People living in the Broomhall area saw the development of radio and television for example, Sheffield got its own radio transmitter in 1923. Radio in the 1920s was a very different experience. There were no landlines, which modern radio stations use to transmit a programme from a studio to a transmitter site which might be several miles away. The first radio broadcasts were made with ordinary telephone lines and would have been mostly speech with very little music owing to the limitation of the sound quality.
Radios in the 1920s came in two basic types, crystal sets and valve sets. A crystal set derives its energy from the signal and drives an earphone and it has no battery. The radio contains very few parts – a tuning capacitor, a large wire coil and a diode (the crystal) are all you need. A crystal set requires a very strong signal. A long wire aerial would normally be attached to one end of the large wire coil and an earth connection could be made by attaching the other end of the coil to a radiator pipe. Crystal sets work best within a few miles of a transmitter and it is still possible to make one today. A crystal set costs very little to make in a world where radio components were very expensive. In the 1950s my father bought a pair of suitable headphones second hand from a telephone exchange.
Valve radios were more sensitive. A reflex receiver could pass the signal through the valve several times in order to amplify the signal over and over again. This required something you wouldn’t see on a modern radio – the reactance control. This control needed to be set very carefully to the exact point where the radio stopped whistling. At this point the radio is incredibly sensitive, achieving with one valve a performance comparable to a good modern radio. Reflex receivers were common in the days when valves were very expensive. Today an inexpensive chip can be purchased for a home made radio which amplifies the signal millions of times. Many families in Broomhall had radios before they had electricity. The valve radios could run on batteries, but not the kind of batteries you have today. These batteries were large with a socket with 4 holes in the top. If the plug went into the 4 holes the wrong way round, the valves were instantly ruined. The batteries didn’t last long and needed to be taken to a local garage to be recharged. If an extra two valves were added to a headphone radio it would be able to drive a loudspeaker. In the 1920s this would have been a large horn and looked like a phonograph record player.
Cities like Leeds, Nottingham and Sheffield had their own radio transmitters. These were small transmitters with a power of 200 watts, about the same as a modern independent local radio station. Areas like North Yorkshire had no transmitters of their own until much later, and would have relied on signals from the low power transmitter in Leeds or the more powerful Newcastle transmitter which was 1.5 KW, about the same power as BBC Radio Newcastle is today. This led to many radios in the 1920s having huge aerials, big wire nets on top of buildings containing wires which were hundreds of feet long, because of the strong signal needed to drive a crystal set in a fringe area.
Sheffield got a television transmitter in 1951. The Holme Moss transmitter was the third television transmitter in the UK. It is situated midway between Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds. For 5 years there would have been only one channel, now called BBC 1. Granada television started in 1956 and was transmitted from Elmley Moor. Yorkshire television began from Elmley Moor in 1968, Granada television continuing from the Winter Hill transmitter in Lancashire. The original black and white television system in the UK (405 lines) was a bit of a hotch potch. It had been developed experimentally before World War 2, and some of the electronics were very primitive, leading to problems with reception. There had originally only been one channel, BBC, but the advent of ITV created problems. ITV was transmitted from different transmitters. This was not so bad if BBC and ITV were in the same direction! ITV was on a much shorter wavelength. Older televisions could not receive it, leading to many people buying an ITV convertor to go on top of their set. The BBC signal could sometimes travel for hundreds of miles because of its long wavelength, the Holme Moss transmitter having viewers as far away as Newcastle and Dublin. ITV signals could suffer serious problems with reception, especially in rural areas. My father, as a TV engineer, recalled setting up four aerials on top of each other to try to get a good picture from ITV on a farm.
In the late 1960s, the UK got a modern colour TV system (625 lines) that produced pictures with more than twice the resolution and overcame many of the problems inherent with having a TV broadcasting system that was so old. BBC 2 was transmitted in colour from 1967, ITV and BBC 1 began transmitting in colour in 1969. By the 1970s there were 3 television channels and they were all in colour using a television system that was as good and as modern as any system elsewhere in the world.