Stephen Williams and Radio Luxembourg
Roger Bickerton

Stephen was the only son of the Rev. Clement Williams, who died in 1986 at the age of 106, the oldest priest in the Church of England.

Stephen's interest in radio began in the spring of 1922. At that time there was no broadcasting in Britain, but it was possible to hear a signal from 'Radio Eiffel Tower' which had opened that year. He was 14 and a pupil of St. Paul's School, West London.

My schoolmaster said to me 'would you like to build a wireless set, because wireless is coming here at the end of the year', and I said 'Yes Sir, please' so he helped me build my first set - he was quite ingenious.

We used to have toy lead soldiers like the Lifeguards and the Officers always had a moveable right arm - that was the bit that fell off and got broken, so you had a lot of damaged officers which couldn't possibly be used.My schoolmaster said to get these along to the laboratory, which I did.

He melted down a couple of Lifeguard Officers, chucked in 2-3 pinches of Flowers of Sulphur which went 'whoof'; let the thing cool; knocked it out of the iron ladle in which he had melted it, broke it up and said 'There you are, my boy; here's a supply of crystals for you' and they were the crystals that detected it (the signal). You used to tune your detector; it was a crystal detector, no valves or anything.

So I had the crystals from the lead soldiers, I got the wire froman old house bell indicator which no-one used so my father let me have it and made my first tuning coil which I've still got. Across it, at the instigation of my House Master, I put a metal-cased bicycle pump with the collar which held the plunger shank into its outer case replaced by a cork with a hole made through it with an apple corer.

So you pulled your plunger out (you had to undo the actual rubber piece at the end), pushed it through the cork, screwed back the rubber bit, pushed the plunger back into the case, forcing the cork into the top of the case. You then had a shank which held the actual rubber insulated from the outer case, so you had one plate of the condenserwith the shank and the other plate of the variable condenser with the cover.

You wired those across your tuning coil, and as you pushed or pulled your pump, you varied your capacity and did your fine tuning on that. The Cat's Whisker you made with a little piece of wire cut into a point (that was easy); the aerial was a piece of wire on the roof, insulated with a couple of cotton reels, and you fiddled about touching the crystal with the Cat's Whisker, and away you went. The only thing I had to buy was a pair of headphones which cost 25 shillings and meant an advance on pocket money.

On this contraption I was able to listen proudly to the debut of the BBC on 14 Nov 1922, and from the moment I heard the announcer say "This is 2LO calling, the London station of the British Broadcasting Company", I was seized with an ambition to have a job like his.

I went in for radio in a big way; I followed its progress and read all about it, to the considerable detriment of my school work.

(Despite this, he was accepted for a degree course at Trinity College, Cambridge, although he never completed it, leaving in 1928).

previous page / next page

1:Early life and a first radio set
2:The yacht 'Ceto', Lord Northcliffe and the Daily Mail
3:An early transmitter in Luxembourg
4:Radio Normandy and a Persian Princess
5:Plans for the Luxembourg transmitter
6:Delegated to the new Radio Luxembourg
7:Williams takes charge
8:Recording audio on film, and the Philips recording system
9:Signing up Christopher Stone
10:Football Pools advertizing, 1930s
11:Advertizing anecdotes and pre-war strategy
12:Radio politics, and WW2 begins
13:Stephen Williams joins ENSA as Broadcasting Officer
14:Messages from soldiers: Two-Way Family Favourites
15:More wartime work for ENSA and the BBC
16:War ends; Williams returns to Radio Luxembourg
17:Back to the BBC
18:The hazards of 'Have A Go!'
19:Twilight years at the BBC
20:Awards and retirement


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