Czech Radio History Part II: Day One

16-05-2003

This year Czech Radio celebrates its eightieth anniversary and Radio Prague, which is part of the public-service broadcaster, is dedicating a short series to the eight decades of radio broadcasting in this country. May 18, 1923 was the day when the few dozen listeners there were in Czechoslovakia could hear the programme broadcast live from a tent at the Kbely military base outside Prague. After Great Britain, Czechoslovakia became the second European country to launch regular radio broadcasting. In today's episode, we look at the very beginnings of the revolutionary invention in Czechoslovakia.

This is approximately what listeners sitting by their crystal receivers could hear in May 1923. Initially, music filled most of the broadcasts. But the very first thing that appeared on the radio waves was a spoken word, as Jiri Hrase, a specialist on the history of Czech Radio recalls.

"The first person to speak on air on behalf of the Radiojournal company on May 18, 1923, was a technician of the Kbely radio-telegraph station which started the broadcasts. His name was Josef Vlach, and later, in 1936 he became the head of the Pardubice station where our international broadcasts were produced."

Mr Vlach announced the beginning of a radio broadcast and he also gave the frequency. The first listeners were invited to a Prague cinema where the live programme was played. Beside them, a number of technicians operating post-office and military receivers around the country could also have listened to the first show. In 1923 there were only forty-seven licensed owners of radio receivers but also a number of unregistered owners of crystal receivers. The number of licence-holders rose sharply in later years. In 1935 there were 753,000 registered listeners and in 1937 Czechoslovakia had a million licensed listeners. What was in the programmes? Historian Jiri Hrase.

"Broadcasting first started with a one-hour programme in the evening when reception was better and the contents were musical pieces. Only later was news added and a real programme structure developed. I think the first broadcast featured a piano, a violin and a singer. At first the broadcasts lasted an hour, then two and three hours. At the end of the 1920s they broadcast for half a day and eventually they started broadcasting all-day programmes."

Obviously, the technology was very different than today, in the beginning allowing only live broadcasting. But as progress in technology was rapid, recordings were eventually used as well.

"Everything was broadcast live until the 1930s. At that time recordings on wax or gelatine plates were played in between live broadcasts. In 1939 tape recordings were introduced and delayed transmission became routine later, after 1939. Usually it was a recording of a live broadcast on Blatnerphone steel tape which was used for repeats."

16-05-2003