'Electric News' - The World's First Radio Station

Ep 1/1

Friday 8 November



Sociologist and radio presenter Laurie Taylor travels to Budapest to uncover the story of Telefon Hírmondó, the world's first broadcasting organisation in the 1890s.

People think of the scheduled broadcasting of news, information and entertainment as having begun in the 1920s, but this is a misconception. It was actually in 1893, when Theodore Puskás opened his Telefon Hírmondó or 'Telephone Newspaper' in Budapest.

Subscribers to this telephone service could enjoy a daily timetable of foreign, national and local news, sport, weather, fashion, stock-market reports, language lessons, music, theatre and much more. It was delivered by a team of journalists, copy-writers, editors, announcers and engineers, which would be similar to any radio station today. To the ears of people today, Telefon Hírmondó would have sounded uncannily modern: there would be live relays of church services, theatre productions, concerts, opera performances and reports direct from parliament and from sports events.

Laurie visits a special exhibition at the Budapest’s postal museum and takes a look inside Hungarian State Opera, whose performances were broadcast live via Telefon Hírmondó from the 1890s, as well as observing how the city memorialises Puskás, one of its most famous sons.

He explores the lengths to which Telefon Hírmondó went to market its product, hooking in not just domestic subscribers but hotels, restaurants, clubs, dental surgeries and barber shops. He also delves into the telephone's early history to explain the confusion on both sides of the Atlantic over what the device was best used for. How did Hungary come to lead the world in broadcasting, rather than the USA, Britain or France? The genius of Theodore Puskás is a large part of the explanation.

Among the contributors is Puskás's descendant, Barbara Fally-Puskás.

Producer/ Andrew Green for An Andrew Green Production for the BBC

BBC Radio 4 Publicity