Reading My Way Around the World

Saturday 25 April 2015


I've always loved radio.

When I boarded at school I had a radio under my pillow at night.   The biggest thrill of my 13 years was when Peter Powell on Radio Luxembourg played a request for me one night :)  Made my week.

Later I joined up with the fledgling Downtown Radio outside  Belfast in the PR department and later still got the wonderful opportunity to be the voice of folk music for several years on BBC Radio Ulster.

Today marks the birth date of the inventor of radio - Guglielmo Marconi.  And did you know his mother was one of the Irish family Jameson, they of the whiskey distillery fame?  And supposedly she was the greatest supporter of this boy who had no aptitude for school, couldn't even be bought into University but who became fascinated with electricity.  Like some of the worlds greatest entrepreneurs his education was minimal but his curiosity and passion was what won out.

According to an article in Ireland's Own magazine a few years back, his mother Annie Jameson was a wonderful singer and was offered an engagement at Covent Garden Opera House.   But her family refused to let her appear on stage "to entertain the public"!  How ghastly!!  However, they did agree to let her go to Italy to study singing and it was there she met and married the wealthy landowner Giuseppe Marconi.
Guglielmo was born on April 24th 1874, and in January 1895 he sent the first signal 30 feet away into a neighbouring room with his mother as the only witness.   By the end of that year he was able to send signals across a distance of a mile on his homemade very primitive apparatus.

With financial support from the father and encouragement from and accompanied by his mother he moved to London as the device, he reckoned, was ideal for naval telegraphy and at that time England was the greatest naval power in the world.   That, together with the fact that the Jameson family were very widely connected allowed many doors be opened for him.

By September 1896 he had covered a distance of 8 miles, shortly followed by successful transmission across water.

And it was on the 26th April, 1900, that he took out the patent for "Tuned Syntonic Telegraphy" an invention which "introduced tuned circuits to wireless for the first time, and enabled a wireless set to be tuned to a particular station just as we do today".

Around that time scientists and physicists argued that radio couldn't work over the horizon - that it would only go in a straight line.   Of course Marconi proved them wrong after persuading his company to believe in him and with the £50,000 that they raised - a huge fortune in those days - he built two wireless stations and transmitted and received the Morse letter S from Poldhu in Cornwall to Newfoundland, a distance of 12,000 miles.

Marconi wasn't the first inventor of radio, but he was the first to see the commercial practicalities and after all the excitement of his cross Atlantic experiments he persuaded some shipping companies to use his system on board ship, saving more than 1700 people when the SS Republic was in a collision with an Italian tanker in January 1909.   Later, after the Titanic disaster, and his radio system being responsible for the rescue of the survivors, it became law that every ocean going ship carrying passengers should have a wireless system that would be manned 24 hours a day.

 Marconi shared the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1909 with the German physicist Karl F. Braun.   In his acceptance speech, it is alleged that he said that he was more of a tinkering engineer than a physicist and didn't really understand how his system worked.  Later Nicholas Tesla claimed to have invented radio much earlier and several of Marconi's patents were invalidated in the American courts.

Nonetheless he is the man who made the commercial radio that I've loved all my life into the reality that it is today.

He died in 1937 aged just 63.

Further information can be found here on this History Channel page


  1. Enjoyed reading some of the history of radio. When I was little i had a huge radio in my room and loved listening to the stories that were on there.... the SHADOW was one of my favorite. Also listened to one called the Barber Family. What a revolution this invention was . Very interesting post.

  2. Really interesting post & it brought back some memories for me too - like running into Peter Powell broadcasting from the city centre one day way back when I was a student :) Very interesting to hear that Marconi might have been in my "special needs" group for under-performing at school - once again it just goes to show that our education system does not get it right every time!!

  3. Hi Fil - interesting history about Marconi and the radio .. gosh people do meet in circumstances we rarely think about - how very fortunate for the world. One of the museums in my M post gives the link to the Porthcurno Telegraph Museum ... it's still working as a research station ...

    Loved reading this .. cheers Hilary

  4. Great post! I love hearing the details of his progression x

  5. Cool post. Also cool to know that you used to be a radio somebody back in the day.

  6. Wow - what a fascinating post Fil. I knew almost nothing about Marconi. I find it fascinating how we can sometimes know so little about those people and events that were so significant.

    How cool you have a radio background - I can imagine that was a really fun time.

  7. Wonderful post, Fil.
    It's also interesting that they called it a wireless back in the day.
    I am still an enthusiastic fan of radio.
    Thanks for the great post.

  8. Well that doesn't surprise me at all. We all know that Irish mother's are the staunchest supporters of their sons. We all know that the Irish never give up on a lost cause (we're too darn stubborn), and we all know that with the right amount of Whiskey anything is possible!


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