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Broadcasting - Its Inception and Management

Sir William Noble [★] Ex-Engineer-in-Chief to the GPO, Popular Wireless Weekly, July 8 1922.
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Sir William Noble

So much of late has appeared in the Press about wireless broadcasting that there are probably few who have not some superficial idea as to what it is, although it is equally probable that there are but few who have given much thought as to its probable evolution.

The immediate future as well as the popularity of wireless telephony in its application to broadcasting must of necessity depend, in large degree, on the acumen displayed by those who at its inception are responsible for ordering and controlling the environment in which it is destined to grow.

The truth of this statement is best supported by a brief review of what has taken place in America, where broadcasting was first introduced.

With the characteristic enthusiasm which is an outstanding feature of the American nation, the door was thrown wide open. Any company that was so minded erected a station just where and how it pleased and broadcasted its programmes with but little discrimination or regard for what anyone else was doing. On the other hand, manufacturers of and agents for receiving sets sprang up like mushrooms, and, to satisfy the public demand, flooded the market with apparatus good, bad, and indifferent. The result has tended to produce serious confusion.

Development in the United States has been phenomenally rapid that a state approaching chaos existed almost before the Government realised the situation. When the true position had been gauged, a Government committee was appointed with a view to unravelling the tangled skein.

It is obvious that for this country there is but one proper course to take, and that is to profit by the mistakes of others before anything is done to queer our pitch. The Americans have certainly had their proverbial hustle on with broadcasting. To hustle is excellent when all is in order, but calm deliberation in the preparation of a plan of campaign is a virtue. Already there are ample signs in America of listeners-in becoming disgruntled with the unsatisfactory and un-enjoyable attempts to receive programmes owing to the disorder prevalent in some parts of that country. We must prepare our schemes so as to avoid similar troubles, and ensure permanent satisfaction to all concerned.

Anyone who gives the problem some thought will concur in the statement that it is essential that broadcasting should be under official control, and the department best suited to exercise the necessary supervision is the Post Office.

Fortunately at present we have a keen, enlightened, and progressive Postmaster-General, supported by an able administrator as permanent head of the department. The Post Office can therefore be relied upon to handle the problem efficiently and in the public interest. It is to be hoped that the firms now in conference will formulate an agreed scheme that will be acceptable to the Postmaster-General and satisfactory to the public.

Those who have studied the art of radio telephony know that the reception of messages is sometimes seriously interfered with by atmospherics, that is by interferences due to uncontrollable ether disturbances, the effects of which cannot be entirely eliminated. It has been found in practice, however, that such atmospheric disturbances are nothing like so serious on the short waves, which the Postmaster-General has allocated for broadcasting stations.

A more serious difficulty which occurs is that known as jamming, or interference due to the receipt of signals from stations other than the one desired, either because the interfering station is on the same, or very nearly the same, transmitting wave-length, or because the reception apparatus is not highly selective, or a combination of both, Although the short wave-lengths have distinct superiority over the longer ones in utilising selectivity and eliminating this trouble, it will be seen that in order to obtain the best results it is necessary to have the available wave-lengths distributed among the broadcasting stations throughout the country in such a manner that the difference between the wave-lengths used in adjacent areas should be as large as possible: So that the possibility of jamming troubles shall be reduced to a minimum. Listeners-in in intermediate areas between two or more broadcasting stations should then be able to obtain good receptions from any of the adjacent working broadcasting stations without trouble from jamming.

At the outset, at any rate, the number of transmitting stations should be limited to, say, seven or eight widely distributed, so as to avoid mutual interference. The most suitable centres for serving appropriate areas are:- London, Bristol or Cardiff, Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, and possibly Plymouth. Experience with the working of such a network of stations is essential in order to determine the 'possibility or necessity' of extending the number and determining the power of broadcasting stations.

Another important restriction that should be imposed is that only experienced and substantial firms should be entrusted with the erection of the stations. It is due to the public that the service should be good, and also that as the expense of the installation and maintenance of the plant, as well as the provision of attractive programmes, will be very heavy, only companies which are financially strong should be allowed to shoulder the responsibility.

The wireless sets sold to the public should be of a type approved by the Postmaster-General, or the sets themselves should be so approved. If the broadcasting scheme is launched under Government auspices, and licences to receive are obtained against a monetary payment, then the public have some claim to the protection of the State against the sale of sets which may not ensure satisfactory results.

Further, since the manufacturers responsibility for the cost of the installation and maintenance of the stations, and the provision of programmes, must depend mainly upon the sales of sets for a return on this heavy expenditure, the dumping of foreign-made sets on the British market would cripple the new industry, if indeed it did not altogether render the broadcasting scheme an utter fiasco.

It has been wisely decided that the programmes of broadcasting stations should be limited to music, lectures, speeches, and interesting news, and shall not include anything in the nature of advertising.

The management of the broadcasting stations should be in the hands of a syndicate or company representative of all the manufacturers concerned in the industry. The cost of providing high-grade programmes, and these are essential to permanent success will be considerable, and unity of control will be advantageous in providing and maintaining uniformly good quality of performances.

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