Nov 6, 1919

Idzerda, the first radio broadcaster

The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision

Imagine the excitement radio amateurs in the Netherlands and England must have felt when they didn't hear the customary morse signals, but music through their headphones! They witnessed an event that would shape the 20th Century: the first radio broadcast in the Netherlands.

Idzerda on air
The man behind this feat was a radio engineer Hans Henricus Schotanus à Steringa Idzerda (1885-1944), who hosted the historical three hour broadcast (from eight to eleven o'clock) from an improvised studio at his home at the Beukstraat in The Hague. He used a radio telephone transmitter he himself had designed and built, which became known as PCGG, named after the call sign on its broadcasting license. 

The programme was announced in the NRC newspaper the day before. In a paid advertisement, because the 'Nieuwe Rotterdamse Courant' didn't value Idzerda's plans as newsworthy.

Listen to the opening tune of Idzerda's first broadcast
A world first
Among the selected few, who were present at this 'world first', was the reporter - and famous Dutch novelist to be - Herman de Man, who looked back on the momentous occasion years later in a letter to Idzerda’s widow: "I belonged to the group of five, which was united in the Beuk Straat and observed: (...) And how carefree and happy we were back in 1919. I, young journalist, wildly happy with my scoop, your husband deeply moved and shaky from emotion. I felt that wonderful moment, that I was witnessing a historic moment (...).
Music across the sea
The signal of Idzerda's radio telephony station PCGG was so powerful it reached listeners in the UK. This makes Idzerda's broadcast not the first radio show in the world, but Idzerda the first radio pioneer who manages to reach a large international audience with regular broadcasts, for what later turns out to be a period of years.
Who is Idzerda?
Hans Henricus Schotanus à Steringa Idzerda was born in 1885 into a family of medical doctors in Weidum, Friesland. He is a bold, but kind and passionate Frisian, and in order to follow his passion for engineering and radio, he breaks with the family tradition. He is a true craftsman and a brilliant engineer who lives for his experiments and foresees the possibilities of the medium called radio before anyone else in Europe. In 1919 he succeeds and puts wireless radio and radio broadcasting on the map in the Netherlands and abroad. 
In 1909 Idzerda starts working for the German firm Siemens und Schuckert in Amsterdam. He marries his love Geertruida Nicolaï and in 1911 his first daughter (from four children) is born. In 1913 the family moves to Scheveningen, where Idzerda starts his own company 'Technical Bureau Wireless' in 1914.

During World War I (1914-1918), in which The Netherlands stay neutral, the air waves are off limits to civilians. Only military and naval communication is allowed, which takes the form of creaking Morse code.

Listen to Idzerda explaining his work for the military during WOI
The IDEEZET radio valve
In 1918, shortly before the end of the war, "the Dutch soft valve" becomes available for consumers. The radio valve had already been developed by Lee de Forest in America in 1907, but due to WWI, it's existence had stayed a secret in Europe. Idzerda however, picked up on it and managed to popularise it in partnership with Dutch manufacturer Philips.

The radio valve or 'triode' vastly improved the receiving quality compared to the conventional crystal, that had been in use up to that point.

A technical and commercial success
In a contract Idzerda and Philips record that Idzerda has the exclusive right to sell the lamp to consumers and amateurs.The first three letters of Idzerda’s name (pronounced phonetically) take pride of place on the valve. This turns out to be succesful marketing trick by Philips to boost sales, as Idzerda’s name is very well known among radio amateurs. The sales of the IDEEZET stay well ahead of its competitors: the company Pope Venlo and its pioneer Leonard Bal, who brought their own radio lamp on the market.
1919: Wireless Experiments
1919, At the Jaarbeurs in Utrecht in Idzerda conducts a spectacular experiment together with Philips. He manages to transmit spoken word and the melody from this music box with wireless radio telephony over a distance of 1200 meters. 

Idzerda's trade fair stand at the Lucas Bolwerk in Utrecht showcasing the various machines he has for sale. For example the 'Golfmeter type Standaard' and one of his loop antennas.

It was a historical moment and people present - including the Dutch Queen could hardly believe it - thinking there must have been a hidden wire. But independent radio amateurs in the rest of the country soon reported they also had received Idzerdas' signal from his stand located at the Lucas Bolwerk.

Listen to Idzerda talking about the trade fair experiment

Historic footage from the Trade Fair at the Jaarbeurs Utrecht in 1918-1919

Broadening the license
After the Jaarbeurs experiments, Idzerda becomes bolder: he obtains a permit for experimental broadcasts limited to designated military radio stations. When he starts his broadcasts for the public on November 6, 1919 he actually stretches the limits of this license enormously. From that moment on Idzerda is on the air twice a week broadcasting his musical program.
Business and pleasure
The broadcasts were intended as a means to improve his PCGG station. Idzerda received feedback and reports from radio amateurs on the receipt, the scope and modulation of his transmissions. His second goal was to entertain his listeners. His broadcasts contained music: he played records and organized live performances and even concerts. And the transmission wasn't one-way-only: he answered questions from listeners as well. At some point, according to his daughter and son, he even aired a regular 'children's hour' on Sunday afternoon with funny stories about the characters 'Mopje' and 'Stropje', which he tried on his children before reading them to his listeners.
International acclaim
In 1921 Idzerda starts with a series of special concerts that will make him famous across national borders: the Kurhaus Concerts. Broadcasted from the venue with the same name in Scheveningen. The English 'Wireless Magazine' collects money from fans in the UK and Idzerda receives letters of support, special requests, records and even cake from his fans. His international success grows even further when English Newspaper 'The Daily Mail' sponsors Idzerda to make special English broadcasts for UK listeners.
The Daily Mail contract
Idzerda: "From July 1922 until July 1923 I broadcasted on behalf of the Daily Mail. That was a beautiful time. Money was no issue and I remember the most expensive broadcast of those days vividly. We had the then famous Australian singer Lily Pailing. She had so many pretensions regarding accompaniment, accommodation, care, locality and what a spoiled artist can invent more, that I had to rest for a week after the broadcast to recover from it." Even before the BBC existed, listeners all over England listened to the Dutch broadcasts of Idzerda. 
Unfortunately the acclaim doesn't translate into financial gains for Idzerda. He pays for every broadcast and the program announcements from his own pockets. Even with UK support it drains his finances and he starts to ask the public - both in the Netherlands and in the UK - for contributions. Not everyone appreciates this move.

Idzerda is a passionate and talented engineer with a passion for radio, but he is not commercial enough. The business model for his company N.V. Netherlands Radio Industry is unrealistic. The quality of his radios and technical equipment is so high that only well to do customers can afford to buy his products. Moreover, the special FM modulation technique with which he transmits does not work well with the cheaper recipients of competitors. These are more suitable for an AM signal. His listeners express their dissatisfaction in the radio magazines Radio News and Radio Expres.

When the Daily mail ends the contract with Idzerda in 1923 and his partner Philips joins forces with his rival NSF for manufacturing lamps and receivers, all things turn sour. Idzerda closes a deal with the Netherlands Society for Radiotelegraphy and they agree to start with broadcasting on Idzerda's station PCGG from February 8 1923. But a little later on Idzerda loses his broadcasting permit due to his financial problems and his company the N.V. Netherlands Radio Industry goes bankrupt in 1924.

1925-1935 Marginalised
The NSF follows the path paved by Idzerda: they build a station, announce their programs in advance and broadcast at a fixed time. The first NSF program airs on July 21, 1923. The start of a national broadcasting station in Hilversum is a fact. Other broadcasters will follow soon. Idzerda’s role as pioneer is over. He continues in the margins: he makes a new start under the name N.V. Radio-Idzerda. He receives a broadcasting license in 1926, with use of the old call letters PCGG, but he is no longer allowed to announce his programs in advance. Between 1930-1931 Idzerda broadcasts under the call letters PF1IDZ. He airs a ‘congratulations’ program for his public of "night owls" on Saturday night at a wavelength of 298 m.
Public sale
On May 8, 1935 the curtain finally closes on the last of the radio actvities of Hanso Idzerda. The inventory of N.V. Idzerda-Radio was sold publicly, although Idzerda managed to keep a part it. After the bankruptcy, Idzerda moves to Scheveningen where he starts running a guest house with his family.
A mysterious ending
During World War II Idzerda visits a crash site of a German V2 rocket close to his house. He encounters some Nazi soldiers who summon him to leave. We know now he returned to the site, where he is promptly arrested and summarily executed a day later. His family members however remain uncertain of his demise until March 8, 1946. Idzerda was executed by the Germans on November 3, 1944 on the site of the former 'Filmstad' on the Benoordenhoutseweg, where the V2-department had its headquarters. This was Wassenaar territory and so it happened that Idzerda (after his body was found) was buried in Wassenaar. Later he was reunited with his wife on a cemetery in The Hague. The story goes that on May 4, WWII Remembrance Day, flowers from the Dutch resistance were found on his grave. This gives the impression that Idzerda was active in the resistance.
Why we can tell this story
Idzerda was ever mindful about his place in history and his legacy. In 1940 he himself donated a large part of his belongings to the Postmuseum, one of the predecessors of the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision. This was the start of the current Idzerda collection, containing books, documents, photo's, technical objects and radios Idzerda produced in his factory that was named Wireless and renamed N.V. Netherlands Radio Industry and later Radio-Idzerda.
Credits: Story

Production: Carlien Booij, Erik van Tuijn
Research: Pieter Bakker, Jette Pellemans, Carlien Booij, Erik van Tuijn
Art direction: Ruben Steeman, buro RuSt
Camera and video editing: Elmar Kroezen, Videofabrique
Animations: Kirsten Schuil, Ruben Steeman
With special thanks to: Tobias Idzerda, grandson of Hans Idzerda, Pieter Bakker and everyone involved at Sound and Vision

Sources of quotations:
Letter from Herman de Man to Idzerda's widow (Eindhoven, 1946);
Letter from Idzerda's eldest daughter M.C. de Brey-Schotanus à Steringa Idzerda to mr. Van Beek (Driehuis,1979);
Letter from Idzerda's eldest daughter M.C. de Brey-Schotanus à Steringa Idzerda to N.T.J. Swierstra (Haarlem, 1969);
Article in newspaper De Telegraaf, 1939-02-24.
Adv. IDEEZET: Radio Nieuws 1918
Het draadloos ontvangstation handboek voor den amateur, J. Corver, Uitgeversmaatschappij Rembrandt (1915)
Portrait J. Corver, NISV
Panorama, A.W. Sijthoff's uitgevers maatschappij (1913)
Portret Idzerda: Schimmelpenningh

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Divertimento No.17 In D Major, K 334. Menuetto
Sonate en sol mineur op. 2 Haendel, comp. ; Ars Rediviva
Perfumes of the Past - Savoy Orphans

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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