95 years of radio broadcasts in Budapest

Hungarian version of the article: Már 95 éve hallgatunk rádiót Budapesten

Written by: Csaba Domonkos

September 24, 2020 at 11:00 AM

Hungarian radio had a difficult start. In its first years, listening to the radio without a license was a punishable offence, and permission to access the service was even required later. In the autumn of 1925 chaos reigned: the radio tower in Csepel had been completed, and the studio in Budapest was also being built, but many listened to the experimental broadcasts without permission and ended up in court.

Official and public radio transmissions began in Budapest on 1 December 1925. However, foreign and experimental radio broadcast could be tuned into before then but listening to them was a crime. In September 1925 charges were brought against several amateur radio enthusiasts that listened to these broadcasts on homemade simple radio devices.

On 26 September 1925, the newspaper 8 Órai Ujság wrote:

"It is common knowledge that there are a large number of radio enthusiasts in the country and especially Budapest. However, as they are largely unaware of the conditions under which their devices may be operated – they listen to broadcasts from abroad and experimental broadcasts from home illegally. The court is, naturally, obliged by law to pursue all such cases reported by the Post and Telegram authority. Thus, unless the case of radio laws is solved quickly, our courts will soon be inundated with the cases of radio amateurs."

The article was written on the apropos of the case of a radio enthusiast, István Berner, who had built a receiver with a detector in his flat on the Filatori hills. In fact, the authorities were themselves unsure about the rules, and the police had earlier informed Berner that he could safely listen to radio broadcasts.

Experimental broadcasts were made from a converted furniture transport truck stationed on the inner courtyard of the Postal Experiment station (Photo: FSZEK Budapest Collection)

The judge noted that at the time nearly all technical shops stocked the part needed for a radio, or even appliances themselves. The case ended in a significant fine of 250,000 koronas ('crowns'), suspended for three years.

But how did radio broadcasts begin in Hungary? With an experimental radio station, to which the public was not allowed to listen. Official experimental broadcasts started in 1923. However, only the state was allowed to own radio equipment.

Nevertheless, several attempts unfolded: the Radio Club of the Technical University of Budapest broadcast music concerts every Wednesday. Furthermore, the Telephone Reporter, already owned by the MTI, was already preparing for general public radio broadcasts.

The enormous Lakhehy radio tower had been completed, and in 1925 the Telephone Reporter began building a radio studio without having won the legal rights to radio broadcasts on the fourth floor 22 Rákóczi street. The Telephone Reporter (operated by Telefonhírmondó RT) also operated from the building and provided programming through telephone lines for the past 30 years.

The new studio in the headquarters of Telefonhírmondó Rt (Photo: FSZEK Budapest Collection)

Uj Nemzedék described the new studio on 19 September 1925 as follows:

"The Telephone Reporter's studio is an eight-metre-long and six-metre- wide room, with drapes on the walls and a floor covered in felt. The studio has a direct wired connection to the broadcast tower in Csepel. Two microphones are used to record the programmes, one optimized for high, the other low-frequency sounds. The studio is designed to ensure that the reporters can work without external disturbances."

It from here that later experimental broadcasts were made. The majority of these were classical music recordings, opera excerpts and other concerts. The regulation governing radio transmission and reception was finally published in November 1925. The decree reserved the right of radio broadcast to the Postal Service. The order also detailed not only who could own and operate a radio transmitter, but also who could buy a radio receiver.

The order stated that any Hungarian citizen could receive a permit to purchase a radio receiver. However, those under 18 or under legal guardianship required permission for their father (!) or guardian

Radio equipment from 1926 (Photo: Fortepan/No.: 85063)

The request for a license had to be submitted through a form with a fee stamp, specifying exactly where the radio device would be operated. A license was needed even if someone built a home radio. License holders were also allowed to take their radios with themselves when they travelled but had to keep the license at hand.

The decree was published just in time. Regular public radio broadcasting in Hungary began in December 1925.

Cover photo: Radio-receiver from the early 1920s (Photo: Fortepan, Rádió és Televízó Újság)


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