A Brief History of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)

During the Summer of 1922, 18 representatives of media related companies met with officials of the  Post Office and the British Government to discuss an idea.   It was to see if it was feasible to allow regular radio transmissions to be made for the first time in the United Kingdom.  There were groups  who had expressed concerns that military and medical transmissions would be interrupted, but eventually this was discounted.  It was a time when radio was growing exponentially in the USA and there was a growing public desire to see a full radio service launched in the UK too.

It wasn’t a quick discussion, in fact the talks lasted nearly six months however there was an end result.  A new company was formed with a license to set up eight radio stations in the major cities of the United Kingdom – that company was to become the BBC,   To be fair the action started pretty quickly and in a few months, November 14th 1922 the first broadcasts were transmitted.  A license was created to fund the station and was required to legally listen – the first radio license was ten shillings (50 pence).  It was a fair sum in the 1920s but nevertheless over one million were issued to the British public.    In 1927, the company was restructured into a public corporation led by one of the founders John Reith.

Of course, today the BBC is more famous for it’s TV broadcasts and the BBC iPlayer, and it was about this time that the technology started to appear that would make this possible.  John Logie Baird, developed a system which would make the broadcast of TV possible.  We already had the cathode ray tube which was actually created at the end of the 19th century, however Baird’s disk scanning equipment was what brought television to the masses.

Baird’s equipment was still some way off completion however and it was when he was allowed to use the BBC’s South Bank Studios that they began to develop.  The results were so encouraging that he moved to a dedicated studio in Portland Place and it was here where the service was improved until it was capable of supporting a high definition system which could be broadcast to the United Kingdom public.  There were however other systems being developed by companies like Marconi and EMI which also offered similar potential and a committee was set up to investigate all the options.  Lord Selsdon was the head of the committee and it soon deemed that public broadcasts were indeed feasible and the BBC was was tasked with developing it.

There were some guidelines set out which should be followed including the minimum definition levels – 240 lines and 25 pictures per second.  This ensured that the transmissions would have to be high definition – both Baird’s and Marconi-EMIs system exceeded the requirements.   It was decided that both should be trialed from the BBC’s new headquarters in Alexandra Palace situated high on a hill so that the transmitter would reach both London and the Home Counties.