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Not that everyone was quick to spot the way the wind was blowing. As Stanley reveals, while America had 600 radio stations by the mid-1920s, all of them disseminating the latest hits from New York and Los Angeles, Britain handed a broadcasting monopoly to just one — the BBC. That was disastrous for British popular music, not least because the people running the BBC seemed to hate the stuff.

An internal BBC memo in 1933 described crooning as “a particularly odious form of singing” — this at a time when Bing Crosby was crooning ten hit songs a year.

Monopolies, eh?

21 thoughts on “Hmmmm”

  1. Harry Haddock's Ghost

    And things didn’t improve until stations like radio Caroline forced it’s hand by breaking it’s monopoly.

  2. In the South at least, there was access to English speaking commercial stations based on the continent. Some of those wireless sets had pretty powerful receivers and Radio Luxembourg et al were easy to find.
    Roy Plomley and PG Wodehouse worked on French radio broadcasting to England.

    There’s a great film on this subject starring Will Hay called Radio Parade of 1935

  3. Was there ever any (even spurious) justification for the BBC monopoly? Band width, space on the dial, limited transmission capacity without interference or something else? Or was it just patrician concern for the morals of the plebs?
    Genuine question. Anyone know?

  4. “An internal BBC memo in 1933 described crooning as “a particularly odious form of singing” — this at a time when Bing Crosby was crooning ten hit songs a year.”

    This hasn’t changed… The odd sidestep I make to any BBC programming (radio/tv/interwebz) gives me the distinct impression the UK has never left the 1950’s. Or possibly the 1970’s when the programs are for “a modern audience”.

  5. Philip: in the early days, the large electrical companies set up their own stations. You had Marconi’s 2LO in London, Metropolitan Vickers’ 2ZY in Manchester, and so on. Basically, the seed of what became the BBC came from the “big six” getting together to organise what we’d now call the creation of content to broadcast from their stations, in order to sell radios. Don’t forget that the British Broadcasting Company existed for a couple of years before it was nationalised. Of course, the paternalists in the establishment saw their chance and it was, but up to the point of legal monopoly it sounds like a fairly reasonable process.

    Indeed, NBC was supposed to be the same idea in America, however what eventually became CBS managed to get itself up and running before it could establish a monopoly. NBC was originally owned by RCA, which had been encouraged by the government in the early years of the century to establish a monopoly in radio production, as a protectionist measure against the British Marconi Company. But by the time of NBC, the mood over there about that kind of thing had changed (not least because CBS was there to demonstrate it as an anti-trust issue) and the government ended up actively trying to prevent it from dominating the market: it was the only broadcaster over there running two networks – the mainstream “red” and the more highbrow and experimental ”blue” – and was forced to hive off the latter, which eventually became ABC in the late ’40s.

  6. The one thing America still has (for now) is its entrepreneurial spirit.

    A number of us are still able to hear from the “trusted experts” and say “Who the fuck asked you? Let me try.” Joe Rogan was willing to compete with CNN, and look who ended up the victor.

    Sometimes it just makes us look like idiots, but sometimes it makes all the difference.

  7. It wasn’t just that. When I was young I was puzzled that my father, whose musical taste was pretty decent, used to watch the awful “The Billy Cotton Band Show”.

    The penny dropped a few years ago: the old boy was remembering when the Cotton band was pretty good, before The War.

    I also found out why there are so few recordings of that band on youtube. The Beeb obstructed their recording much of their music and destroyed the BBC’s own recordings. Bastards.

  8. In a lot of European countries, the radio broadcasts were initially performed by the PTTs, because they owned the infrastructure. Most followed the BBC pattern and nationalised the stations in the late 1920s.

  9. When FM radio started in the 50s the BBC divvied up the bottom half of the band to different transmitters based on interference criteria for the (poor) characteristics of the receivers at the time. That band plan is still in place. So you get large parts of the band empty in most places. Contrast that with big cities in the US where there is usually a station every 200kHz all across the band, and a vast variety of music and talk styles to choose from, though they all have commercials. It’s only in London and maybe Manchester where there is more choice because of pirate radio stations there slotting into the otherwise empty gaps.

  10. It’s producer capture, maybe one of the most best examples

    The BBC exists to further the interests of ‘the talent’ it’s own workers and a world view that it approves of

    Ministry of Truth

  11. Who listens to the radio using an actual radio these days?
    Download an app like MyRadio and you can access radio stations from around the world. Every taste catered for, some have little to no advertising. You might have to sift through a few to find one you like, but there are thousands of them – well over 10,000 on MyRadio.
    I use MyRadio as it doesn’t geo-limit what you can listen to, unlike some others.

    I drive around listening to radio stations from North Carolina, Texas, Germany and others depending on whatever mood takes me.
    The days of having a monolithic national broadcaster that crowds out local independent content are over – the local station can get a global audience.

  12. Alas, I find that fm radio offers higher quality sound than 64kbs internet radio.

    But if y’all’s like classical music, go dig out the kmfa austin radio and listen to classical 24/7. No ads. The long pieces are played properly.

    Public radio, meaning listener financed.

    Giv it a whack

  13. This discussion brings back memories of the mid 1980s when ship based pirate radio had a little rebirth broadcasting on long wave. Caroline and Lazer 558 were good fun and offered an alternative to radio 1 and local commercial stations. Reception was a little poor on an ordinary transistor radio but there was a stall in Beverley market that sold Russian made “Globe-Scanner” radios that were ideal for picking them up. These radios were quite bulky and old fashioned but really solidly made and covered a huge range of frequencies.

  14. Bloke in North Dorset

    Further to Tractor Gent’s comment …

    The BBC’s real monopoly was defining interference and the signal to interfere levels that they needed to deliver their service. This allowed their engineers to object to just about every competitive proposal on technical grounds.

    That should have been countered by Ofcom, but the spectrum engineers they employed were either ex BBC or of the same mindset. This has always put competitors in the position of having to prove a negative.

    I should add, for fairness, that the mobile operators are just as bad now they have permanent licences if you’re looking to compete with them.

  15. “Who listens to the radio using an actual radio these days?” I haven’t listened to the radio – or, as I prefer, the wireless – at all for donkeys. It was when Radio 3 – or as I prefer the Third Programme – lost the cricket that I rebelled.

    On yer youtube you get some lovely stuff: yesterday was Beethoven Seven, second movement, evening. This evening will be a bit of prewar Billy Cotton. Thursday evening was a splendid reeds player Ewan Bleach and his chums. Do you know Lullaby of the Leaves?

  16. I find 90% of my radio listening is now Radio 4 Extra, somebody seems to be able curate all the good stuff from the last 80 years. I only ever switch to Vanilla Four occasionally if I want to get the first-run broadcasts of something.


    This was my favourite in the 1970’s only understanding years later how it was all achieved with pre-recorded tapes, portable transmitters and a weekly battle of wits with the authorities.

    In 1969, Radio Kaleidoscope began simultaneously broadcasting on medium and short wave bands (Canadian 43 Set TX), assuring it an international coverage, with listeners as far away as Holland and Germany feeding back on its shows. The team had a rather a close call during this period whilst using a transmission site in Rochford, after a member of the public had noticed an antenna affixed to a farm building, and alerted the local police, who arrived whilst Radio Kaleidoscope was still on air. Despite the awkward situation, the team showed the attending policeman a hastily-filled out ham radio licence, claiming they had permission for an experimental radio station. When the constable took the information back to the station to investigate further, the team took advantage of his brief absence to dismantle the equipment and make a run for it!

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