Friday, 14 November 2014

Why the BBC came into being

If your full name is Hans Henricus Schotanus á Steringa Idzerda you are bound to become a special man. And indeed that was the case. Hans (and not Hanso as he is called in many publications) Henricus Schotanus à Steringa, those were his first and middle names, was going to be the man responsible for broadcasting the first public radio program ever. And with radio program I do not mean a point to point radio connection but an organized broadcast from one point to an in principle unlimited audience. Hans was born in the Dutch province of Friesland on September 26, 1885 as the son of a country doctor. The medical profession was clearly not his cup of tea. His preference was electro technology. 
The first public radio program
ever, published on Nov. 5, 1919
After studying this in the German city of Bingen he established himself in The Hague where he started his own company. Later he set up NRI, which is short for Dutch Radio Industries. There he manufactured devices and parts for wireless telegraphy. Sometime between 1917 and 1919 he convinced Philips to develop a tube to replace the hitherto used radio crystals. Making use of Hans' last name Idzerda they called it the ideezet. By this time he lived in the Beukstraat 8-10. There he build the broadcasting device with the call sign PCGG. On November 5, 1919 he put an ad in the Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant announcing a Soireé-Musicale for the next day. The broadcast was using a frequency of 670 metres. Officially he operated under a test license but the power of his device was such that there was a clear reception in large parts of England. Newspaper reports appeared in local newspapers such as the Burnley News (May 24, 1922) and the Kent & Sussex Courier (July 28, 1922). Subsequently the Daily Mail planned to start their own broadcasts. However, the Postmaster General rejected this idea. After that the Daily Mail contacted Idzerda in The Hague. The result was that he started a program for English listeners every Sunday evening. English musicians played an important role. Many people became aware of The Voice from The Hague transmitting at a wave length of 1,085 metres. Pub owners installed loudspeakers in their establishments thus attracting additional customers. Speakers were placed in town squares so that people could enjoy this latest technological feat. The popularity of  these foreign stations put pressure on the Government and on November 14, 1922 the BBC was founded.
Now, I am not suggesting that this latter fact was solely caused by Dutch Idzerda. After all there were other stations in the air as well, e.g. one from Paris. But, being born in The Hague, I like to think that Hans Idzerda contributed to the foundation of one of the most famous public radio networks in the world.
Birth certificate of Hans Idzerda
In many publications here it is suggested that Hans' surname is Schotanus à Steringa Idzerda. This certificate makes clear that his surname is Idzerda, nothing more and nothing less. Admittedly first and middle names Hans Henricus Schotanus à Steringa are a bit unusual but they are clearly shown as such in the certificate.
Hans Idzerda died 59 years old. During the war in 1944 he was satisfying his technical curiosity by collecting pieces of a crashed German V2 missile. German soldiers saw this and he was arrested on suspicion of espionage. For this he was executed in The Hague on November 3 that year.

The ideezet radio tube as manufactured by Philips

The wireless transmitter with station identification PCGG
used to broadcast an English program to England
8-10 Beukstraat, The Hague
The offices of the Dutch Radio Industries in The Hague also served as the first public radio studio.

From the Illustrated London News, April 29, 1922
 The accompanying text says this is an English family enjoying the Sunday afternoon "Dutch concert". In case you were wondering, the transmitter is said to be a Burndept MkIV with separate tuner.

Photo credits
Picture Idzerda
Picture Ideezet radio tube
Picture PCGG transmitter
Picture Beukstraat 8-10 Beeldbank Gemeentearchief Den Haag

This post is based on an article in newspaper Den Haag Centraal, Nov. 7, 2014 written by Paul Waaijers.


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