BBC marks 90 years of radio with historic Albarn broadcast

Damon Albarn says he was inspired by the BBC pips

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A composition by Blur frontman Damon Albarn has been played to radio listeners around the world to mark 90 years of BBC broadcasting.

2LO Calling, a "snapshot of the airwaves", featured iconic sounds from radio over the past 90 years.

Musician and artist Nick Franglen told the BBC he enjoyed how the piece began but was "left feeling flat" by the end.

The broadcast at 17:33 GMT was hosted by BBC Radio 2's Simon Mayo from London's Science Museum.

It was the first scheduled simultaneous broadcast since 1922, when the BBC was established.

2LO Calling began with the chimes of Big Ben and featured the first ever broadcast from the 2LO transmitter and the number one song at the time - Three O'Clock in the Morning.

The three-minute piece also featured messages from listeners around the world along with the sound of the blackbird and skylark, commentary from the Cameroon election and the ubiquitous BBC pips.

"There is a special musicality to some of the vocal messages, which I tried to preserve," Albarn told the BBC earlier.

"Added to that, I got to do what I've always wanted - to play along with the pips."

Albarn also chose to include a famous quote from philosopher Bertrand Russell: "Love is wise, hatred is foolish."

Artist and musician Nick Franglen's take on 2LO Calling

I thought this was a great way to celebrate 90 years of radio, making a collage of BBC radio's output.

He didn't have very long to capture the entire history of broadcasting so he needed to be careful of the choices he made.

I enjoyed the start, Big Ben, the 20's music with children and snippets of conversation threading through it.

He got the time machine thing just right. I particularly enjoyed the wonderful girl talking about how busy the future was going to be and how we must not get lost, but from then on I found it disappointing.

The dirgy piano started, doing something with the pips and it then just stopped.

I was left feeling flat by the whole thing. I'm a real fan of Damon's work but I think he got the flow wrong and I wonder if he ran out of time.

It featured in Morse code, the series of clicks, tones, dots and dashes historically used to transmit information.

Russell delivered the BBC's inaugural Reith Lecture in 1948.

BBC Radio 3 presenter, Tom service described the tone of the piece as being one of "simultaneous elegy and hopefulness".

"The children's voices and their hopes for the future were both visionary in their innocent belief in the power of music; and dystopian in their hopes that the world wouldn't become overpopulated or burn itself to oblivion.

"Only at the end did Albarn allow himself a moment of real musical invention, in a radiophonic hymn for tolling piano chords, glockenspiel and those now magical, mythical pips," he added.

The 2LO transmitter made the first broadcast - from the British Broadcasting Company as it was then known - on 14 November 1922.

More than 55 BBC radio stations came together for Radio Reunited. It is estimated the broadcast could have reached up to 80 million listeners.

The Science Museum is marking the 90th anniversary of BBC Radio with a display featuring part of the original 2LO transmitter.

The display takes visitors back to the first broadcast and features two radios used to receive the BBC's early broadcasts, a microphone used in the early BBC Savoy Hill studios and an early copy of the Radio Times from 1923.

Tim Boon, head of research and public history at the Science Museum, said: "The first broadcast by the 2LO 90 years ago marked the moment when radio moved from the realm of the 'amateur enthusiast' to the first proper public broadcasting service in Britain.

"This exhibition takes visitors back to a time when everything, from the technology to the content of the programmes was still new."

Radio Reunited was one of a series of on-air events to mark 90 years of BBC Radio, which will also feature a wide range of special programming across BBC stations.

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