Radio Relay

Throughout my childhood there was no radio in the house. There was one at my Aunt's house in Scunthorpe, and when I stayed there on holidays, I was amazed at its array of dials and knobs. In my grandmother's house there was only one knob on the side to control volume, and a click switch on the wall that had four positions.

This was Radio Relay, the local name for Rediffusion, a company formed in 1928 to provide cable radio services. In the early days people were irritated by the howls and whistles caused when they tried to tune in to weak radio signals. Rediffusion rebroadcast from a powerful receiver, sending signals into homes via cable connection for a monthly fee. In the homes it served, nothing more was needed other than a loudspeaker and a selector switch.

My grandmother had three choices, the BBC's Home Service (which morphed into Radio 4), the Light Programme (whose successor was Radio 1), and the Third Programme (today's Radio 3). These were the choices. There was no pop channel because the BBC was in thrall to the Musician's Union, which insisted on live performances of "light" music. At my Aunt's house I discovered Radio Luxembourg on 208 metres, which circumvented the BBC monopoly by broadcasting its pop music from abroad. It took the pirate stations in the Sixties, broadcasting from beyond territorial waters, to introduce us to non-stop pop and forced the BBC's hand.

Rediffusion later went into Television broadcasting, and eventually became part of Thames TV, but in the late 1980s the rentals business and the cable network systems were sold off.