1920’s radio stations, MediaCity movements, and the first BBC big screen ever

In 1922, broadcasting arrived in Manchester thanks to the 2ZY radio station. Over 30 years later, the BBC’s first TV studio outside London opened in Rusholme, and A Question of Sport came 16 years after that.

The BBC has played such an integral role in making Manchester the creative and technologically innovative city it is

The BBC and Manchester have been on a fruitful journey ever since, and celebrating its 100th b-day with way more than a card from the Queen, there's an exhibition about the BBC, a collection of pics and artefacts, and a tale as old as time that links the corporation to this Northern powerhouse. 

Documenting the BBC’s journey from its early radio broadcasts to the cutting-edge technology of today, Broadcast 100 has launched Celebrating 100 years of the BBC at Manchester's Science and Industry Museum. The Science Museum Group has also digitised 1,000 objects from the BBC Heritage Collection for the first time ever, making it easier for audiences everywhere "to discover the innovations in broadcast technology that helped make the BBC".

Celebrating 100 Years Of The Bbc Exhibition At The Science And Industry Museum 2022
The Science and Industry Museum is hosting the BBC's 100th birthday bash Image: Confidentials

A small but interactive homage to the corporation, the exhibition “takes visitors on a journey through the past, present and future of the iconic broadcaster’s time in Manchester”, and we're about to do the same. 

As lovers of everything BBC-related from MediaCity to Masterchef, Confidentials has delved deep into the history of the BBC’s Manc-based madness and become all nostalgic and excited about it. 

Photograph Of The 2 Zy Radio Station Broadcasting Room And Equipment Within The Metropolitan Vickers Research Building © The Board Of Trustees Of The Science Museum
The room where it all began Image: The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

On the radio

The BBC's Mancunian history began at 6pm on 15 November 1922. Developed by the engineering company Metropolitan Vickers, 2ZY was Manchester's first radio station, and it had families gathered around the wireless waiting to hear a crackling violin symphony with some serious static. Thrilling.

Broadcasting successfully from its original site in Trafford, 2ZY was eventually re-named The Manchester Programme in 1930. 

Photograph Of The 2 Zy Radio Station Aerial Affixed To The Metropolitan Vickers Research Building And Water Tower © The Board Of Trustees Of The Science Museum
Trafford wasn't always footie grounds and fake ski slopes Image: The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

All free-flying aerials and looming iron water towers, the original 2ZY site has since been destroyed, but its first regular broadcast in 1922 came just one day after its sister station in London. In 1931, the station moved to Moorside Edge and launched the BBC North Regional Programme, which ran until the start of the second world war. 

As part of Broadcast 100's exhibition, visitors can see original copies of a 2ZY broadcasting schedule, pics of Sydney Nightingale and Jessie Cormack singing live on air, and one surviving valve from the original site at Trafford Park. 

Dickenson Road Studios Top Of The Pops Longsight Manchester
Dickinson Road Studios played host to Dusty, Jagger and the whole Beatles clan back in 1964 Image: Malcolm Carr via richardfrosty.com

Video killed the radio star

In 1954, the BBC opened its first television studio outside London as the growing popularity of television and film outshone all the radio broadcasts of crackling violins and children's stories. 

Dickenson Road Studios opened in a converted Methodist church in Rusholme, and in 1964, the site hosted the first-ever episode of Top of the Pops. The line-up included Mick Jagger's flailing legs as The Rolling Stones performed I Wanna Be Your Man, Dusty Springfield sang I Only Want to be With You, and The Hollies, Cliff Richard, and The Beatles also did their thing. I Want To Hold Your Hand was number one that week. 

James Brown By Harry Goodwin Top Of The Pops Bbc
Harry shot everyone from James Brown to Stevie Wonder over his time at Dickenson Road Image: Harry Goodwin via Voices of East Anglia

Other Manchester-based talents shone at Dickenson Road as Fallowfield-born photographer Harry Goodwin snapped timeless pics of every single act that entered the Top 30 UK Singles Chart from 1964-1973. All except Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley. 

The comedy film Off The Dole starring George Formby made 80 grand at the box office, a big deal back in 1935, and other films from Dickenson Road Studios include What a Carry On, Somewhere in Politics and Cup-tie Honeymoon - all of which were made by the Mancunian Films production company.

The Bbcs Broadcasting House At Piccadilly
The old BBC Broadcasting House in Piccadilly Image: MMU collection

The Big One

BBC Manchester's big base moved to New Broadcasting House on Oxford Road in 1975 after stints in Piccadilly and St Peter's Square. Housing BBC Manchester, the BBC Religion and Ethics Department, the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra and BBC North West, the studios were the biggest outside London. Always one small step behind The Big Smoke. 

Programmes like A Question of Sport, Red Dwarf, Dragons Den and Waterloo Road were all spawned from the huge concrete structure that has since been demolished, and Manchester gained its recognition as a digital and creative leader not only in the UK, but across the whole of Europe. It has to be said that at the same time Granada TV was making the city the centre of one of the world's great independent television broadcasters. 

The old BBC site is now the new high rise neighbourhood Circle Square

The Bbc Big Screen In Exchange Square Manchester 2022
A massive screen to see England lose and Kelly Holmes triump Image: David Dixon

Massive screens

One thing that allowed us to pip London to the post is the BBC big screen in Exchange Square. The first of its kind for the BBC, the screen allowed Mancs to witness Kelly Holmes win Gold in the 2002 Commonwealth Games, the Queen commemorate 50 years as monarch and Brazil knock out England in the 2002 World Cup. Sorry, David Seaman. 

The Bbc Building In Salford Quays Dock10 Studios 2022
Media City is now the BBC's Northern epicentre Image: G Laird

Movin' on up to M50

When we think of BBC Manchester now, MediaCity is the big glass wonder that springs to mind. Relocating in 2011, the current BBC spot on Salford Quays houses BBC Breakfast, CBBC, CBeebies, BBC Three, Radio Manchester, Radios 3, 4 and 5, BBC Sport (Match of the Day is broadcast from Manchester) and a load of other research and development programmes. Other key BBC products like iPlayer, BBC Sounds, Children in Need and Comic Relief also run from the Quays, and a 24/7 broadcasting schedule now runs like clockwork. 

We have BBC Manchester to thank for The Royle Family, Clocking Off, Life on Mars, The Voice, Andi Peters, Mary Anne Hobbs, Craig Charles, and the newest version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? The list of TV shows, radio broadcasts, and iconic voices and faces would be impossible to list here, but you get the gist. 

Exhibition Piece From Celebrating 100 Years Of The Bbc At The Museum Of Science And Industry Liverpool Road 2022
A map of all the sites reached by 2ZY back in 1922 Image: Confidentials

The making of a place

As the Science and Industry Museum welcomes Celebrating 100 years of the BBC to its ground floor exhibition space, Lewis Pollard, Curator of Television and Broadcast at the museum, states: “We are delighted to be able to tell the amazing story of the BBC in Manchester and to celebrate the achievements through this important display. The BBC has played such an integral role in making Manchester the creative and technologically innovative city it is today, so we can’t wait to be able to share its incredible history and what it is doing to make broadcast even more exciting for future generations.” 

A quick glance over its history and a brief attempt to make a list of the countless products from BBC Manchester solidifies that the corporation really has made the place what it is today.

The Changing Highlights Exhibtion Space At The Science And Industry Museum 2022
The exhibition space is tucked behind the big screen in the museum lobby Image: Confidentials

See some stuff in the flesh 

The Science and Industry Museum is currently undergoing a major renovation, although large parts remain open including the host space for the BBC’s 100th birthday. Alongside the recent announcement that a pop culture archive is coming to the John Rylands Library in May, it seems this is going to be a good cultural year for the Manchester. 

The Celebrating 100 years of the BBC exhibition is open to the public and runs up until February 2023. Although many of the buildings in the museum are still closed off for renovation purposes, the display takes over the Changing Highlights section on the ground floor right opposite a vintage Rolls Royce, another brand that not only has deep links with the city but began life here.  

The Museum is open from 10am til 5pm from Tuesday to Sunday every week and tickets for the exhibition are free, just reserve yourself a time slot before you go.

The Science and Industry Museum, Liverpool Road, Manchester M3 4FP

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