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Crossing the Ether

Crossing the Ether

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Crossing the Ether

The Untold Story of Pre-War UK Commercial Radio (with AUDIO CD)

By Seàn Street

Histories of British broadcasting suggest that the BBC monopoly was never seriously challenged until the coming of ITV in 1955. Crossing the Ether counters this view.

Publication date: December 2006
Total pages: 256
ISBN: 0 86196 668 6
Price: £ 22.00


Histories of British broadcasting suggest that the BBC monopoly was never seriously challenged until the coming of ITV in 1955. Crossing the Ether counters this view, telling the story of commercial radio’s first challenge to the Public Service monopoly between 1930 and 1939. In the telling, this account provides substantial primary evidence that radio in Britain during the 1930s was a battleground between continental-based stations, run by British and American commercial interests, and the BBC.
Legal, land-based independent radio in Britain first began in October 1973. Prior to this, Radio Luxembourg and the offshore ‘pirate’ stations of the 1960s had challenged the BBC’s monopoly of the airwaves. It is, however, a lesser-known fact that the debate between public service and commercial interests in UK radio goes back much further – in fact to the very beginnings of the medium. Between 1920 and the outbreak of World War II, radio listening in Britain was a battlefield fought over on one hand by a somewhat paternalistic BBC, and on the other by Europe-based commercial stations, broadcasting populist sponsored English-language programmes. This book explores fully for the first time the importance of the tension between the two in terms of the cultural and technical evolution of British sound broadcasting. In so doing, it questions the traditional historical view of the BBC as an unchallenged monopoly during the period, providing evidence that a number of crucial areas of broadcasting development in pre-war Britain resulted directly from the pressure of competition.


I must give a mention to Crossing the Ether. An exceptional piece of scholarship and an enormously important addition to our knowledge of the pre-World War II continental commercial stations (targeted at the UK) and the clash of public service and commercial idea(l)s, then and more recently, which informs modern-day debates.
Richard Rudin, Lecturer in Radio Studies at Liverpool John Moores University – posted on the Radio Studies email discussion board


Seán Street is a writer, an academic, a poet and a broadcaster. He has worked as a radio practitioner since 1970, both within the public service and independent sectors of the UK industry. He is these days frequently to be heard as producer/presenter in his own features on BBC Radios 3 and 4. He has written widely on radio history; his Concise History of British Radio (Kelly Publications) is on many media department reading lists, and Radio Waves – An Anthology of Poems Celebrating the Wireless (Enitharmon Press), drew widespread critical praise. Seán Street recently completed the Historical Dictionary of British Radio (Scarecrow Press).
Seán Street is Professor of Radio at Bournemouth Media School at Bournemouth University, where he directs the Centre for Broadcasting History Research, as well as the Bournemouth Internet Radio Station (BIRSt). He has published six collections of his own poems, including Radio and Other Poems (Rockingham Press).

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