The BBC began broadcasting in the 1920s and within a decade the radio had established itself in family life. The 1936 model pictured here — at home in either the living room or kitchen — spoke for the solidity and confidence of the medium.
Radio’s heyday ran from Christmas 1932 to the coronation of June 1953. King George V’s December message to the empire 88 years ago had families gathered around their radio sets. By the time his granddaughter Queen Elizabeth II was crowned, everyone was hankering for television.
Great, if sombre, moments marked radio’s paramount years: Neville Chamberlain’s 1939 broadcast to the nation that it was at war with Germany; Winston Churchill’s “finest hour” speech when the conflict had really got going.
Then, right in the middle of the bad times in 1942, up popped Roy Plomley and Desert Island Discs — still running, of course: its guest last weekend was former Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger.
Churchill’s presence was felt with the show’s first airing. Its castaway was Vic Oliver, a musical comedian married (later divorced) to Churchill’s daughter Sarah. The old man considered Oliver a cad and complained to the BBC.
Beyond the war, Housewives’ Choice began in 1946, a morning music-request programme for wives with husbands out at work, and always presented by a man.
Woman’s Hour started the same year, largely to discuss matters of family and childcare; the BBC agonised that such subjects as menopause might eventually come up.
Listen with Mother from 1950 began with its opening line to children: “Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.” Regular listeners knew that to mean “Sit up straight and not slumped in your chair.”
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For the coronation people rushed out to buy TVs. This marked the end of radio’s monopoly and its definitive shift out of the living room. From the kitchen, it now brought news of daily disasters amid the retreat from empire.
Into the 1960s, and the portable transistor radio played conventional radio’s swansong. Tuning into Radio Luxembourg in the absence
of decent music from the BBC was the only way to track the arrival of groups such as the Rolling Stones.
Although we still listen to radio, its dominant role reached its end in 1983 with the advent of breakfast TV. As television sets migrated into previously untouched areas, radio even lost pride of place in the kitchen.
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