The Regional Scheme

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The changes meant that five stations would do the work of 21.

Experimental high-power long-wave transmitter

As a way of extending the service outwith the main centres of population, the BBC built a single high-power long-wave station.

The idea of a high-power transmitter was first raised at the Board meeting of December 1923 when Reith submitted a memorandum suggesting that there should be two stations in London, one of which should employ a high-power transmitter of 20 kilowatts. A committee was appointed and reported to the Board in January 1924 that a high-powered station...

...would solve once and for all the questions of jamming, that it would be possible by this means to get crystal reception up to nearly 100 miles, and that it would enable the larger towns of England to be served by relay stations working off the main stations.[1]

The Board successfully applied to the Post Office for a temporary licence to carry out experiments at the Marconi Works in Chelmsford. Experimental transmissions of speech and music began on 9 July 1924, and from 21 July to 9 August the London programmes were relayed from Chelmsford after 7 o'clock in the evening. Reports received from listeners in various parts of the country suggested that the experiments had been highly successful, the signal being heard as far north as Edinburgh and Peebles, for example.[2] Initial fears in official circles that a station of that power might interfere with vital Government and commercial wireless services proved to be unfounded, and within a month the Board decided to ask the Post Office for permission to open a permanent high-power station.[3]

Permission for a permanent high-power station was granted by the end of September and the BBC immediately set to work finding a suitable site. In December, it was officially announced that the new high power broadcasting station would be constructed at Daventry, Northamptonshire. There was to be no change in the power of 5XX, but there was a better aerial and a more reliable system.[4] When the new transmitter was opened on 27 July 1925 — by the Postmaster-General, the Edinburgh-born Scottish Unionist, Sir William Mitchell-Thomson — it was not only the biggest broadcasting station in the world, but the first long-wave station. (Eckersley correctly thought that long waves would travel further than medium waves under a 'push-off' of the same power.)

The BBC had now provided effective wireless reception, even by crystal sets, for 85 per cent of the population. Those with one-valve sets would be able to pick up Daventry within a radius of 150–200 miles.

Working on a wavelength of 1600 metres and with a 25-kilowatt transmitter, Daventry 5XX ensured reception on crystal sets over a radius of 100 miles, and on two-valve sets in any part of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The station had an effective range from Algiers to Shetland, and eastwards beyond Riga. Reports of satisfactory reception were picked up in Edinburgh.[5] Those able to get reception were now able to enjoy an alternative programme to their nearest main or relay station. As schemes developed for the international exchange of programmes, Daventry became a sort of clearing-house for the relaying of programmes from Europe and America.[6]

Unfortunately, there were relatively few available long-wave channels.

Some listeners called for Daventry to provide its own programmes rather than just relay London, because it would offer some choice when the existing stations were also relaying London. From August it was announced that Daventry would include the best programmes from London and occasionally a special programme from other main stations, as well as a certain number of programmes of its own.[7]

New scheme of distribution

As the number of radio stations across Europe multiplied rapidly in the early 1920s, many listeners suffered from 'heterodyne distortion'. The problem was only going to get worse. Following the International Broadcasting Conference of September 1925 in Geneva, it was agreed that the future lay in fewer high-power stations covering large areas, rather than many small low-power ones. It was clear that this would probably entail the closing of all existing low-power relay stations and the creation of perhaps four high-power stations, with one of these covering Scotland. In mid-October, the BBC's chief engineer, Captain Peter Eckersley, said in a speech:

We shall have to revise our ideas of broadcasting, and concentrate on having fewer stations of higher power instead of a lot of stations with low power.[8]

Some reports suggested Perth as a likely site for the transmitter due to its central location. With a 150 mile radius, it was suggested that crystal reception would be possible in districts from Newcastle in the south to Cromarty in the north. To give more complete coverage of Scotland, however, Kingussie was suggested as a better site.[9]

In January 1927, it was revealed that the BBC's most favoured plan involved the creation of five regional stations, most likely sited at London, Daventry, Manchester, Glasgow, and Cardiff.[10]

Daventry 'Junior

The first regional transmitter, 5GB, was opened at Daventry on 21 August 1927, offering a regional programme to contrast with the output of the national long-wave transmitter at Daventry, 5XX. It used the medium-wave of 491.3? metres. This was an important milestone for it marked the first stage of the regional scheme of distribution, under which it was hoped alternative services would be rolled out to other parts of Britain. At first, 5GB was described as "experimental", but it quickly became clear that it was going to be a success and plans were made for the building of further twin-wave high-powered stations.


  1. Minutes of the Meeting of the Committee to consider proposals for the erection of a high-power broadcast station near London, 28 December 1923.
  2. 'London Correspondence: Success of Daventry', Glasgow Herald, 25 August 1925, 7.
  3. Minutes of the Board Meeting, 7 August 1924.
  4. 'New High Power Broadcasting Station', Evening Telegraph, 1 December 1924, 3.
  5. 'London Correspondence: Success of Daventry', Glasgow Herald, 25 August 1925, 7.
  6. 'Opening of New High-Power Station', Evening Telegraph, 27 July 1925, 5.
  7. '[ Official News and Views', Radio Times, 7 August 1925, 276.
  8. Speech by Captain Peter Eckersley at the City Livery Club, London, 14? October 1925.
  9. 'Crystal Reception for All Scotland', Evening Telegraph, 14 October 1925, 11.
  10. 'Five Super Centres to Flood Britain with Radio', Manchester Evening Chronicle, 13 January 1927.