“What are the Wild Waves Saying?” 

7 December 2017 tbs.pm/14346

The Troubles of Simultaneous Broadcasting

By P. P. ECKERSLEY, Chief Engineer of the B.B.C.

From the Radio Times for 30 September to 6 October 1923

If you can telephone between London and Glasgow — and you can — it is obvious that if, instead of putting the telephone to your ear, you connect up to a wireless station in Glasgow, then whatever is said in London will be repeated in Glasgow by wireless. Wireless “broadcasts,” and if the whole population had receiving sets, then the one speaker in London would be heard by the one and a quarter millions of people of the second city of the Empire. Add Newcastle, Aberdeen, Manchester, Birmingham. Bournemouth, Cardiff, and London, and a vast audience will be asking “What are the wild waves saying?”


This idea is not new, and I well remember when Captain Round and Mr. Ditcham, of the Marconi Company, were doing the original experiments on broadcast telephony down in Chelmsford, trying the idea out.

We put in from Marconi House, London, an ordinary trunk call to Chelmsford. We connected on to wireless at Chelmsford, and we listened by wireless in London. Thus, I sat down in a little room and talked to Captain Round vid this chain.

It may seem to many a complicated method of communication, inasmuch as he was about two yards from me, to have to yell down a telephone to Chelmsford, while 15 kilowatts at Chelmsford shrieked back at Captain Round in London. But scientific people are always doing silly things like that “to illustrate a principle.” Of course, thousands — well, perhaps hundreds, or, at any rate, a few people — were listening in Prague, Rome, Paris, and the Sanjak of Novi Bazaar, and they must have been as surprised and amused as we were to hear my beautiful voice suddenly interrupted by an impatient “another thrrree minutes, please.” But truly this happened!


We have had quite an interesting time applying the system to our broadcast scheme. Somewhere about May we started some preliminary experiments, but we were early met with the trouble of “cross talk”; that is to say, the noises we made on the telephone lines were not confined to our own pair, but got mixed up with other lines. An irascible gentleman. I believe, tried to communicate between London and Manchester one night, but all he could hear was the last act of a Wagner opera rattling his ear-piece — another potential “listener” gone!

It wu amazing in those days to be up in the little room in Marconi House and to listen to the extraordinary number of sounds that could be picked up with a little intelligence and a pair of head ‘phones. Here were two terminals, and they were telling of the sorrows of Siegfried; here another two, and a voice, “If you’d get off the line a minute I could tell you what your strength is.” Another, “Five milli amps. No! sorry. I thought you were Cardiff. Oh! you’re the Marconi House transmitter’’ — or just, perhaps, another innocent two, which were connected to the ordinary broadcast, and one heard “how to sow potatoes in April.” There were ‘phones labelled Cardiff, Manchester, Newcastle, Glasgow, Birmingham, and whenever one picked them up one always heard that Wagner opera. Certainly it was an uncanny jumble, and if it got on to aerial “listeners” must have been surprised at the sounds they beard.

Brighter Bulletins?

Time went on, and from out of chaos, late nights, and hard work from many engineers emerged at last a coherent system. Now there are many voices and many sounds, but each one is under control, and the trunk telephonists now know nothing of our activities and carry on their conversations unmolested.

Even now, at the beginning of regular things, little mistakes may occur, as, for instance, when an announcer not quite familiar with the ropes cried out in his agony (and with the switch open AND when he was connected to all stations): “What the ——– do I do now?”

Sometimes, too, lines may get crossed, and I thought I detected tho other night the London News Bulletin with obligato from Newcastle! Does this not suggest a bright idea to enliven the millibars? We might have the News Bulletin, to music chosen to suit the item, and broadcast as follows : —

(Announcer) “The Stock Exchange was very lively to-day (accom. from Glasgow, “The Campbells are coming. hurrah! hurrah!”), but the pound sterling declined by .0005 points in New, York (Valse Triste – Sibelius, from Cardiff, pace Corbitt-Smith) — Steel was firm (solo on tho triangle from the Sheffield relay station) — and so on.’’

Taking it Easy.

Talking of the experiments, I asked Mr. Litt — who has done such a lot towards making the scheme feasible — if he remembered anything amusing about the experiments. He says he remembers nothing amusing from his point of view (he has worked several all-night sittings!), but when he was at Newcastle during our first efforts, he remembers a message coming from London at 1.15: “Go off to lunch now and be back at 2 sharp.” Engineers, Post Office Supervisors, Station Directors plunged into taxi-cabs (this has since been deleted from the petty cash sheets), rushed to the nearest open lunch place (it was a Sunday), and were back with serious indigestion at 1.59½ and rang up. No reply till 3 o’clock, when a happy voice from London announced the beginning of the next tests. What it is to be in London!

Captain Eckersley among his pets – the switches for simultaneous broadcasting – in the experimental room.

London Leads.

And now we have got our stations all connected up, so that we have but to change our mind with a slight click in London when the crystal user in Milngavie (I bet no Sassenach gets the right pronunciation) or the one valve enthusiast in Inverbervie (no catch) knows it for a fact. Thus, what London thinks to-day, the British Isles (at least, the intelligent members who are wireless enthusiasts) think simultaneously. Not only this, but any provincial station can be broadcast to any or all of the rest. In fact, the permutations and combinations possible are enormous.

If relay stations, little baby stations that repeat all that the big near-by brother is saying, get going, one voice may in time operate a hundred stations. Perhaps the Continent will be linked up, and in the end we shall all have to go to school again to learn Radioese, so that we can understand International Radio easily!

Captain Peter Pendleton Eckersley (1892-1963) was the British Broadcasting Company’s first chief engineer. He remained with the Company and the successor British Broadcasting Corporation until 1929, when his divorce and an indiscrete affair came to Sir John Reith’s attention and he was sacked. He went on to work for the International Broadcasting Company and became, if not an actual fascist, then at least a fellow traveller, counting the odious Oswald Moseley amongst his friends. His reputation has not recovered.

You Say

1 response to this article

Billy Wheeler 15 December 2017 at 4:04 am

“and became, if not an actual fascist, then at least a fellow traveller”

Various sources indicate that he did drift in his thinking towards Oswald Moseley and the blackshirts but that this was under the influence of his second wife Frances Dorothy (neé Stephen) who when he married her (in October 1930) was a member of the Independent Labour Party (and remained such until 1935), and perhaps more importantly because of the business opportunities which were subsequently presented to a disgraced BBC man (fired for sexual misconduct [adultery]) who would never work for the BBC again.

In the 1930s Peter Eckersley, having been forced out of the BBC, worked in setting up the International Broadcasting Company (IBC), a commercial radio service in English, on the mainland [of Europe] which could be received in much of Great Britain. He started to build a (radio) cable system into homes such that a radio receiver and radio licence were not required to hear the programs. Naturally the GPO stifled the innovation because it was a competing service to the BBC and a potential source of news and information which were outside the control of the UK establishment.

Being a frequent traveler to the mainland [of Europe], he was easily persuaded by his wife to go on vacation to then NAZI controlled Germany in the summer of 1935. This resulted in his wife having a political conversion to fascism because of the apparent order and improvement to economic and material well being which the NAZIs had instituted under the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler.

On returning to England, Frances Dorothy joined the Moseley organisation and became friends with the infamous fascists Unity Mitford and William Joyce. Peter and Frances Dorothy took further vacations to Germany and even attended the Nuremberg Rally in 1937 and 1938.

However by 1937 Peter Eckersley was no longer enamored of the NAZIs (although not publicly shewing it) and had been recruited by MI6 to work on a project to counter NAZI propaganda. In 1939 his wife effectively left him by going with her son by her first marriage on a visit to Germany to work with William Joyce and then remaining after the declaration of war.

So yes Peter Eckersley was for a while a fellow traveler and had a flirtation with the fascists but he ultimately broke off and worked with MI6, but because of his past association was not permitted after the declaration of war to participate in the war effort. This black mark was most probably because not only had shown affiliation to the fascists but because had had actually been paid income by Bill Allen and Oswald Moseley for work in 1936 and 1937 in trying to establish commercial radio broadcasts from commercial European mainland transmitters beamed towards the islands of Great Britain as a source of income for the insolvent British Union of Fascists. The establishment can tolerate political traitors turned good, but not those who made money out of it.

His wife and her son actually ended up being arrested by the Gestapo in December 1944 and remained in prison until the allied liberation. In November 1945 they appeared at Bow Street Court and faced charges of aiding the enemy in the production and dissemination of propaganda.

As for Eckersley’s efforts in relaying radio programs by telephone wires and his cable radio service, what would he have made of the thousands of radio station which can now be heard, not over the air, but via the telephone wire thanks to digitization and encoding (aac, mp3, ogg) of audio and DSL technology?

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