‘The Brightness You Bring into Our Otherwise Very Dull Existence’: Responses to Dutch Global Radio Broadcasts from the British Empire in the 1920s and 1930s
During the first half of twentieth century, protagonists from the imperial powers constantly sized up each others’ empires and these ‘politics of comparison’ were part and parcel of the international system of the late colonial period. This contribution explores new ways in which historians can study the complex dynamics of ‘comparative empires’ through the prism of the history of global radio broadcasting. Radio is an inherently transnational medium as the ether knows no boundaries, a quality that was instantly recognised by contemporaries who witnessed the birth of radio in the interwar years. Consequently, broadcasters from different imperial powers instantly tried to find ways to use radio as an instrument to brush up prestige abroad. The Dutch company Philips pioneered intercontinental radio technology and set up an experimental transmission station in 1927, best known by its call sign PCJ. From the start, letters came pouring in showing that its programmes were listened to all over the world, including various parts of the British Empire. To accommodate different kinds of listeners, the Philips radio company developed a polyglot format focusing on light entertainment, the ‘Happy Station’ presented by Eduard Startz. I will critically analyse source material about this programme, including a selection of British listeners’ letters, to think about how radio affected the ‘politics of comparison’ between the British and Dutch empires in the late colonial period.