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Saturday, 27 February 2021

Easter Rising Coach Tour: 2020 SUCKED!! THANK GOD FOR 2021

Easter Rising Coach Tour: 2020 SUCKED!! THANK GOD FOR 2021:   For reasons that will probably become clearer shortly, I have recently been attending counselling and one of the ‘tricks’ she encouraged m...

Friday, 26 February 2021

Harold Forster, The Art of Advertising 1920's Radio. The Marconi Hero


Today the real success of an advertising campaign can be reflected in how memorable their campaign was. Coca – Cola’s musical ads, ‘I’d like to Teach the World’, their reappropriation of Santa Claus from his original green out fit to the Coke colours of red and white are instantly identifiable, ‘For Mash get Smash’ or ‘It’s Martini’ are still fondly remembered. In the 1920’s the print media was the main weapon of the advertisers to reach the public but in the early part of the roaring Twenties, a new pretender to the advertising crown was making it way to market, radio.


The Marconi company led the way with innovation in both transmitting and receiving, producing the most popular ‘listening-in’ devices for the wireless. To deliver their message, the Marconi Company used the newspapers and trade publications. In order that their products stood out from the crowd, in 1923 they commissioned a series of drawings used in newspaper ads encouraging purchases of their radios sets. They showed how valuable they were to enrich the lives of those who invested in the new medium.


They contracted an illustrator and artist to capture the ‘joy’ of radio listening and his work created a sensation in the newspapers and for their readers. Radio became a must have. The graphic illustrations, portrayed in an art deco style were stylish, appealed to the emotions and illustrated how radio could make like better. Advertisers were selling a dream; the world of radio was elegant no matter where you were or what you did. Many of the Marconi portrayals were of upper class people in decorative, modernist settings, creating a utopia often far from the lives of working class post war Britons. The purchase of a radio set was far beyond the financial reach of many of those who were still recovering from the First World War. Homemade crystal sets were extremely popular with working class listeners. Marconi’s advertisements exuded luxury and created a theme that the new medium of radio would offer everything including music, weather forecasting and information talks.

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The illustrations displayed a modern affluent Britain. The surroundings are plush set in drawing rooms, with quality furniture and fittings. The men are smartly dressed, with nearly all of them smoking a pipe or a cigar. The women are drawn in elegant dresses and crafted hairstyles. The ballroom scenes exude affluence and a rich lifestyle and spell the end of the live music era replaced by music through the wireless. Radio is a unifier of the family unit as the drawings feature parents and their children, even the children enjoying the radio broadcasts with their grandparents. One depicts what appears to be a teacher and her children outdoors being educated by the radio broadcasts. In one scene a couple have gone to the country to have a picnic in their automobile listening to the radio while the enjoyed their moment yet if you look closely, they are not alone as another man watches on from the tree line. The radio set is shown as the perfect accompaniment indoors or outdoors.  The reality however for many living in the UK in the early twenties, all of this high-brow living was aspirational.



By 1923, the British Broadcasting Company had just been formed and had taken over the running of the various stations around Britain operated by wireless set manufacturers. On 18 October 1922 the British Broadcasting Company Ltd was incorporated with a share capital of £60,006, with cumulative ordinary shares valued at £1 each and six major shareholders,

The shares were equally held by six companies:

·        Marconi's Wireless Telegraph Company

·        Metropolitan Vickers Electrical Company

·        Radio Communication Company

·        The British Thomson-Houston Company

·        The General Electric Company

·        Western Electric Company

Marconi was at the heart of transmitting and manufacturers radio sets. They wanted to cement their position at the forefront of radio, in a crowded field of manufacturers. Harold Forster was employed to produce a set of illustrations that would be used in the newspaper campaign for their premier product ‘The Two Value Marconiphone’. The campaign, which was broadcast at a national and local level, helped the Marconi Company maintain its lead as the main seller of ‘listening-in’ sets in the UK. The illustrations used in the advertisements had two different styles often used deliberately in the publication they were placed in to appeal to various classes. The more elaborate drawings appeared in national newspapers and trade publications, and often as half page advertisements while the darker, less crowded portraits appeared in regional newspapers.


Forster, in his late twenties in 1923, would have an illustrious career as an illustrator and an artist. He did not confine himself to the Marconi work, illustrating many products and brands. He was responsible for pre-war Black Magic chocolate illustrations. He produced a number of the famous World War Two posters commissioned by the British Government including the ‘Keep Mum, She’s Not So Dumb’ and ‘Forward to Victory’ posters. He would also produce iconic movie posters including for the Jack Hawkins action film, ‘Angels One Five’.

Wednesday, 24 February 2021

Have You Heard Your Local Pub Advertised on the Radio?


A Dutch radio programme being recorded in the Stags Head, Dublin in 2019

With over seven thousand businesses across Ireland excluded financially from the lucrative radio advertising market in Ireland, in 2021 is it possible to attract their advertising revenue into the world of radio?

While many of us know that soft drinks, Nappies, Beauty products and holidays are regularly advertised on the various Irish radio stations, these are often agency campaigns for domestic or global businesses targeting Irish listeners nationally. ‘Great Irish Radio Ads’ postulated,

‘Of all the mediums available to marketers, radio is the most powerful tool to tell a great story. Storytelling works superbly through voice alone and it’s an impactful way to create a strong connection with the listener’.


This is a question that you may ask yourself when thinking about your recent radio listening,

‘when is the last time you heard and advertisement for your local public house?’


In 1996 I was the General Manager of the Portobello public house and after a major refurbishment, we purchased a radio campaign on 98FM. It was a major investment in announcing our re-opening but was unsustainable on a longer term basis due mainly to costs. The campaign was paid for from a promotional budget to target listeners who would enjoy our newly built nightclub along with a subsidy from one of our major suppliers. In order to promote the newly built Hotel attached to the pub, a national radio campaign to market our product proved too expensive and cheaper options in targeting possible guests was through regional and local newspapers. The initial radio campaign was extremely successful as a promotional code delivered on the radio was used as an entry payment to the new nightclub, delivered large crowds. Radio works.


In 2003, when I ran my own pub in the centre of Dublin city, I did some basic local market research on which station my potential customers listened to. This basic market research ranged from asking locals, to listening to what was being played on car radios in the area. As a result, I purchased a Sunshine 106 campaign. This was for two reasons. Firstly, it was in the top five most listened to stations in the catchment area of the pub and secondly it was the least expensive of those five. The campaign which had a radio ad aired over two weeks, that I was never overly happy with, also included a live OB from the pub. This proved extremely popular. The word of mouth reaction was excellent, the local newspaper was there to photograph the event and I believe that the post publicity from the actual campaign was of more value to my business than the radio advertisement itself. [1]

Pubs are the conduits by which companies like Guinness, Smirnoff and Heineken sell their products to the public. The publican acts as a middle-man and these major companies with extensive advertising budgets encourage the consumer to visit the pub to partake of their goods. It is generic advertising for the pub and not specific to any particular public house.[2] A public house radio advertising campaign for a pub in Dublin 4 is of little interest to someone living in Dublin 13. If that publican purchased advertising on a national or regional radio station, his pub would not resonate with a listener in Tralee. Even to advertise on a commercial Dublin station is probably not targeted enough to make much sense unless it is the launch of a nightclub or as part of an entertainment package. Community and neighbourhood radio would be the ideal route for that publican but in Ireland in 2021 there are limitations on the number of advertisements allowed on community radio[3] and none allowed on temporary licensed stations.[4]


A forerunner of legal local and community radio was pirate radio with many cities, towns and villages across Ireland had at least one pirate radio station entertaining and informing the local community. With advertising relatively cheap, many pubs used the pirate radio stations to reach their clientele whether it was their food offering, the upcoming entertainment, their new beer garden or an event being held there, radio was the perfect vehicle for publicans and their businesses. Since those days of the 1970’s and 1980’s the rules on advertising alcohol have changed and tightened including the blurb ‘Drink Responsibly’ added to the end of both radio and television advertising. The public house has been excluded from the airwaves During that period of illegal radio broadcasting numerous stations were located in public houses including in 1945 at the Beehive pub in Ardara, Donegal which was the location for Radio Nuala. Radio Milinda was famously located above the Diamond Pub in the Gloucester Diamond area of Dublin in 1972, while in the eighties during the golden era pf pirate radio several pubs were located in public houses. 

Centre Radio initially operated from Prosperous, County Kildare above Larry’s public house in the town going on air in September 1985. In 1983, Big Tree Radio became a short-lived station based above the Big Tree public house on North Main Street, Swords. Radio Glenfarne was operated by Paul Graham and Eamon Brookes from the County Leitrim village of Glenfarne for the local Festival beginning in 1980 based above a public house in the village and in the same county Radio North West began life above a pub in Drumshanbo. One of the so called Super Pirates Radio Leinster went on the air using a five-kilowatt transmitter on April 29th 1981 broadcasting from a site behind Lamb Doyle’s public house in Sandyford. The community based station Radio Ringsend who broadcast for the duration of the local festival from 1982 until 1988, was located in various venues around the village including a room above Sally O’Brien’s public house on Thorncastle Street. Dublin’s Westside Radio was based above a pub on James’s Street in 1982 and Laser 89 in Waterford was also based above a pub. In the UK, a station Boogaloo Radio began broadcasting from the beer garden of the pub.


Following the imposed and extended Covid 19 lockdown[5] restrictions, which has seen many pubs closed for more than a year, there will come a moment when publicans need to reconnect with their client base. Some major pub chains will have advertising budgets but as revenue has been starved from them for over twelve months, how those budgets are spent will be tightly controlled. For the smaller, single business publican, the needs are different and in neighbourhoods and small villages across Ireland in urban and rural settings, an avenue to advertise their business will be critical as they meet the challenge from other pubs in close proximity to theirs. For targeted advertising many publicans have turned to social media and have purchased ad campaigns from companies like Facebook and Twitter. They also rely on sharing and retweeting but as the country re-opens and in twelve to eighteen months as the tourism sectors begins to regain momentum, pubs will need to spread their net for business wider. The issue for social media platforms is that they have attracted negative publicity with the rise of so-called ‘fake news’. The bonus however is the targeting, as advertisers can minutely target the audience they are after. This requires a certain amount of tech skills which is attractive for younger publicans but can be somewhat of a minefield for more traditional publicans. Radio will be key to the success of the recovering economy and is still one of the most popular mediums for the Irish consumer with 85% of all adults listening to radio every day.


Radio is popular in the car during the commutes in the morning and evenings with this reflected in the increased radio advertising rates during those periods. The evening commute is often the period when listeners decide where they will be socialising later that evening or over the forth coming weekend. Radio is used by those exercising and by demographics including stay at home parents, the elderly and sports enthusiasts. The definition of the term ‘radio’ has changed and expanded in the past decade as technology advances. Radio station broadcasts or audio content deliverers are now available not just through the tradition analogue linear broadcasts on AM and FM but via station apps, online providers such as Tune-In, Radio Garden and and through media players located on station websites. The use of devices to access online radio and the increasing use of smart speakers like Alexa is a growing market. According to[6],

‘The digital tools used are for the most part a mobile device (11.9 per cent), with the PC/laptop used by 2.6 per cent and smart speakers used by 1.9 per cent. Despite widespread media content, platforms and devices, Irish radio maintains strong audiences, with the report showing 3.2 million people now tuned in to radio each weekday – 81 per cent of over-15s. at  streams over 160 Irish radio stations on its service with over half of them only available to listeners online such as Birdhill Radio or Scariff Bay Community Radio. According to the services founder Brian Greene for the twenty days up to February 20th 2021, there had been over 50,000 listens to radio on his service alone. He also demonstrated how easy it is for online radio stations to add adverts to the streams.


With my own personal passion for radio, one of my favourite stations is an American Old Time Radio operator called ‘The Crime and Detective Channel’ which broadcasts programmes from the golden era of US radio, from the 1930’s to the 1950’s. During the interval between programmes, a number of adverts are aired not directly by the US station but through Tune-In. This advertising is helpful to the operator to offset the costs of streaming. The adverts that I heard, as distinct to a listener from Cork City, were targeted due to the analytics used identifying my interests including numerous advertisements for Tesco, where I regularly shop and use their free Wi-Fi when I am in store, identifying me as a potential recipient of the advertisements. To me that was good value for money. This could also be used to target my socialising habits. If I live in a particular area, the local public house adverts could be targeted to my listening habits. These analytics could also identify any Pub or restaurant when I checked in online, commented on through social media or used a search engine to identify.


Pubs and publicans will need radio, should use radio in a targeted, efficient manner and ultimately will reap the rewards of using such a dynamic and diverse medium as radio. Ad agencies such as Audio One should be encouraged by bodies such as the LVA and VFI to present proposals to the licensed trade to both boost their survival upon reopening and to give publicans a chance to understand how digital radio works and what it can do for them. The pubs need affordable access to the media not just as an industry but as individuals serving very diverse communities across the country. One size will not fit all.

 From the RTE media sales department,


A retail advertisement containing alcohol will be subject to either Full Alcohol restrictions of Part-Alcohol restrictions.

Full alcohol restrictions are the same restrictions that apply to a branded alcohol advertisement. Part-Alcohol restrictions apply to the period of 6am to 10am on all Radio and Television channels, RTÉ programming and the “Big Big Movie”.

Advertisements are considered Full Alcohol unless the majority of the products being promoted are non-alcohol. For example, a retail advertisement which includes offers on three products can only be regarded as a part alcohol advertisement if two of the products are non-alcoholic. A four product promotion would require that three of the products are non-alcoholic in order to avoid additional time and station restrictions applicable to branded alcohol advertising.

It is important to note that in addition to the number of different products being promoted if there is excessive emphasis on the alcohol element or a disproportionate amount of alcohol featuring within the advertisements then full alcohol restrictions would apply.”

[1] Other Campaigns

[2] Unless the pub itself is featured as a location in the advertisement.

[3] BAI Rules applying to Community Radio 4.5: Advertising The time to be given to advertising in any clock hour shall not exceed a maximum of six minutes.

[4] BAI Rules applying to Institutional and Temporary Radio Broadcasters: 4.8 Advertising & Teleshopping Spots Broadcasters licensed further to Section 68 of the Broadcasting Act 2009 may not carry advertising, including teleshopping.

[5] Some pop up radio stations appeared during the Lockdown broadcasting from closed public houses including ‘Covid Radio Swinford’ which broadcast from the front lounge of the White House pub on Chapel Street, Swinford, Co. Mayo.


Monday, 15 February 2021

Hello Residents of Mars! Are You Listening to FM104?


With the increased interest in the planet Mars, with several space missions reaching the Red Planet in 2021 from China, the United States and the UAE, the attention of this planet in our fellow solar system occupant, is not knew. Was there ever a possibility that life on Mars was tuned into earth radio, even Irish radio? Are they listening to FM104 today? The search for the unknown has led to science fiction, rumours, panic and a media frenzy that dates back almost a century. The science fiction of HG Wells in his Martian attack of Earth in the 1898 book War of the Worlds, would influence the human view of the far off planet.


Over a decade before Orson Wells caused real world panic with his War of the Worlds radio broadcast in 1938 and with radio broadcasting in its infancy, radio signals from Mars picked up on a radio set was a major story. Two years before Ireland got its own radio station, 2RN in 1926, the newspapers were full of stories of signals going to and coming from the dwellers on Mars. The excitement enveloped the amateur and the serious scientist alike.

As more and more people began to listen-in, distortions and natural interference with the airwaves, such as sunspots not understood at the time, were identified as signals from outer space. Inventor and one of the father’s of radio broadcasting Nikola Tesla[1] picked up strange signals on his receiving set and immediately speculated that they were coming from Mars. Even the great Marconi himself claimed to have received signals from outer space. Much of the excitement culminated with events in August 1924. A renown astronomer and physicist Professor David Todd was at the forefront of ‘radio from Mars’. As early as October 1919, newspaper headlines like ‘Dr. Todd Revives Astronomers' Old Hope of Talking to Mars’ was earning him vast publicity both in the United States and worldwide as the new medium of radio was evolving. Todd was an academic at Amherst University.

In an article written by Todd in the magazine ‘Wireless Age’ he posed the following questions,

‘Did the Martians try to radio to us on earth? Could the mysterious signals reported when Mars was closer to the earth than it has been for 120 years have been from Mars? Is there any physical condition on Mars that would prevent the Martians from having radio? If the Martians have mastered radio is there any basic reason why they should have fallen into the use of dots and dashes?’

By 1924 Radio and Mars reached a new peak. A radio signal they believed would take 4minutes 21 seconds to reach mars from Earth and a similar amount of time for earth to receive any reply from the creatures and spacemen on the Red Planet. In the book Haunted Media: Electronic Presence from Telegraphy to Television by Jeffrey Sconce he writes,

‘In a story from 1923, ‘The Great Radio Message from Mars’, an operator formerly interested in wireless contact with the dead turns his attention to the red planet. Using a special crystal taken from a meteorite, the experimenter makes a weak connection with the ‘Martians’, who tell him in a garbled message that the ‘negative animal magnetism’ of his family is interfering with their transmissions. The experimenters hasty solution is to kill his entire family with an axe. That same year, Hollywood’s first attempt at a 3D feature ‘Radio Mania’ also released as M.A.R.S, Mars Calling and the Man from Mars, told the story of a starry eyed inventor who believes he has made two way radio contact with Mars only to discover in the end that it was all a dream’


On Thursday August 21st 1924 with Mars at its closest point to the earth for nearly ten years, most US radio stations, that cluttered the airwaves, agreed with Professor Todd’s request to go silent for nine minutes from the 50th minutes of every hour from midnight on the 21st for thirty six hours to make receiving a Martian signal easier to hear.  Todd’s assistant in the experiment was Charles Jenkins who was instrumental in the US in the invention and expansion of television.


The mission to hear Mars spread beyond the US border. The British Western Mail newspaper reported on August 24th under the headline ‘Has Mars a Wavelength?’ it reported,

‘Preliminary experiments made at 1.30 on Thursday morning[2] at Dulwich village in connection with the reception of possible signals from Mars. Two wireless sets were used, the 24 valve PW set and a six valve set.’

 A 65 foot aerial was used with members of the listening party taking it in turns to keep watch on the 30,000 metre wavelength from 1.30am to 2.30am.


According to Henry Woodhouse, the President of the Aerial League of America,

‘This Mars Radio Check-up may give the world more knowledge about the "ruddy" planet than has been obtained by astronomic study since Aristotle made his first observation of Mars 356 years before our era, or 2280 years ago. All that Professor Todd needs from radio fans is a record of the radio strength at the time they listened to whatever happened to be on the air, with the approximate time when it was strong or faint. Reports covering a day or longer will be most helpful, but those covering an hour in a day will have value. These reports should be addressed to Professor David Todd, Chairman of the Mars Check-up, Aerial League of America, 280 Madison Avenue, New York City’.


One newspaper reported that attempts in wireless communications with Mars would take place from Jungfranjock, Switzerland with extremely powerful wireless sets ‘in the hope of picking up any messages that the Martians may be sending us’ Professor Low from the Royal Observatory in Greenwich speculated that the Martians are more likely to receive messages sent by smoke or light than wireless. Professor Eddington, an astronomer at Cambridge University called the experiment to contact Mars as ‘absolute nonsense’.


After a weekend across the world attempting to make contact with Mars, the experiments were deemed a failure but almost a century later Mars is still the focus of attention from the humans on earth.



Amherst University Archive

Scientific American

Wireless Age Magazine

New York Times Archives

American Radio History

British Newspaper Archives

Irish Newspaper Archives

Transmitting the Past: Historical and Cultural Perspectives on Broadcasting

edited by J. Emmett Winn, Susan Lorene Brinson

The Dissertation of Emily M. Simpson for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in History of Science presented on June 12, 2018. Title: Mars and Popular Astronomy, 1890-1910

[1] According to NASA, ‘Nikola Tesla (1856-1943), a brilliant Serbian-American inventor and scientist, is building a wireless system to communicate with Martians. (N. Tesla, "Talking with the planets", Collier's Weekly, Vol 24, 4-5, 1901)’.

[2] No British station would be on air after midnight

Tuesday, 2 February 2021

For Good or Evil, the GAA Embraces English Culture in 1923 via the Airwaves

For decades Rule 42 of the GAA[1] rulebook forbid the playing of what was seen as British sports, like soccer, rugby and cricket at GAA grounds across the island of Ireland including its headquarters at Croke Park in Dublin. In 1923, after several years of uncertainty due to the War of Independence and the Civil War, the GAA urgently needed to generate funds to pay off debts for the development of Croke Park. The ground had become synonymous with the events of Bloody Sunday 1920 and was a beacon of Irish nationalistic traditions. The anti-English sentiments had spilled over into the new Irish Free State but the GAA were desperate to fund their operations at the headquarters on Jones Road.


In June 1923, it was decided to hold a Fete or festival spanning the first two weeks in June opening on the second. Apart from sporting competitions on the field of play, markets, dancing competitions and stalls were installed on the grounds, all with one aim, to gather in as much money as they could from the paying public. The Fete was opened by Dan McCarthy TD, the president of the GAA and he suggested the optimistic plan to bring the Olympics to Croke Park. This sentiment was echoed by the then Postmaster General J.J. Walsh, both men veterans of the previous battles against the British. This launch on the steps of the main stand was the first time ever that the speeches were delivered via a loudspeaker system installed by James Kearney and his Irish and Continental Trading Company. The ‘broadcasting’ of the speeches to those gathered on the pitch was described by the Irish Independent as ‘arousing much curiosity’ and ‘the first fete in Ireland where this microphone system was used’.


From The Freeman's Journal
From Practical Wireless 1923

The installation of the system led to a bitter exchange between Kearney and another TD and veteran of the fight against the British going back to the Easter Rising, Sean McGarry[2]. McGarry, an electrician and businessman, seemed to under the impression that the loudspeaker system required a licence but it didn’t and he also complained that the equipment used was imported from Britain instead of being guaranteed Irish. Kearney wrote that McGarry did not know the difference between ‘broadcasting’ and ‘listening-in’. In a letter to the Irish Independent signed by ‘Fair Play’, who most likely worked for McGarry, wrote,

" As a member of the staff of an electrical manufacturing firm with a branch in Dublin which employs electrical engineers and salesmen and pays a large amount of money annually in wages, rates, and taxes in Ireland, I would like to know why permission for the reception of wireless broadcasting is refused to legitimate manufacturers and dealers of wireless apparatus and granted to people who have no connection with the electrical industry. I see by the papers that the Postmaster-General refuses to grant any further permits, and the following day permission is again granted to certain, individuals."

It may or may not have been a coincidence that in the midst of the Fete on June 15th, the electrical supplies shop on Andrew Street owned by McGarry was broken into, ransacked and a money box taken. While the GAA leadership and membership rallied against anything English, they were not against using very specific British institutions to generate cash for the organisation, cash was King.


One of the most popular attractions at the Fete and one that required a ticket in addition to the ground entry fee, was also organised by Kearney and had received a license from the PMG Walsh. For four hours of ‘wireless listening-in’ to British radio stations, attendees paid an extra one schilling per head. Underneath the main stand a wireless receiving set was set up with ‘perfect acoustics’ and over two weeks thousands of Dubliners enjoyed the then unique experience of listening to the wireless. In 1923, there was no Irish station to listen to, so the radio was tuned into English stations relaying concerts, gramophone records and even live sports. The Belfast station had yet to go on the air and while Cardiff and Aberdeen were both audible in Dublin, the audiences at the GAA were only treated to English stations. The gramophone records were ‘risqué’ for many of the Catholic church faithful and didn’t really sit well in the proud Irish music tradition but the younger generation flocked to the wireless room he hear the more ‘decadent’ modern music played by the English stations.

The Dublin Evening Telegraph reported on June 6th,

‘Last night[3] a most enjoyable programme was listened to by appreciative audiences. First, we had Manchester[4], which entertained us with music and song, then we switched to Newcastle to avoid a lecture which was not of great interest. From Newcastle[5] we had some fine dance music admirably rendered. When this station announced it was closing down at 10.30, we switched onto London[6]. After some orchestral selections we got news straight from the ring about the Ratner-Todd fight[7]’.

The Radio Schedule that visitors to Croke Park's Wireless Room would have heard

While the GAA held their fierce anti-English attitude, they saw no wrong in their embracing distinctly British culture broadcast over the airwaves. The GAA inadvertently had both created an interest in the new medium of radio broadcasting and for all thing culturally English. The organisation would however go one to achieve radio success as the new Irish Free State station 2RN became the first station in Europe to broadcast live coverage of a field sport when they aired the commentary of a match from Croke Park in August 1926. 


[1] Gaelic Athletic Association

[2] McGarry served on the Dail’s Wireless Committee

[3] June 4th 1923

[4] 2ZY

[5] 5NO

[6] 2LO

[7] Roland Rodd enjoyed a  points victory over Augie Ratner (USA) at Kensington, London on 4 June 1923, 

Thursday, 28 January 2021

The First Irish Singer on Radio & The First Children in Need both on 2MT in 1922

At 7pm on Valentine’s Day February 14th 1922, Britain’s first scheduled radio station 2MT first went on the air broadcasting every Tuesday night from the small Essex town of Writtle. The station was the experimenter arm of the Marconi Company in wireless telephony with Captain Peter Eckersley in charge. Each night the station would go on air at 7pm with Marconi’s publicity man in London Arthur Burrows despatching gramophone records to be played and artistes to perform live.


The Government required that the station turn off it’s transmitter for 3 minutes after every seven minutes in case the authorities made contact to close down. Eckersley arrived at the station in March and reduced a number of the formalities that restricted 2MT’s broadcasts. This often occurred after the staff had visited the nearby pub The Cock & Bull and imbibed themselves with numerous gin and tonics. The station begins to gain traction with even reports of members of parliament rushing from the House of Commons at 7pm to tune in their new devices, the wireless to 2MT.

(For a brilliant multi-episode, multi-layered history of British radio pre-BBC radio this podcast from Paul Kerensa comes highly recommended. The BBCentury Podcast )

It was in the midst of this growing success that the first Irish artist appeared on the radio, or the wireless for the purposes of listening-in as it was known as at the time. At 7pm on May 16th 1922 Captain Eckersley introduced the artist of the night, Isolde O’Farrell. O’Farrell had been sent from London, where she had been making a name for herself on the stages in the capital. She was a familiar sight at Irish music events especially on St. Patrick’s Day and was a darling of the Gaelic League in London. In 1920, she had sung ‘The Soldier’s Song’ which would later become the Irish national anthem, receiving a tremendous reception to her performance.


The Westminster Gazette reported,

The Marconi Company transmitted a radio-concert from Writtle, Essex, on Tuesday evening, and although a small transmitter was used, with an emergency aerial, excellent results were obtained. Miss Isolde O'Farrell, the dramatic soprano, sang a number of songs, including Softly awakes my heart " from "Sansom and Delilah." these were heard as clear as a bell at Marconi House. 'the concert was transmitted on a wavelength of 700 metres, which is in close proximity to the 600 metres used commercially. Many amateurs, nevertheless, reported good reception.


The Bio reported,

‘THE VOICE WHICH WAS HEARD AT A DISTANCE OF SEVENTY MILES. " Hello CQ. Hello CQ[1]. 2.M.T Calling!" 3 Was that it? That is what it sounded like to me, at any rate. I had the ear-pieces on and by means of the radio-telephony system was prepared to listen to a concert being given by Miss Isolde O'Farrell, sixty to seventy miles away, at Writtle. My hopes of hearing the concert were realised or at least a portion of it. Miss O'Farrell sang "Softly Awakes My Heart," the famous aria from " Samson and Delilah”, " The Maori Song" by Alfred Hall, " Life's Roadway" by Emmett Adams (accompanied by the composer); and Hermann Lohr's " The Little Irish Girl." The latter was a rich and rare treat. Words and accent, the notes of the piano, could be heard by myself and all around, and it was a curious experience to listen to this delightful song being sung, say, seventy miles away. With the generous permission of the Post Office, the Marconi Company broadcast this concert, and thanks to the fact that there was an instrument in Chesham, myself and others were able to enjoy the concert. So much for the actual concert. We were the guests (on Tuesday) of Mr. Leonard J. Swan, of Bellingdon-Road, son of Mr. R. J. J. Swan, and were having the benefit of his receiver and thus listening to the concert which Marconi were broadcasting upon a wavelength of 700 metres. Each selection was prefaced by the " Hello " and the mystic words, meaning that Marconi were calling, and the voice of the caller was as clear as a bell. Much of the music was very clear, now and again it was rather spoilt, and this I was given to understand was caused by some other station on the same wave-length jamming. Between each selection there was a two minute interval, and we were advised by the voice seventy miles away to " Stand by "not that it took two minutes to get the next song ready, but it gave other stations a chance of sending out messages. At first sight this radio telephony set looked a very plain wooden-box apparatus—about a foot square, with ebonised front. But inspecting it more closely one found about eight handles. These are part of the adjusting apparatus by these handles " the instrument is so adjusted as to pick up the signal. Four " lamps " inside the box (lamps to the uninitiated) are really valves by which the signals are detected and magnified and coils and condensers are so utilised that they " tune " the set to the required wavelength. By this ingenious box of tricks, which I hope I have not misdescribed, and a very innocent looking wire suspended outside, Mr. Swan picks up the Marconi and other messages. He has picked up messages from stations as far off as New York, Italy, Moscow, France, and Holland and recent experiences were to receive the news of the boat race and the Lewis-Carpentier fight within a few minutes of the close of each event. This apparatus was made by Mr. Swan himself and is the result of improvements upon four sets he has made since he started the " work " purely as a hobby. In conversation with Mr. Swan I gathered that some of the people who think that they can instal a wireless set and " listen in " in the same way that they can put a record on a gramophone, turn the handle, and listen to the music, are in for a disappointment Mr. Swan did not state this in so many words, but that was my impression. A " cheap' set (that is cheap and nasty) may let them down, and a beginner with what is known as a four-valve set might get confused and make a general mess of things. But Marconi’s come to the rescue. They have made apparatus on the unit system, and by this means the beginner can start on one valve and add as many as he pleases afterwards. Marconi and such like corporations are evidently laying themselves out to help the beginner and to popularise " radio.' Hence the concert referred to. I have heard " The Little Irish Girl " many times, but it was a unique experience to stand at a quiet and beautiful spot in quiet Chesham and hear it sung seventy miles away. Thank you, Mr. Swan.’


Isolde O’Farrell immediately began to cash in on her success over the airwaves as the Pall Mall Gazette (May 22nd 1922) reported the following week,

‘Miss Isolde O’Farrell, the Queens and Albert Hall dramatic Soprano, whose songs were successfully radiated on 600-metre wavelength from the Marconi station at Writtle Essex last Tuesday, will appear at the Kingsway Theatre today and on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday afternoons.’


O’Farrell’s historic broadcast was followed by another piece of history and the first radio appeal that would find its way one day to Children in Need on the BBC. According to the newspaper reports,

‘A Wireless Appeal for the Listeners-in of the periodical concert conducted on Tuesday Marconi's transmission station Writtle were delighted to hear what must have been novel appeal. Hundreds of amateurs within a radius of metres enjoy the musical programme, which this occasion was preceded by beautifully worded address by Mrs. Stanley Lupino, the wife the famous comedian, behalf of the Children's Fresh-Air Fund.

Mrs. Lupino was the wife of the famous vaudeville and film star of the day Stanley Lupino. She was Anglo Irish and a performer in her own right known on stage as Connie Emerald. She was born Constance Gladys O’Shea to Irish parents and the couple were parents to the Hollywood star Ida Lupino.


In the days prior to internet searches many artistes embellished their background stories to make themselves more appealing to both the public and producers. There was also a tendency for artists who would agree to appear on the new medium of radio to use pseudonyms to avoid issues with their gramophone record labels who initially felt that radio would be a disaster for the business of selling records and music sheets. The newspapers reported that O’Farrell was from Dublin, a former Irish hockey international and sung as a Soprano. She attended the Florence Etolinger School in London and appeared in many of the school’s amateur productions including ‘Calling Herrin’. Some show organisers deemed her to be a contralto. In March 1922 just months before her appearance on the ether, she had made headlines when she performed at the Queens Hall Theatre the ‘Mystery Waltz Song’ by Emmet Adams which was described in the ‘Daily Mirror’ as ‘one of the most beautiful Viennese waltz songs ever written’.


However, to add a little mystery of its own to this story, the following appeared in the newspapers in 1924 indicating that O’Farrell may in fact be a Tipperary born singer named Oonah Mairs. The search goes on.

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[1] CQ was used as an invitation to listeners to tune in especially from abroad.