Marconi Books

2MT Writtle - THE Birth Of British Broadcasting

By Tim Wander

'Hello CQ. The concert's ending, Ending for 2MT!'

In 1922 the radio station was given the call-sign '2MT' was located in a small Marconi Company hut in the Essex village called Writtle.

Just over ninety years ago, at eight o’clock in the evening of a cold and frosty St. Valentine's Day in 1922, regular, radio broadcasting came to the British Isles for the first time.

Radio Station 2MT at Writtle became the birthplace of British Broadcasting.

But it had all started in Chelmsford two years earlier..............

Dame Nellie Melba's
Chelmsford Concert

The great lady herself, Dame Nellie Melba, when at the Marconi Works in Chelmsford in 1920 for her historic broadcast was shown the huge 450 ft twin masts towering over the factory and the town. It was explained to her that from the top her voice would be heard throughout the world. Her answer is now radio folklore, 'Young Man, if you think I’m going to climb up there you are very much mistaken'. The lady sang and was heard throughout Europe, but the Post Master General decided that Britain wasn’t ready for broadcasting.

Then it started again in the small Essex village called Writtle............

A weak and static laden radio signal crackled out from an ex army hut on the edge of a partly flooded field now used by the Marconi Company. The new art of broadcasting had come to Essex and Britain had gained her first official voice. The radio station and its ‘Two Emma Toc’ call sign went on to achieve its own unique place in the history of radio communication.

But 2MT was so much more than an experimental radio station. The whole thing was conceived and run by the irrepressible Captain Peter Pendleton Eckersley. A brilliant engineer, ‘ PPE’ liked to play records pivoted at some other point than their centre, invent wireless noises, bang half filled milk bottles and never suffered from the dreaded disease of microphone shyness. With its impromptu comedy sketches, the first ever broadcast radio play, children’s five minute spots, guest artistes, burlesque entertainment’s, fan clubs, competitions and parodies of grand opera it was a new type of entertainment. Radio station 2MT made history and defined the next fifty years of broadcasting.

The 2MT Writtle Team

The power behind the microphone, Peter Eckersley became Britain’s first DJ, and the light-hearted spirit which pervaded the whole proceedings and sheer joie de vivre that bubbled across the ether were not only a first but truly unique in the history of broadcasting.

Often a one-man show, but always a team effort, the radio station known as 2MT at Writtle established an individuality all its own which forever remained a pleasant memory to its broadcast audience and wrote a crucial chapter in the history of radio and broadcasting.

The young Writtle radio engineers work led directly to the formation of station ‘2LO’ and then the BBC. Peter Eckersley became the BBC’s first Chief Engineer taking with him most of the Writtle pioneers to build a National Broadcasting service from the ground up.

Marconi engineer W T Ditcham seated alongside
the early Chelmsford transmitter

"2MT Writtle – The Birth of British Broadcasting" by Tim Wander charts the full story of the early struggle to achieve a national broadcasting service in this country – the full story of the famous 1920 broadcast of Dame Nellie Melba in Chelmsford, through Writtle's sparkling success to the birth of the BBC in 1923. It has been written for a wide readership, not just lovers of historic tomes and technical journals.

The book also includes separate technical/historical appendices on the Writtle, Chelmsford and 2LO transmitters, the Dutch station PCGG, and early pioneers such as Grindell Matthews, Reginald Fessenden and David Hughes. It has new sections on the History of Writtle village and the Cock and Bell Pub. and charts the development of speech transmission during the First World War. It also covers the start of broadcasting in America and provides non technical explanations for the mysteries of radio transmission.

In 1988 Tim Wander published the first edition of 2MT Writtle – The Birth of British Broadcasting - drawing on much previously unpublished archive material and photographs. The first print run sold out within a year. This completely rewritten and revised new edition written in 2010 benefits from 21 years more research, the internet and modern technology.

2MT Writtle
The Birth of British Broadcasting
By Tim Wander

Laughter from the Earliest Days of British Broadcasting. AVAILABLE NOW.

Publication date 27/09/2010, 140,515 words, ISBN 9780 755 206070 RRP £20.95

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