London Calling... 2LO Calling

The set of equipment which transmitted the BBC’s first ever programme, in 1922, is now part of the Science Museum’s collections. Find out here about its eventful history and preservation.

2LO

Broadcast entertainment really began in the USA in 1920. There, many hundreds of stations were soon in operation, swamping the airwaves. In Britain, the approach was more cautious. Experimental stations were tried at the Marconi site at Chelmsford, Essex, in 1920 and in 1922 at Writtle, a village nearby. The Writtle transmitter had the call sign 2MT.

Another Marconi station was licensed in 1922, based at the company head office, Marconi House in the Strand, London. Its call sign was 2LO. The transmitter was located in an attic room and the aerials were strung between towers on the roof. The building is now the Marconi Wing of Citibank House, and is close to Bush House, home of the BBC’s World Service.

The 2LO transmitter was designed by Henry Round and Charles Franklin of Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph Company, and brought into use in May 1922. It remained in its original configuration for only a very short time; within weeks it was rebuilt to take advantage of new regulations allowing increased transmitting power.

During 1922 a consortium of leading radio manufacturers set up the British Broadcasting Company. The BBC took over the 2LO call sign and transmitter and opened with a broadcast from Marconi House on 14 November, given by Arthur Burrows, 2LO’s programme director. In 1925, 2LO’s duties were assumed by a new transmitter located at Selfridges, Oxford Street, but the original was kept in reserve until 1929 in case of breakdown.