Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: July 07, 2019
Webpage updated: May 27, 2021




The British Broadcasting Corporation's Broadcasting House in London.
From a postcard.

The British Broadcasting Company was founded on October 18th 1922 by a consortium of business that included British Thomson Houston, the General Electric Company, Marconi, Metropolitan Vickers, the Radio Communication Company and Western Electric.  The aim of the Company was to provide a national broadcasting service by establishing a network of radio stations across the country.

The first BBC station to start transmitting was based on the roof of Selfridge's department store in Oxford Street, London, and had the call-sign 2LO.  Other stations in major cities like Birmingham and Manchester quickly followed.  It was intended that the one in Plymouth should cover the whole of Devon and Cornwall but when tests were carried out, it was found that the hills got in the way.   The installation that was intended for Plymouth was thus transferred to Bournemouth, which opened in October 1923.

It was left to amateur radio enthusiasts to provide weekly transmissions and this was apparently done by Mr Gwyther Eastlake Prance, who later went on to manage cinemas in the City, a Mr Eaves and a Captain Silverlock, of Hemerdon.  The first-named two operated from a station with the call sign 5DJ.   Presumably they were members of the Plymouth Wireless Society, who were carrying out local experiments in the early 1920s.

November 1st 1922 saw the introduction of the radio receiving licence, ten shillings, as a means of financing the BBC.  It remained at that price until 1946.

Plymouth's radio station, with the call-sign 5PY, was opened on March 28th 1924.  Because it became to ration the airwaves local broadcasting was curtailed and 5PY ceased on January 15th 1934.

Exactly when Plymouth Rediffusion Services Limited started broadcasting is not clear but by 1935 their head office was at 34 Mutley Plain and it had two two relay stations.  Rediffusion was an off-shoot of the British Electric Traction Company Limited, who ran numerous tramway systems throughout the country, including the Devonport and District Tramways Company.   They already had wires strewn along streets to provide the power for the trams, so when broadcasting came along in the 1920s it was easy for them to add wires that could be used to carry the radio signals.

There were no further local BBC radio broadcasts in Plymouth during the remainder of the 1930s, only relays of London programmes.  At the beginning of 1939 the British Broadcasting Corporation, as it had then become, purchased a large house at Mannamead for use as a studio and concert hall.  This new studio would be used in conjunction with a new transmitter at Start Point, on the south Devon coast.

Although BBC Television was inaugurated in the Westcountry on August 15th 1952, when the Wenvoe Transmitting Station near Cardiff was opened, in December that year it was announced in the House of Commons that neither private enterprise nor the BBC would be allowed to bring television to Plymouth in time for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth the following year.  The BBC got around that problem easily.

The TOC-H organisation began broadcasting to nine Plymouth hospitals in 1955, using the GPO telephone network.  It was only on Saturday afternoons when Plymouth Argyle were playing at home but it proved very popular.  This idea was slowly expanded until in 1969 it became Hospital Radio Plymouth.

The North Hessary Tor transmission mast was finally erected in August 1955 but it was not until 1961, with independent television on the cards, that BBC Television produced a truly local programme, the 10-minute long "News from the South West", read by Cornishman, Mr Tom Salmon.  Local broadcasting by the BBC finally reached its zenith with the starting of BBC Radio Devon.

Westward Television Company started broadcasting on April 29th 1961 from a transmitter at Stockland Hill.

At 6am on Monday May 19th 1975 a 9-years-old Plymouth school boy by the name of Master Andrew Knight launched Britain's 11th commercial radio station, Plymouth Sound.

Sadly, the good, formative years, soon gave way to wrangles in the board-room and Westward lost their franchise at the next allocation.

The new franchise was awarded to Television South West, who took over in August 1981 but continued to broadcast under the Westward name until the official launch on January 1st 1982.

Westcountry Television took over the independent television franchise in 1993.