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  • Writer's pictureHans Faber

What Killed the Radio Star? The Frisian Claim to Radio Fame

After given a clear warning by the German Wehrmacht to buzz off, nosy Hanso Idzerda nevertheless returns to the crash site of a V2 rocket on Parkweg Rd in Scheveningen. Not far from his house on Parkweg Rd too. Idzerda ignored the warning, and shortly after he got caught a second time by the Wehrmacht patrol. No friendly asking anymore. The following day, on November 3, 1944, Idzerda was executed on charges of espionage on the estate Oosterbeek. Idzerda was snooping around to collect debris of a V2 rocket whose lift-off from the launch site at Haagse Bos park had failed. It was said, Idzerda carried some pieces of rocket in his pocket. Only in September 1945, the remains of Idzerda were discovered and is when became clear he had been shot. As to why Idzerda jeopardized his life, is a subject of speculation. Was it curiosity of an ignorant engineer or, more heroically, that he worked for the Resistance?

So, let’s assume it was simply curiosity that killed the cat. Why then should we dwell at length on this individual? Apparently a not overly bright and gaga personality, and one with little danger awareness. Well, we should. Because Hanso Idzerda, nicknamed the Dutch Marconi, is one of world’s godfathers of radio broadcasting as we know it today. Popular Bomenbuurt ‘trees borough’ in the city of The Hague is where all this wireless modernity happened more than a century ago. His factory, now turned into apartments, is still there to see. Its address details will be disclosed in this post. Idzerda’s story, however, started in the less exciting, small village of Weidum in province Friesland.

radio pioneer

Hanso Idzerda was born in 1885 in sleepy Weidum. A terp village south of the city of Leeuwarden. His full name – please, take a deep breath – was Hans Henricus Schotanus à Steringa Idzerda. Later in life, when working on radio and broadcasting innovations, Idzerda was also known as I.D.Z. or Idz. His father was a doctor, but that didn’t prevent young Hanso from choosing his own, very different path. At first, Idzerda studied at the Machinistenschool ‘school for marine engineers’ in Amsterdam. Apparently, this school didn’t meet his expectations, and he decided to study electrical engineering at the Rheinisches Technikum in the town of Bingen am Rhein in Germany. He finished his study Elektrochnik in 1908 (Vallinga 2019). Bingen, by the way, isn’t too far remote from the Lorelei Rock where many early-medieval Frisian skipper narrowly escaped death (check our post Little prayers at the Lorelei Rock).

After his study in Bingen, engineer Idzerda starts working for the German company Siemens-Schuckert in Amsterdam. Not long after, in 1913, Idzerda moves to Scheveningen, a village close to the city of The Hague. Establishing himself at Scheveningen was no coincidence. Here, both the radio station of the Ministry of War, transmitting morse across the seven seas, and the state-owned Rijkstelegraaf ‘national telegraph’ (later PTT) were located, and to which he hoped to sell his instruments (Höller 2019, De Raadt 2023). A year later, in Scheveningen-The Hague, Idzerda started to work as independent wireless advisor, with Technisch Bureau Wireless ‘technical bureau wireless’ as the name of his first enterprise. In 1918, Technisch Bureau Wireless was renamed Nederlandsche Radio-Industrie ‘Netherlands radio industry’ (NRI). Again a privately owned company of Idzerda. NRI company manufactured parts for radio sets. His factory was located on 8-10 Beukstraat St, The Hague.

Already during World War I (1914-1918), Idzerda experimented in the rectory of his father-in-law in the village of Mantgum in province Friesland. He developed valves or tubes that allowed him to receive morse communication and follow the movements of zeppelins. Idzerda was fortunate because after one of the zeppelins had crashed, he somehow managed to get his hands on one of the valves which he would improve together with the Philips firm (Höller 2019). Others say, Idzerda obtained through fencing valves from a Telefunken radio of an also crashed German fighter plane. An airplane crashed either on island Texel or into the Zuiderzee, in August or September 1917 (De Raadt 2023). When in 1944, Idzerda tried to secure military material again, this time from a crashed V2 rocket, he finally overplayed his hand, as we have seen at the beginning of this post.

Back then at the start of the twentieth century, radio technology was applied primarily for marine and military purposes, namely the transmission of morse. An invention made by Nobel Prize winner Guglielmo Marconi from Italy in 1835 already. Until World War I, wireless transmission of voice wasn’t possible yet. Because radio technology was considered of military strategic importance, free use of the ether wasn’t allowed either. You needed permission from the government to transmit airwaves. Having receivers privately owned that could pick up morse signals, was forbidden too, at first. But from 1917 onward, receivers were allowed because the Dutch government had become intelligent enough to realize such a prohibition was impossible to enforce among almost 7 million inhabitants anyway.

In 1916, Philips Gloeilampenfabriek ‘Philips light bulbs factory’ and Idzerda jointly started experimenting to produce triode valves called gloeilampdetectoren in Dutch language. Valves after the example developed in 1907 by the American inventor Lee de Forest (1873-1961). Two years later, Idzerda and Philips concluded a contract whereby Philips promised to produce Idzerda’s new triode valves under the product name ‘Philips IDEEZET lamp’, and Idzerda committed himself to purchase a minimum of 180 valves per year. The new valves were marketed under the name 'Philips IDEEZET lamp', for sale at 12.50 guilders a piece. Idzerda sold the triode valves via his enterprise Technisch Bureau Wireless. Other names for these generator lamps were 'IDEEZET tube' and 'Dutch IDZ valve'. It turned out to be a great success for both Idzerda and Philips. During the first year, 1,200 items were sold, and in total several thousands (De Boer 1969, Bathgate 2020). The word IDEEZET, by the way, is composed of the first three letters of the name Idzerda when pronounced phonetically in Dutch. I.D.Z, or Idz, and was, as said, Idzerda’s common nickname.

After the introduction of the Philips IDEEZET lamp, radio amateurs switched from crystal receivers to these new tube receivers, which were far more sensitive than the crystal ones. Dutch journalist and radio-amateur Jan Corver produced a do-it-yourself manual to build your own top-notch receiver. These one-lamp receivers were capable of receiving signals from a much greater distance than so far. Corver is also the one who later coined the Dutch terms omroep ‘broadcaster’ and omroeper ‘announcer’.

evening musical

Primarily to stimulate sales of his radio receiver equipment the NRI company manufactured, Idzerda wanted to start broadcasting (Marks 2012). For this, Idzerda obtained a license from the Ministerie van Waterstaat ‘ministry of water management’ on August 19, 1919, under the randomly assigned call sign PCGG. An abbreviation without meaning. PCGG’s maiden broadcast was on Thursday November 6, 1919, and sponsored by Philips. Earlier that year, between February 24 and March 8, Idzerda had demonstrated at the Jaarbeurs ‘year trade market’ on Vreeburg Sq in the city of Utrecht that he was able to transmit sound over 1,200 meters. It was the sound coming from a small musical box. Not only 1,200 meters were covered. A listener twelve kilometers away from Utrecht, also received the musical box, loud and clear.

The historic first radio broadcast on November 6, was named Radio Soireé-Musicale (sic), which is French for ‘evening musical’, and transmitted on a longwave wavelength, between 08:00 to 11:00 PM. Idzerda, by now 34 years old, had announced his program beforehand on November 5, in the newspaper Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant, NRC.

program of Radio Soireé-Musicale as published in NRC of November 5, 1919

Program offered utilizing a phonograph by means of a Philips-Iduret-Generator lamp, fitted in a Radio-Telephone Broadcast Station of the Netherlands Radio-Industry at a wavelength of 670 Meter. Everyone possessing a simple Radio-receiving device can listen to this music relaxed at home. By making use of our amplifiers it is possible to hear the music in the entire room. For more information and delivery of receiving devices, amplifiers, telephone broadcasting stations etc please contact the Netherlands Radio Industry at Beukstraat 8-10, The Hague.

During the programs, ‘presenter’ Hanso Idzerda not only introduced the records he played, but also answered technical questions from listeners who telephoned. In addition, Idzerda told funny little stories he had tried before on his children. Records played that first evening were Turf in je ransel ‘peat in your rucksack/haversack’, a grenadier march, and Een meisje dat men nooit vergeet ‘a girl people never forget’. His announcements were in three languages, Dutch, French and English. Thursdays between 20:00 and 23:00 hours continued to be his fixed broadcasting time, even though there were periods he additionally broadcasted on Sundays too. From November 1921, Idzerda obtained a new license, which allowed him to broadcast four times a week in the afternoon, on Mondays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Reason why Idzerda had such tremendous success, was because from 1918 already he was manufacturing radio tubes, and the fact that there were an estimated 1,000 to 2,000 radio receivers ‘waiting’ for the airwaves when Idzerda started broadcasting in 1919. Furthermore, Idzerda had built a very strong transmitter, with a long reach. Thanks to Idzerda’s long reach transmitter his programs could be heard on the other side of the English Channel too. Soon, listeners in the south-east of the UK were glued to Dutch radio as well. Taking broadcasting to a whole new level. Mind you, this was before the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) started in October 1922. Some say, Idzerda’s broadcasts inspired to set up the BBC (De Raadt 2023). Later, his broadcasts were received in Belgium, France, Germany and, possibly, Iceland too.

Idzerda is probably also the first in the world to make a recording studio, which he called klankzaal ‘sound room’ or paleis van stilte ‘palace of silence’. It was draped with curtains to achieve the best sound quality (De Raadt 2023). Nice anecdote is that when Idzerda was on air he had on the door of the klankzaal a light bulb on, with a sign saying:

"Brandt dit licht dan koppen dicht!"

burns this light then shut up!

In the UK, Idzerda’s PCGG became commonly known as the Dutch Concerts station. PCGG also got the attention of the London Daily Mail. Together with the Marconi company, the Daily Mail was busy to give publicity broadcasts. However, the Office of the Postmaster General gave no permission. So, the Daily Mail turned to Idzerda’s PCGG to make publicity from overseas. Of course, in return for money. For one year, Idzerda made programs especially for the Daily Mail. At first, these were broadcasted on Thursdays and Sundays. Later, only on Sundays. But then a program of two hours, instead of previously one hour twice a week.

On July 27, 1922, the first time Idzerda broadcasted for the Daily Mail, he featured on his show singer Lily Payling of which Idzerda later said: “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.” Nevertheless, her radio performance was the first of its kind ever. It generated a lot of interest in the UK, with big loudspeakers placed on streets so the public could hear Lily sing all the way from Scheveningen (Lyncombe 2018).

The concert performed by the Residentie Orkest, led by conductor Peter van Anrooy, on the occasion of the twenty-five anniversary of Queen Wilhelmina’s reign on September 1, 1923, was also broadcasted by Idzerda (Höller 2019). Of course, this was quite an honour that fell upon Idzerda.

Between July and September 1924, with financial support of the Maatschappij Zeebad Scheveningen 'society sea-bath Scheveningen', Idzerda broadcasted a special series of so-called 'Kurhaus Concerts'. Broadcasted from the luxurious Koninklijke Loge of the Kurhaus 'spa house' at the beach of Scheveningen. However, financially wise this initiative turned out to be too demanding for Idzerda. The quality of the broadcasting was too poor, and the audience increasingly limited.

postcard of the Kurhaus at the beach of Scheveningen, 1919

Besides financial difficulties due to the expensive Kurhaus Concerts, Philips and Idzerda broke up in September 1924 as well. The love was over, if there ever was any. Some say because Idzerda was a difficult personality. Possibly also, Philips saw more lucrative commercial activities elsewhere. A year before, namely, the Nationale Seintoestellen Fabriek ‘national transmitters factory’ (NSF) had begun broadcasting from the town of Hilversum in central Netherlands, and NSF worked together with Philips (Vallinga 2019). From the spring of 1923 onward, Radio Hilversum started broadcasting, which meant strong competition for PCGG. Whatever the exact reasons, Idzerda soon ran out of financial means to continue his operations. Eventually, he went bankrupt and lost his broadcasting license in 1924.

Two years after the bankruptcy, on June 17, 1926, Idzerda obtained a new broadcasting license for his new company named Idzerda Radio. Also located on 8-10 Beukstraat St in The Hague. This time issued by the government for the purpose of technical experiments only. However, after midnight when the programs of NSF in Hilversum had ended, Idzerda had his own illegal program called De Felicitatiedienst ‘the congratulation service’. Strictly speaking, Idzerda had turned into a radio pirate. Bad Hanso, bad Idz! After 1930, his license wouldn’t be renewed anymore. That was when the curtains fell for Idzerda as a radio star, and in 1935 he ended all radio activity definitively. Together with his wife Wilhelmina, he started a pension in Scheveningen.

The real reason, we think, for Idzerda's downfall, wasn't the expensive ventures and his supposedly difficult, perfectionist or non-commercial, or any combination thereof, character, as often is said. No, Idzerda didn't keep pace with the fast-evolving innovations in communication technology. Meaning, his initially great quality of wireless sound wasn't really improving and falling behind on competition. Resulting in less interest, less investors, and less revenues. As often, continuous innovation and progress is key, especially when operating in a fast growing, experimental market.

who’s got the biggest?

What about the Frisian Claim for Radio Fame? The claim for being the first broadcaster?

For the names of five other generally accepted co-competitors for this claim for fame, we must go West, and cross the water waves of the Atlantic.

1906 - A first competitor is the Canadian Reginald Fessenden. In November 1906, Fessenden’s experiments succeeded in transmitting speech. A month later, on Christmas Eve, he made a broadcast from his workshop in Chestnut Hill in the State of Massachusetts. Fessenden played some records, including Händel’s Largo, and he played on violin a solo of Gounod’s Oh Holy Night. Furthermore, of course, he read from the Gospel of Luke. It was after all Christmas Eve. Fessenden announced his program beforehand with morse messages at radio operators of sea vessels. On New Year’s Eve he repeated the broadcast. It were the first public broadcast of voice, albeit only a two-time thing.

1912 - A very second strong competitor is the American Charles David Herrold, who broadcasted voice on a regular basis on Wednesdays between 1912 and 1917. His students called him Doc, though he never held a degree. Though Doc’s broadcast were public, it was weak and only heard in San Jose itself. In 1917, the government suspended all broadcasting because America had entered World War I. Four years later, in 1921, he started broadcasting again under the call sign KQW, until 1926 when he quit and left the wireless world behind.

Herrold, the self-proclaimed Father of Broadcasting (Bathgate 2020), was based in the city of San Jose in the State of California. “San Jose Calling!” as he usually started the program. Herrold founded the Herrold College of Wireless and Engineering, and thought radio was good publicity for his college. His broadcasts were aimed at students and consisted of giving the news, playing records and making advertisement. Herrold’s broadcasts were pre-announced in the local newspaper, and his first planned broadcast was in 1912 (Bathgate 2020, Ewbank 2020). Note that the term ‘broadcasting’ was coined by Harrold too. Harrold was son of a farmer, and ‘broad casting’ in this profession meant spreading seed over a large expanse (Bathgate 2020).

1914 - A third competitor is the Flemish Robert Goldschmidt. He started broadcasting on March 23, 1914 from the Palace in Laeken (Brussels), Belgium. Unfortunately, a few months later Belgium was dragged into World War I, and the German army destroyed his brand-new station.

1916 - A fourth competitor is inventor Lee de Forest. We already mentioned him for developing the triode valve, which he patented in 1907. In November 1916, he transmitted the first presidential election from his station in the Bronx in the State of New York. Later, he moved his station to High Bridge in new York. De Forest too had to suspend all activity when America entered World War I in 1917. After the war he moved to the State of California and started broadcasting there in November 1921. However, we’re not aware the broadcast of de Forest had a regular, planned programming.

1920 - A fifth competitor is the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company in Pittsburgh in the State of Pennsylvania of Leo Rosenberg. Under the call sign KDKA, it started broadcasting on November 2, 1920. KDKA had a license to broadcast. November 2, 1920, is somehow widely around the globe regarded as the start of commercial broadcasting. Alas, at least Idzerda’s PCGG beat Rosenberg’s KDKA with a full year already.

Lastly, we arrive at competitor number six, Hanso Idzerda, who started broadcasting in 1919.

Frankly, the answer to who the grandfather of radio broadcasting is out of these six competitors, depends on the definition you formulate. Preferrable beforehand, so you know the outcome and who wins the competition. In general, however, there seems to be agreement it should be more than a one-hit wonder. And, that the programming must be announced ahead of its broadcasting. Additionally, you enrich your definition with elements like ‘internationally’ and ‘commercially’. Adding ‘internationally’ to your definition is lucrative when your favorite radio hero lived in a small country where abroad is never far away. The Netherlands is such a small country where the world is never far away. Lastly, opinions differ whether or not a license to broadcast should be a prerequisite. Some argue a license isn’t relevant to receive the award of being the first broadcast company. This is fine but then we’re, in fact, talking about pirates (see note 3 further below).

When we formulate the question 'who founded the first licensed, commercial broadcasting company in the world, catering pre-announced public programs on regular basis to a large international audience?' it must be Hanso Idzerda. Yes, by far. This accomplishment in itself makes Idzerda one of the greatest radio pioneers already. But besides his broadcasting activities, Idzerda also invented the much more sensitive valves, and he developed transmitters and receivers of the highest standard hitherto. Everything together, we think, it makes Hanso Idzerda truly stand out of the radio crowd. A pity the tragedy of war didn’t spare him.

V2 Killed the Radio Star

Curious cat Hanso Idzerda is (re-)buried at the beautiful and old graveyard 'Nieuw Eyk en Duynen' in The Hague, just south of neighbourhood Bomenbuurt where his firm NRI once stood.


Note 1 – Another famous Frisian, and contemporary of Hanso Idzerda, who was also executed for alleged espionage, is Margaretha Geertruida (Grietje) Zelle (1876-1917) from the town of Leeuwarden, better known by her artist's name Mata Hari. She also lived for a while in The Hague, during the years 1915 and 1916, at Nieuwe Uitleg St. 16.

Note 2 – As explained in this post, George Frideric Händel’s Largo was one of the first musical composition to enjoy over the radio ever, which was in 1906. Radio pioneer Reginald Fessenden had good taste, since the most famous Frisian pelota player ever, Hotze Schuil from port town Harlingen, had precisely this composition played at his funeral in 2005. Read our post Donkey King of the Paulme Game for more about this legendary sportsman and the game of kaatsen.

Note 3 – The Hague-Scheveningen, where Hanso Idzerda lived and broadcasted his radio shows, is also where in 1973 a radio pirate ship ran aground during a heavy storm. It was the ship of the radio pirate Veronica. The ship was called the Norderney, after the Frisian Wadden Sea island in region Ostfriesland, Germany. Originally, the Norderney was an Icelandic fish trawler. Radio Veronica, started broadcasting outside Dutch territorial waters at sea in 1960. Of course, this broadcaster had no permit, and hence a radio pirate. Comparable to the construct of the Daily Mail and Hanso Idzerda before. Initially Veronica was named Vrije Radio Omroep Nederland ‘free radio broadcasting Netherlands’ (VRON), but this name was confused with the Vereniging Experimenteel Radio Onderzoek ‘foundation experimental radio research’ (VERON). Hence the name Veronica. Anyway, The Hague-Scheveningen seems to be an experimental radio hotspot.

One last thing, ship the Norderney was the second ship of Radio Veronica. The first ship was called the Borkum Riff, again named after a Frisian Wadden Sea island, namely Borkum in region Ostfriesland. Originally, the Borkum Riff was a German light vessel.

the Norderney at Scheveningen, 1973

Another famous radio pirate was Radio North Sea International (RNI) that started broadcasting from sea in 1970. It was owned by Swiss businessmen. The ship was named the Silvretta and built in Slikkerveer in the Netherlands, and renamed Mebo II. Later, RNI temporarily renamed itself Radio Caroline International, and started to make propaganda in favour of the Tory party in the UK.

Later that year, RNI came into conflict with Radio Veronica. It was businessman Kees Manders who tried to enter the Mebo II with the ships Husky and The Viking. At the end, the Netherlands Royal Navy had to intervene in the conflict. A year later, on May 15th, three men paid by Radio Veronica left with a rubber boat from Scheveningen, and placed explosives on the Mebo II. The bomb was detonated and the Mebo II send out an SOS distress. Director Hendrik Verweij and advertisement manager Norbert Jurgens of Radio Veronica were the brains behind the bombing. They were arrested and convicted (Bathgate 2020). It was the end of a violent episode in radio history.

Suggested music

The Buggles, Video Killed the Radio Star (1980)

Queen, Radio Ga Ga (1984)

R.E.M., Radio Song (1991)

Further reading

Adams, M., The First Radio Station (2009)

Bathgate, G., Radio broadcasting. A History of the Airwaves (2020)

Boer, de P.A., à Steringa Idzerda. De pionier van de radio-omroep (1969)

Ewbank, A., Site of the World’s First Radio Broadcasting Station (2020)

Federal Communications Commission, Celebrating 100 Years of Commercial Radio (2020)

Historiek, Eerste Radio-uitzending in Nederland (website)

Höller, R., "Brandt dit licht dan koppen dicht!" (2019)

Kerensa, P. (podcast), British Broadcasting Century. 100 years of the BBC, radio & life as we know it. Hanso Idzerda and the Dutch Concerts – with Gordon Bathgate (2022)

Koolhaas, M., Was Idzerda de eerste ter wereld? 90 jaar radio-omroep in Nederland (2009)

Laan, van der T., Zolderpionier Hanso Idzerda uit Weidum maakte als eerste Nederlander ooit radio (2019)

Lyncombe, Payling, Lily (2018)

Marks, J., British Radio at 90. But where’s Idzerda? (2012)

Mathis, W. & Titze, A., 100 Years of Wireless Telephony in Germany: Experimental Radio Transmission from Eberswalde and Königs Wusterhausen (2021)

Meerschaut, van den P., Brandt dit licht... dan koppen dicht. De pioniersjaren van de radio tot 1925 (2019)

Nederlands Instituut voor Beeld & Geluid, The Birth of Radio Broadcasting (2016)

Popular Wireless weekly, The Dutchman (1923)

Raadt, de K., ir. Hanso Henricus Schotanus â Steringa – Idzerda (1885-1944) (2023)

Rowe, L., 10 Oldest Radio Stations Of All Time (2022)

Schelven, van A.L., Idzerda, Hans Henricus Schotanus Steringa (1885-1944) (1979)

Son, H., Making (FM) Waves: How Radio Changed the World (2019)

Stichting Haags Industrieel Erfgoed (SCHIE), Nederlandsche Radio-Industrie (NRI), 1913-1924 (webite)

Strengholt, J.M., Gospel in the Air. 50 years of Christian witness through radio in the Arab World (2008)

Vallinga, M., Hanso Idzerda: het tragische leven van een radiopionier (2019)

Vereniging voor Experimenteel Radio Onderzoek in Nederland (VERON), Idzerda Day 100 jaar radio (2019)


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