Sunday, August 05, 2007

Why's a Radio Called a Wireless?

Those of a certian age still refer to the radio as 'a wireless' - why? This dates back to the period before the WW2, although we tend to think of radios from that era being connected to the electricity supply rather than the battery powered transistor radios that became so popular in the 1960s. So why were they called 'wire-less'.

Radios were often large wooden affairs that were built in such a way as to accommodate accumulators – big heavy batteries that needed recharging every two weeks or so, often by a local garage. Although the Central Electricity Grid that supplied Britain’s homes had been set up in 1935 coverage was a long way short of complete. Even by the third year of the war as many as one third of Britain’s homes were not connected to the grid. And therefore radios were not plugged into the mains but powered by batteries.

This was also a time when a family did not immediately run out and buy the latest new piece of consumer electronics.

11 comments:

Tom Paine said...

Surely the "wire" they were "less" was not the one connecting them to power? The information arrived by radio waves, unlike that by telephone or telegraph which arrived by wire.

Richard Havers said...

That's true Tom, but they were rarely called a radio! A 'wireless to work without an accumulator' as it says in the ad. Having talked to a number of people from that generation it's a split vote.

I'm fascinated by how many people still used accumulator radios.

r morris said...

Interesting post, Richard.
That's amazing that a third of British homes weren't on the grid in the early 40's. I think most of the US finally got electricity under FDR in the thirties and forties with the Rural Electrification Administration.
Another thing we take for granted in this day and age.

jmb said...

Being of the older generation, I always called it a wireless, and it was wireless as far as the way the signal was carried. But when I moved to North America forty six years ago gradually I used radio, just the way I now use gas instead of petrol.
Yes we always clustered around the big wooden box, listening to the Goon Show and the test cricket, and the serials (in Australian, mind you, but still British at heart).

Pete in Dunbar said...

Tom Paine is right, it's nothing to do with the power supply. It's Wireless Telegraphy (a term still used in UK legislation for radio communication). See this article.

Richard Havers said...

Cheers Pete (and Tom and jmb). IT's interesting how terms become used. Like the hoover being a generic for a vacuum cleaner. The fact that so few people were connected to the grid also amazes me.

ian russell said...

interesting post, Richard. well, I assumed it was the telegraph thing too. Of course, we called them trannies in our day.

I heard that Jim Dyson wanted the 'Dyson' to displace the 'Hoover' in popular parlance. He almost succeeded.

Steve_Roberts said...

Sorry, but no.
First there was telegraphy - morse code over wires to transmit telegrams. Then there was telephony - speech over wires, thanks to Mr Bell. Then there was wireless telegraphy - morse code by radio waves thanks to Sr Marconi. Then wireless telephony - speech by radio, and when this was broadcast it was just 'wireless' and a wireless was a radio receiver. Whether it was mains-powered or run on accumulators, it was still a wireless - the advert is making a play on the word 'wireless'.

Lee Harvey said...

I at first though the same as a few comments here that it was called a wireless due to the way the signal was received but after doing some research I found the original author Richard to be correct many people called them a wireless due to the fact they ran off a battery. Lol how times if changed I never even heard of an accumulator until a few days ago being 32 myself. Thnx for the interesting article Richard. Lee

olive4socks said...

"sorry,but no" .....that made us chuckle...good succinct reply...

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