Skip to main content


From 1911 the US Authorities started licensing commercial companies to make experimental radio transmissions, other countries soon following suit.

The first scheduled radio programme (1920) : Canada leads the way

From 1911 the US Authorities started licensing commercial companies to make experimental radio transmissions, other countries soon following suit.

The Dutchman Hanso ldzerda launched the first of his 'musical evenings' in November 1919 with broadcasts specifically intended for British enthusiasts from April 1920 from station PCGG in the Netherlands. There were also experimental radio telephony 'broadcasts' from Chelmsford by the Marconi Company from February 1920. In Canada the first 'scheduled' (i.e. pre-announced) entertainment transmission took place on May 20, 1920 - but this too was from an experimental station.

The distinction of having the first commercial broadcasting licence issued in the world goes to station KDKA in Philadelphia. It received its licence on October 27, 1920. By the end of 1922 there were hundreds of radio stations operating across the USA. 

BBC Marconi ribbon microphone, 1934-59

Founding of the BBC (1922) : the birth of British broadcasting

In Britain the spread of broadcasting was held back by the need to obtain a licence from the Postmaster-General.

On October 18, 1922, the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) was set up by a consortium of radio receiver manufacturers (Western Electric, Marconi, General Electric, British Thomson-Houston, Radio Communication and Metropolitan Vickers) for regular broadcasting of programmes of speech and music, and opened stations in London (known as 2LO), Birmingham (5IT), Manchester (2ZY), and Newcastle-upon-Tyne (5NO).

On November 1, the first ten-shilling (now just 50p, but then worth more than £18 in today's money) broadcasting receiving licence was introduced. Two weeks later its first daily programmes from London started. By the end of the year, John Reith had been appointed the company's General Manager and on January 18, 1923, the BBC was granted its formal licence to broadcast.

BBC Broadcasting House

The BBC becomes a corporation (1927) : a Royal Charter to broadcast

A pivotal event in the early history of the BBC was the General Strike, which began in May 1926. In the absence of newspapers the BBC started broadcasting five news bulletins a day.

Quickly realising the potential importance and power of the new wireless medium, the government moved to regulate the BBC by turning it into a public corporation. The Royal Charter and Licence and Agreement for the British Broadcasting Corporation (no longer a company) was published on December 20, 1926.

On New Year's Day, 1927, the BBC as we know it today was born, with Sir John Reith as its first Director-General.

fun and games

Can you beat our games? Explode equipment to see what's inside, hear the changing sounds of telecommunications, see how telecommunications designs have changed over time or send an e-postacard.

what's on

The UK's first permanent gallery dedicated to the history of information and communication technologies opens in the new Information Age gallery at London’s Science Museum.

audio history

Take a trip down memory lane with extracts of the interviews which have been recorded as part of the Connected Earth oral history programme.

featured story

100 years of automatic switching!
In 1912 the GPO installed Britain's first automatic telephone exchange in Epsom.

Discover the early days of the telephone...