NMSAT :: Networked Music & SoundArt Timeline

1917 __ DKX — First wireless "concerts"
Captain H. de Alva Donisthorpe (?-?)
Comment : Captain H. de Alva Donisthorpe had been a pre-war experimenter with the call-sign DKX. During the war, like so many other former experimenters, he took on the vital task of training wireless operators. In 1917, he was attached to the Army Wireless Training Center at Worcester, where special receivers were employed on which to train men in the interception of German signals. These receivers used valves. At that time, valves were notoriously unpredictable in their behaviour and had to be teased into life by warming the 'pip' with lighted matches. The valve proved so difficult to handle that considerable time had to be spent training operators in its use, particularly as breakages could be very expensive. Donisthorpe tried to get the officers and men to see the valve as a friend and evised a remarkable way of doing so. In his spare time Donisthorpe built a wireless telephone transmitter and, in order to test the set, he set up two bell tents, one in a field and the other on a river bank about a mile away. While he manned the transmitter in one tent his wife manned the reciever in the other and sometimes their roles would be reversed. Mrs Donisthorpe later recalled sitting on a sugar box in front of the transmitter, a bath of oil now being used to cool the valve. It was usually night time and she would play records and talk to her husband over the wireless. As part of their test she had to repeat again and again: "A wonderful bird is the pelican, its beak can hild more than its belly can". At other times she took her place in the receiving tent and, if she heard nothing over the phones, would mount her push bike and pedal to the other tent to let her husband know all was not well (Mrs Donisthorpe, "Breaking Silence", tape recording issued 19 June 1991; also Baily, Leslie, "BBC Scrapbooks", Vol. 2, 1918-1939, pp. 76-77). Following the success of these tents, Donisthorpe, with the help of his wife and of Mr. Eliot Macintosh, instituted the first wireless "concerts". Three times a week, outside normal hours of duty, they transmitted gramophone records and recitations to army wireless training units in the area such as those at Droitwich, Malvern and Norton. None of the men there had ever before heard telephony and the wireless "concerts" became very popular. After the Armistice, Donisthorpe remained seized with the idea of using wireless for entertainment. He felt he could do better than relaying home-made programmes. Already the normal phone subscribers were able to hear performances from the stages of the London theatres by means of a service provided by the Electrophone organisation and its special exchange. Incurring, only a modest extra charge, hundreds of Edwardian homes had been linked up and demand grew rapidly during the war and after. Whether Donisthorpe was inspired by the Electrophone service is not clear but he approached one of the theatres with a view to broadcasting the last night of a musical that had been running for several years.This would be for the benefit of the several hundred wireless amateurs that existed at that time. Alas it came to nothing. Donisthorpe would not be lifting the curtain on broadcasting in Britain. (John & Brian Fennessy)
Source : Hennessy, Brian & John (2005), "The emergence of broadcasting in Britain", Southerleigh, pp. 42-43.

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