From Hidden Technology to Exhibition Showpiece: The Journey of 2LO, the BBC’s First Radio Transmitter, 1922-2012

Alison Hess

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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On the 14th of November 1922, those with radios in the south of England tuned into the first broadcast of the newly formed British Broadcasting Company (BBC). Hidden away from public view in Marconi House, on The Strand in London, was the technology that converted the sound waves of the studio into radio waves, amplifying them so that they could reach across the ether into thousands of homes across the country. This technology was the 2LO transmitter, and this thesis traces its journey from this remote place to the national platform of the Science Museum nearly ninety years later.
Engaging with a range of theories relating to object theory and material culture, this thesis initially considers 2LO as a representative of the BBC: rarely seen apart from by a privileged few yet facilitating a connection which eventually stretched across the UK. It then follows 2LO’s removal from London to Brookman’s Park in Hertfordshire and its transformation into a display piece that played a key role in the corporate image making of the BBC. It also explores the personal affection that this object inspired in many of those who worked with it, often saving it from near disaster until it came safely to the Science Museum in 2002. This thesis then goes on to look more closely at the physical object, tracing the marks of time on the materials that make up 2LO. Through this exercise, 2LO is literally rather than socially deconstructed, with issues of authenticity and the aesthetics of age being discussed. Through the use of ethnography and interview this thesis goes on to look at the role of 2LO within the Science Museum, and the conscious way in which cultural institutions shape narratives for the public. Across a range of institutional spaces 2LO’s image has been shaped into that of an ‘icon of broadcasting history’, and at present is destined for a multi-million pound gallery based on the history of communications. In closely following the life of a unique object, this thesis seeks to unpick our complex relationship with the ‘things’ in our world, and the multiple narratives that can be weaved around even one piece of material heritage.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Department of Geography
  • Dodds, Klaus, Supervisor
  • Gilbert, David, Supervisor
Award date1 Nov 2012
Publication statusUnpublished - 2012

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