre of England (the “Dane Tree” planted by an occupying 11th Century Viking army at the furthest point from any sea).
The world’s first public serving LW transmitter, 5XX had been broadcasting the BBCs National Programme since 1930. In his 1998 book “Daventry Calling the World” engineer Norman Tomalin gives its reach to have been 150 to 200 miles, leaving its Northerly reception short of Newcastle and Scotland.
Despite Norman's estimates, the above EKCO disc suggests 5XX had greater overland range. This contains an “off air” recording of organist Reginald Foort playing from the Regal in Kingston-on-Thames on 23rd April 1932. This was received in Edinburgh sometime after 4:45pm that day, even though the Scottish Regional Programme was carrying Alex Freer and his Band from the Plaza Ballroom, Glasgow (see archive Radio Times listings below).
The conclusion may surprise. Not only did a Scotsman prefer cinema organ from England, but prior to Westerglen's dual programme transmissions in June, he could only have heard it on LW from 5XX. This gives 5XX an overland reach of 270 miles, exceeding the upper 200 mile estimate of Norman Tomalin. 5XX ceased LW broadcasts in 1934 so perhaps Norman's knowledge did not benefit from operating experience.
Today Borough Hill with its broadcasting past has re-entered folklore. Only a few concrete anchors remain to signify the aerial army that once camped there. Nature has returned a new oak tree to mark England's centre, providing an eerie echo of the poem which was written for the opening of 5XX all those years ago (see below).
Greenbank Records, Plymouth, England