Radio Club

By Sarah Harvey, Curatorial & Learning Officer

Chelmsford holds the title “Birthplace of Radio” for several very good reasons; the first wireless factory was opened here; Marconi, aided by many brilliant engineers, perfected and developed his radio technology here; and the first regular, licensed British radio broadcasts were made here in 1922, leading to the foundation of the BBC.

To celebrate the centenary of those first experimental and pioneering British broadcasts in 2022, Chelmsford Museum commissioned a new artwork and exhibition, Forecast22: Broadcasting across the ether, created by artist Sian Fan. We really wanted to make this important, but still relatively unknown, history available beyond the borders of Chelmsford and make it as accessible as possible to new audiences.

Forecast22 is a digital artwork and website so, even though the exhibition at Chelmsford Museum has now closed, you can still experience the artwork online until October 14th 2023, from anywhere in the world! I worked alongside Sian to produce and curate the project with the aim of creating a work which celebrated the original broadcasts. From the start, Sian was inspired by the stories of these fun and irreverent shows, led by a charismatic Marconi engineer called Captain Peter Eckersley. No original recording of the broadcasts has survived so she drew from the few surviving memories, documents and artefacts including the Writtle hut, the small wooden hut preserved in Chelmsford Museum’s collection, where the first broadcasts were made.

Sian used 3D scans to capture the hut and create a 3-dimensional version which you can move through within the artwork. She also worked with local creative talent, inviting them to respond to and recreate some of the broadcasts. Recorded in the Writtle Hut, the new material brought the historic broadcasts back to life. We wanted to introduce this very important part of Chelmsford’s history to a new audience and hoped that by connecting the past and present creativity in Chelmsford, over the gap of 100 years, it would help make the history relevant to people living in Chelmsford today.

To engage younger audiences with the history and Forecast22 exhibition, we commissioned the Chelmsford Museum Radio Club; five weeks of workshops for 8-14 year olds, run by Chelmsford Community Radio (CCR). This is the first time the museum has run this sort of activity and the first time we had partnered with another organisation in this way. The children got to learn about the history of radio and experience what it has become today by making their own radio content under the expert tuition of Michelle from CCR.

The sessions began with an introduction to the history of radio and a chance to interview an ‘expert’ – me! After some initial shyness they were soon working in groups and coming up with some really tough questions. I couldn’t believe how much some of the group already knew about the history of radio, it was really impressive.

Week two had the group thinking about what we use radio for today and how it is an important source of information. This time they got to take the mic as they wrote, and then read and recorded, their own weather, travel and news reports. Things got creative in week three as the children made adverts for the museum – they were fantastic! They created characters and voices, made sound effects and thought really hard about the audience and what their favourite bits of the museum were. The Hive café got mentioned a lot!

The workshops culminated with the children writing and performing a radio play which they really enjoyed. I was blown away by their creativity and confidence when they were writing, performing and recording, and I wasn’t the only one, Michelle from CCR said:

"The best thing about running our Radio Club is seeing the children picking up new skills and being really creative with them. The activities were fun for everybody taking part and we made some impressive radio content in a very short time. There were certainly some children in the group that I could see carving a promising career in media - and that speaks volumes. We are taking the legacy of our City's broadcast heritage and working towards maintaining it; helping with the development of talented young people from the Birthplace of Radio."

I couldn’t agree more.

After the finish of the museum club, Michelle invited all the children to visit the CCR studio, where she runs the Saturday breakfast show. I understand that some of them even spoke live on air!