Wireless & Radio

As all school children of the 1940's and 50's know, Marconi invented the Wireless. Prior to it's development, all telegraphic communication had to pass through wires or cables. Wireless, or Radio as it later became known, like mobile phones today, did not require wires, hence the name.

Marconi, the inventor, established a company at Chelmsford, Essex, England, in the early 1920's and began broadcasts from there about 1923. Wireless, like Television thirty years later, quickly caught the imagination of ordinary people and the wireless craze, called 'listening in', took the world by storm.

The following extracts from letters written in 1925, are taken from my book, 'The Asletts of Benhall & Arcadia'. They give a personal glimpse of the time when 'listening in' became the popular craze in the small villages of rural England.

The first extract is from a letter written by Win Aslett, from her home at Bungay, Suffolk, early in 1925, to her sister in law, Josie Aslett at Townsville, Queensland.

“Do you know England at all. It is a dear homeland, but I don’t fancy we get somuch fun as you do with your safe surf bathing. You seem to live in the water at times, don’t you?Anyway the shots are mostly in bathing costume.

Tell George I phoned up Etheldreda at her brother’s in Ipswich at Christmas.She is much the same as ever – has a two seater Morris Cowley, and gets about well.

Frank Chambers looks very well and happy. He has been putting up a wirelesscrystal set for his mother, so that they can listen in. Has the listening in craze got to Australia? Itis getting quite the craze in England. I go to listen in at friends here. Tell George Benhall has thecraze and the following have installed wireless – Chambers, Grace, Post Office, Howells next door,Neems Saunders, Priscilla and I believe the mill, so there is a good cluster.

Tell George that Kath is bobbed. Has the bobbed hair craze reached Australia?"

Here is what Frank Chambers, recently returned from Australia to his home in England, had to say about the new wireless craze.

"Wireless is all the go here. I’ve got a crystal set. It cost me about 10 shillings to fix up,and we hear all the London Concerts broadcasted from Chelmsford. Dad and Mother are eachside of the fire listening in at the moment. I don’t like loud speakers, they are too much like agramophone. With the earphone and the set I have, it’s just the same as if the speaker or piano wasin the room, Really it’s wonderful.

I had a set in Sydney and all I had was a wire out of my bedroom window, down to thefence at the back, but then I was very near the broadcasting station. Sid has a set over at Manly."

I well remember listening to my first wireless, a crystal set made up by Jim Mitchell, one of my school mates who was interested in wireless. He made two crystal sets about 1950, one for him and one for me. The Crystal was a chip of silver lead, or galena, wired into the simple circuit. To find a radio station signal, a fine copper wire, called a cats whisker, was carefully moved over the surface of the crystal to complete the circuit. When contact was made, the broadcast could be heard through a set of old wireless headphones. The aerial necessary to pick up the radio signal stretched out of my bedroom window and right down to a post on our back fence.

During the Second World War people were glued to their wireless sets at news times to hear reports of the War. Household radios at that time were powered by radio valves made of glass, rather like light bulbs. In those days, kids used to listen to the Argonauts session on the ABC after school. Then, after the seven o'clock news, we used to listen to the serials, Martin's Corner, First Light Fraser, and Hagen's Circus.

Portable radios were large and heavy until the advent of transistor radios in the late 50's, introduced portable radios that were tiny in comparison, but just as powerful for picking up stations. The only disadvantage that the transistor radios had was that their small speakers often gave poor quality sound.

In the 1950's, the old wind up gramophones of earlier decades gave way to radiograms with Hi-fidelity and vinal records that played at 33rpm or small discs that played at 45rpm. The old records from the 40's and earlier were all played at 78rpm, so the new radiograms had to accommodate all three speeds.

In the 50's we teenagers used to listen to The Hit Parade for all the latest popular music, and on Sunday night, after the News, the highlight of the week was "Take It From Here" with Joy Nichols, Dick Bentley and Jimmy Edwards - great British comedy. Take It From Here was eventually replaced by "The Goon Show", with Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe and Spike Milligan and others. You wouldn't miss it for quids!

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