The radio is playing - Experimental broadcasting started 100 years ago

Hungarian version of the article: Szól a rádió – Száz éve indult a kísérleti adás

Written by: Csaba Domonkos

March 1, 2023 at 1:00 PM

Regular public radio broadcasts started in Hungary at the end of 1925, but it was possible to listen to the radio in Hungarian in the country more than two years before public broadcasts began because experimental broadcasts started in March 1923.

Wireless signal transmission became a reality at the beginning of the 20th century, at first, only telegraph signals could be transmitted using electromagnetic waves. Radio broadcasting began its conquest in the first decades of the 20th century.

For a long time, the textbooks stated that the radio was invented and patented by the Italian Marconi in 1901, but in 1943 the US Supreme Court ruled in favour of Nikola Tesla, who sued Marconi for stealing his 1896 invention.

Radio receiver in the early 1920s (Photo: Fortepan/Rádió és Televízíó Újság)

After experiments in the 1910s, entertainment radio broadcasts started in the USA in 1920, and in 1923 the Hungarian government was already interested in the technology, so the Postal Experimental Station (Posta Kísérleti Állomás) ordered a piece of German equipment, the Berlin-based Huth company's 250-watt transmitter. In fact, two transmitters were purchased immediately, and one was put into operation on 2 March 1923, in Csepel, at the Csepel radio-telephone and radio-telegraph plant (the other was located in Sopron), and broadcasting began on an experimental basis. In the framework of the experimental broadcasts, music played by a gramophone was played, then the auxiliary officer János Marcal, appearing in the LGT song, also got a role, who sang songs into the microphone without any musical experiment.

Csepel became the centre of broadcasting because in 1914 the location of the military radio transmitter was designated north of the village of Csepel, i.e., antennas and other types of equipment were available there.

The radio broadcasts were quickly used for business purposes, although they did not broadcast the music recordings or the beautiful singing of János Marcal to the general public, in the second half of the year, from November 1923, they switched to transmitting the business news of the Hungarian Telegraph Office (MTI). At that time, MTI also owned Telephone Herald, and MTI had a serious intention to obtain a monopoly in domestic radio broadcasting as well. Although the transmitter remained in Csepel, the news was already broadcast from MTI's office at 10 Városház Street. The read business news was taken by the rural branches of the telegraph office and forwarded to the local papers. The broadcasting method was described in the 13 November 1923 edition of the newspaper Magyar Jövő, when Miskolc was also connected to this network.

Radio listeners (Photo: Fortepan/No.: 257419)

"The method of providing news is also as simple and practical as possible. The first period starts at 8 am, the recording stations are "set up" and they wait until the transmitter starts calling. The transmission station calmly and sensibly submits its numbered, so-called circular telegrams, and here a stenographer can write them down, or even type them directly into a typewriter if the clicking of the typewriter does not interfere with the recording."

The system was actually closed, it was not used for public news, as there was a Telephone Herald that could be used for a subscription fee. They did not think that these experimental broadcasts and business news would be listened to by others because only state bodies could officially own receiver equipment in Hungary at that time.

Of course, they also prepared for public broadcasting, for which they bought a more powerful transmitter, and also set up the first studio inside an old furniture van, but at that time, in 1923-1924, there was no question of this.

Amateur radio listeners - the radio receiver could also be made in a school workshop (Photo: Fortepan/Jesuita archive)

However, a part of the population already listened to the experimental broadcasts, since making radio receivers was actually not complicated at all, with a little dexterity anyone could make a simple detector receiver from parts that can be bought in technical stores, thus becoming a kind of "secret" audience for this closed, experimental broadcast. This amateur audience was exposed because of its own prudishness, because during an experiment, the engineer Endre Magyari, an employee of the Postal Experimental Station, who installed the transmitters, cursed himself during the correction of an error - while the broadcast was live. Indignant letters about the employee's use of words began to arrive at the Postal Experimental Station.

However, there was a problem with amateur radio listening, "illegal" radio listening was considered a crime in this country. Pestbuda previously wrote about how it became possible to listen to the radio broadcast.

Cover photo: The transmission tower in Csepel in 1928 (Photo: Fortepan/No.: 160075)

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