On Wednesday 14 November the BBC marked the 90th anniversary of its first broadcast by playing a specially commissioned composition by Damon Albarn to radio listeners around the world at 1733 GMT.
More than 55 BBC radio stations came together for Radio Reunited – the first attempt at a simultaneous broadcast since the British Broadcasting Company was formed in 1922. Each BBC station played the composition, entitled 2LO Calling, which is a combination of specially written music, iconic sounds from radio’s past and present, and messages to the future from listeners around the world.
The broadcast was hosted by BBC Radio 2’s Simon Mayo, who presented his show from the Science Museum, now home to the original 2LO transmitter on which the first broadcast was made. The historic broadcast reached an estimated 80 million listeners worldwide.
2LO Calling opens with the iconic chimes of Big Ben and features the first ever broadcast from the 2LO transmitter. In addition to the vocal messages which were collected, the chaotic wavelength overload features ‘Three O’Clock In The Morning’ – which was the number 1 hit at the time of the first BBC broadcast in 1922. There follows elements as diverse as a Morse-coded Bertrand Russell, the blackbird and skylark, commentary from the Cameroon election, with Pashto, Danish and Pradeep transmissions, and of course, the ubiquitous pips.
According to Damon Albarn, the composition fulfils a lifelong aspiration. “There is a special musicality to some of the vocal messages, which I tried to preserve. The piece is essentially a snapshot of the airwaves, taken over the last two weeks. Added to that, I got to do what I’ve always wanted - to play along with the pips,” he said.
For Tim Davie, BBC Acting Director-General, the collaboration proves that radio remains a relevant medium for millions. “We’re thrilled that Damon Albarn has provided this composition, which helps us mark a piece of radio history, bringing audiences together across the world. After 90 years, it is fantastic to see radio still innovating and maintaining its relevance to listeners.”
The Science Museum is marking the anniversary with a small display featuring part of the original 2LO transmitter that made the first BBC broadcast on 14 November 1922. The display takes visitors back to the time of that first broadcast and will also feature two radios used to receive the BBC’s early broadcasts, a ‘meat-safe’ microphone used in the early BBC Savoy Hill studios and an early copy of the Radio Times from 1923.
The same 2LO transmitter will also be shown in its entirety in an exhibition about the development of communication technology, due to open at the Science Museum in 2014.
Tim Boon, Head of Research and Public History, Science Museum, claims the event marks an important historic milestone. “The first broadcast by the 2LO 90 years ago, marked the moment when radio moved from the realm of the ‘amateur enthusiast’ to the first proper public broadcasting service in Britain. This exhibition takes visitors back to a time when everything, from the technology to the content of the programmes, was still new,” he said.
Radio Reunited is the centrepiece of a series of on-air events to mark 90 years of BBC Radio, which will also feature a wide range of special programming across BBC stations.
Listeners around the world were invited by their favourite BBC station to contribute a single, short message addressed to future generations. It is hoped that these messages will be listened to 90 years from now. Their contributions ranged from hopes and fears to observations and advice. Some were selected for use by Albarn in his composition. All the messages are being passed on to the Mass Observation Archive at the University of Sussex to ensure they are preserved for another 90 years and can be made available for academic research.
The BBC stations contributing and taking part in Radio Reunited are:
BBC Radio 1, BBC Radio 1xtra, BBC Radio 2, BBC 6music, BBC Radio 3, BBC Radio 4, BBC Radio 4 Extra, BBC Asian Network, BBC Radio 5live, BBC London 94.9, BBC Radio Berkshire, BBC Radio Kent, BBC Oxford, BBC Sussex, BBC Surrey, BBC Radio Solent, BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, BBC Essex, BBC Three Counties Radio, BBC Radio Norfolk, BBC Radio Suffolk, BBC Newcastle, BBC Tees, BBC Radio Cumbria, BBC Radio Manchester, BBC Radio York, BBC Radio Humberside, BBC Radio Sheffield, BBC Radio Lancashire, BBC Radio Stoke, BBC Radio Leeds, BBC Radio Merseyside, BBC Coventry & Warwickshire, BBC Radio Derby, BBC Hereford & Worcester, BBC Radio Leicester, BBC Lincolnshire, BBC Radio Northampton, BBC Radio Nottingham, BBC Radio Shropshire, BBC WM, BBC Wiltshire, BBC Radio Gloucestershire, BBC Radio Bristol, BBC Radio Cornwall, BBC Radio Devon, BBC Guernsey, BBC Radio Jersey, BBC Somerset, BBC Radio Ulster, BBC Radio Foyle, BBC Radio Nan Gaidheal, BBC Radio Scotland, Radio Wales and BBC World Service outlets, including English and Arabic services.