Keith Davies/Science Museum - Marconi

Jan 30, 2012, 09:18 PM

Thanks, Guglielmo Marconi. We don’t say that often enough. It’s largely thanks to him, we are all on the air. In fairness, he was building commercially on the work of others over the previous 50 years: familiar names from your Physics lessons like Hertz and Faraday.

He was born in Italy in 1874; and just like the Bransons and Sugars, he was a chap who found his own path. In his messy attic, he experimented, with a helping hand from his butler. I didn’t have a butler when I was twenty, but there we go. Marconi simply wanted to transmit telegraph messages without wires; so he devised an 'wireless' alarm which went ‘dring dring’ if the weather got bad. Then his aerials got bigger and he took the experiments outside. Not sure if his butler was still helping by then, frankly, or if he’d resigned in a fit of pique. After a distance of a couple of miles had been covered, Marconi wrote with his news to the Italian government. They responded quickly, if only to suggest he was mad. So, where better for an eccentric inventor than the United Kingdom.

In January 1896, he turned up in London with his long-suffering mother. I can picture her now, lugging a suitcase of PP9 batteries from Kings Cross. Luckily the chap at the Post Office took a shine to him and responded to a letter from a friend of a friend – and Bob’s your uncle. He got a little RSL on Salisbury Plain and demonstrated ‘radio’ to the government before going that little bit further and transmitting across the Bristol Channel. The first message was ‘are you ready?’. Tight links even back then.

After that, it was off to the States. His defining experiment, though, was across the 2,000 miles from Cornwall to Signal Hill in St John's, Newfoundland (now part of Canada). In this audio, you can hear him saying how chuffed he was. Mind you back then, people didn’t get quite as excited about technology as James Cridland.

In 1924, he was, quite righty, duly ennobled; and almost a hundred years later he got a room named after him at RadioCentre. He died in 1937.

Seriously, though. Thanks. #radio