A Short History of Broadcasting in Czechoslovakia

May 18, 2023 marks 100 years since the time when, after several months of experiments and trials, the Czechoslovak Republic began regular radio broadcasts.

At that time we were the 2nd nation in Europe (England was the 1st) and the 3rd nation in the world to do so. While the Eiffel Tower was making its first experimental transmissions, regular broadcasts flowed over the airwaves of Czechoslovakia. The original station's equipment was quite shabby.

The basic equipment was a telegraph transmitter that broadcast in Morse code during the day. Then, in the evening, it was connected to a makeshift modulator with a microphone, and could transmit spoken words and music.

The first studio was located in a tent directly under the antenna. Enthusiasts from the Prague Vacation Colony borrowed the tent, in which they had a piano (also borrowed), a table, two Chairs and a microphone (which was actually a common telephone receiver). At first, the program mostly consisted of economic news, lectures, and short musical and vocal performances.

In pleasant weather the station's first announcer, Mr. Adolf Dobrovolny, would sit outside. He didn't have to worry about noise from the near-by Kbely airport, as the microphone was so crude and lacking in sensitivity that he literally had to shout into it.

The impulse to begin broadcasting came from a circle of journalists and the Radioslavia Corporation, which had just been founded as the first Czech company to sell radio apparatuses. The attempt to found a broadcasting station received support from the Ministry of Post and Telegraphy, which became its organizer and operator.

On March 23, 1923 the law on radio technology became more refined. The state had a monopoly on broadcasting as well as its reception. This created a paradoxical situation, as there were undoubtedly broadcasts, but officially no one could receive them.

Acquiring a license to receive was not a simple matter. A licensee had to have proof he had a clean record and guarantee the ministry that he would not misuse information disseminated by transmitters. (We must keep in mind the tense relations with Hungary at that time, as well as the fact that the military was also engaged in broadcasting.) For this reason an overwhelming majority of listeners operated without a license.

Most listeners used crystal receivers of amateur construction, as there was an extreme shortage of factory produced receivers and those that were available were far from cheap. A complete French receiving apparatus with vacuum tubes cost about 20,000 crowns, compared to the average monthly salary of 1,000 crowns. For a period of a few years, broadcasting was a privilege of either the rich or of avid fans.

Radio experienced its real boom around the year 1930. At that time there ware 30 large scale manufacturers and about 100 medium and small scale manufacturers in Czechoslovakia churning out radios in countless types and forms. The flood of literature and magazines at that time compares at least somewhat with the current fuss over the Internet and the age of digitalization.

On December 20, 1923 a new law came in to effect which included statutes regarding the production, sale and operation of radio telegraph and radio telephone equipment, including regulations on their export.

In the first half of 1924 President Masaryk declared amnesty to all illegal listeners in exchange for their proper registration and payment of fees. In that year the oft used English word "broadcasting" slowly came to be replaced by the Czech word "rozhlas". (The word made its first public appearance in print on May 21, 1924 in the Newspaper Narodni, in a column by editor Richard Durdil.) In that same year a broadcasting studio opened with celebration on the roof of the Regional House (Zemsky dum).

It is also of interest that transmissions from Brno occurred experimentally at the same time as in Prague during the summer of 1922 on a frequency of 1600m from a transmitter owned by the company Huth in Brno Komarov.

Czechoslovak broadcasting expanded in the thirties with eight large transmitters. Foreign broadcasting was supported - it served the purpose of public relations for the Czechoslovakian State. At that point, broadcasting ceased to be merely a plaything for enthusiasts and became an integral part of everyday life. It became a powerful instrument and a high quality source of information. Even the NSDAP (party name) gives testament to the importance of broadcasting, one of the party slogans was "a receiver for every family". In 1943 SW band from all receivers in occupated Czechoslovakia must be removed.

Factories were ordered to produce. And produce they did: out came a flood of small, cheap, and very low quality appliances. Such was the case in Czechoslovakia. Luckily for us collectors, we can choose from a rich variety of receivers, as could a listener at that time.

Text: René Melkus

Translated by Matthew Brent Winters