The first attempt at offshore broadcasting in 1928

I cannot claim that this post was an original idea. But I wanted to chronicle on my blog the fact that the Daily Mail did try to start off a radio station in 1928. It was to publicise the newspaper. It did only broadcast over loudspeakers in the end. I expect now they could be prosecuted for disturbing the peace, and possibly playing music without a licence in public?

I have pasted in information from various sites and credit them below each piece:

Early Offshore Days

Daily Mail yacht

Possibly the first plan for an offshore radio station came in the infant years of broadcasting itself when the owners of the London Daily Mail chartered a steam yacht, Ceto, as part of a promotional campaign. The newspaper planned to use the vessel to broadcast, from outside the three mile territorial limit, music and advertising announcements for itself and its sister publications the London Evening News and the Sunday Dispatch. The idea was conceived by the Mail’s Director of Circulation and Publicity, Valentine Smith.

With a transmitter on board, the Ceto sailed from Dundee in Scotland for trials during the early summer of 1928. However, technical difficulties arose when the swell of the sea began to affect the broadcast signal, making reception on land virtually impossible. The slightest movement of the yacht, even in a calm sea, affected the primitive broadcasting equipment and finally the idea of transmitting programmes had to be abandoned.

Undaunted by this setback Valentine Smith then arranged for German sound equipment manufacturers, Siemens Halske, to supply four loudspeakers, each weighing six and a half hundredweight (330Kg), which were mounted on to the Ceto’s superstructure. With this equipment in place the yacht sailed around Britain anchoring off holiday resorts and coastal towns ‘broadcasting’ gramophone records of popular music interspersed with advertisements for the three newspapers. Stephen Williams, who later worked for Radio Normandy and Radio Luxembourg, was in charge of presenting programmes and making the commercial announcements from on board the Daily Mail yacht.

The Ceto planned to leave Dundee on 25th June 1928 with a civic send off by the Lord Provost, Mr William High. However, due to technical adaptations needed to the on-board equipment the vessel did not actually leave port as planned, she simply sailed from the tidal basin to a berth in the harbour. Once the technical problems had been rectified a sample programme was ‘broadcast’ to the residents of Dundee, before the ship eventually left the Scottish port on 3rd July 1928.

On her outward journey the vessel sailed down the east coast of Britain, through the Channel, along the south coast and up the west coast as far as the Isle of Man. The return journey was used for the Ceto to revisit many resorts and towns where her original concerts had been a huge success.

At night the Ceto was illuminated by over 1,500 lightbulbs, spelling out the words DAILY MAIL in red and white, while two 1,000 candlepower searchlights were used to illuminate seaside promenades during concerts ‘broadcast’ from the ship. Local Mayors and other dignitaries also came on board at virtually every town or resort visited by the Ceto to welcome visitors and holiday makers.

One of the local dignitaries was even responsible for the first ‘live’ performance from the Ceto on 19th July 1928. Councillor Robert Stokes (Chairman of Poole Borough Council’s Parks Committee) came on board the vessel with other local councillors and sang two songs during one of the concert programmes.

The Ceto’s role as a broadcasting station ended on 1st September 1928 when, after a final concert broadcast from a position near Tower Bridge on the River Thames, the ship was taken to Purfleet. Here all the broadcasting, studio and generating equipment was dismantled and the yacht returned to her former role as a pleasure vessel. Altogether during her ten week cruise the Ceto covered over 4,000 miles, visited 87 seaside resorts and coastal towns and ‘broadcast’ 300 concerts.

Although originally intended to be a broadcasting station, because of the technical difficulties experienced during the trials off Scotland, the Ceto really only ‘shouted’ programmes and commercial messages to audiences in relatively small areas along the coast.

Valentine Smith’s original concept, however, demonstrated that right from the beginning of radio broadcasting history the theoretical possibility of transmitting programmes, quite legally, from outside a nation’s territorial limit had been identified. Only the lack of sufficiently sophisticated broadcasting equipment at the time prevented this pioneer from succeeding, but the principle Smith had identified was to remain fundamental to the operation of offshore radio stations for the next 63 years.


She then introduced me to the then “Zoo Man” at the BBC – he did a kind of Johnny Morris act and his name was Leslie G. Mainland. He was known as “LGM” of the ‘Daily Mail’, a news editor. He heard me, and got me an audition by the BBC during a White City outside broadcast (I was then about 17 or 18). I passed, but they couldn’t give me anything then, and got a bit tired of waiting, but it was he that said to me ‘would you like a bit of experience : if you’d like to spend about 2 months of your school holidays on a yacht around the coast of Britain, I can give you the job of running the show’.

This was the steam yacht “Ceto”, which the Daily Mail had chartered in early 1928. The paper had, in May, 1920, included two columns of news ‘collected by wireless telephone’ and had printed several enthusiastic reports about a ‘Voyage of Wireless Discovery’ which Marconi was planning in his yacht “Electra”.

Although Lord Northcliffe, the paper’s proprietor, was suspicious of these first wireless experiments, he suggested that a special ‘Daily Mail’ broadcast should be planned and on 15th. June, 1920, Dame Nellie Melba broadcast from Chelmsford. The transmission was heard all over Europe and as far away as Newfoundland and the event captured the imagination of the general public; it was a turning point in the history of broadcasting. The Mail’s initiative stemmed from its conviction of the importance of radio as a news and promotion medium.

Stephen Williams was to be the announcer on board “Ceto”, and would be in charge of all its programmes.

“The idea (familiar enough 30 years later when the Radios Caroline and London came along) was to broadcast at sea from just outside the 3-mi!e limit and advertise the ‘Daily Mail’, the ‘Evening News’ and the ‘Sunday Dispatch’. With a small transmitter on board, we set off from Dundee for trials. All seemed to go well until we met a bit of a sea; even a very modest sea was enough to vary the distance between our aerial and the water, which caused our signals to fade severely. Finally, we had to abandon the idea of transmitting, and the German firm of Siemens-Halske came to our rescue with 4 super loudspeakers, each weighing 6’l2 hundredweight (330 kg.). These were capable of being heard clearly for more than 2 miles on a moderately fine day, and were mounted on the yacht’s superstructure.

The yacht cruised round the East, West and South coasts of Britain in the summer of 1928, blasting out gramophone records, plugging the desirability of the 3 sponsoring newspapers and ‘selling’ the Mail’s Free Insurance Scheme. As the “Independent’s” obituary put it : “at one stroke, Williams had introduced off-shore commercial radio and the ghetto-blaster”. To which, I suppose, one could add “the mobile disco”.

The idea of a sponsoring yacht had come from Valentine Smith, who had been the Daily Mail’s Circulation and Publicity Director. Smith had subsequently moved to the ‘Sunday Referee’, which was principally a family and sports paper (owned by Isidore Ostrer of the Gaumont British Picture Corporation), and decided to involve the paper in broadcasting. Stephen Williams joined the ‘Daily Chronicle’ in 1929 and when it was merged with the ‘Daily News’ in 1930, he joined the Referee as its broadcasting correspondent at Smith’s invitation. His brief was to look into the possibilities of closer collaboration between the press and radio, to their mutual advantage.


HMY Ceto was owned by Edward Guinness of the Guinness empire.
The 106 ton motor yacht was one of at least 15 yachts and pleasure craft owned by the Guinness family.
Another was the 330 ton Calypso, made famous by Jacques Cousteau.
Lieutenant Commander Tower was the captain of the ship from September 1914 till April 1915, on duty in the Downs anchorage.
The HMY Ceto was Involved in a collision with another ship March 28th 1916.
The captain of the Ceto, later Ceto 11, Lieutenant Commander Mackay RNR (retd.,) drowned on 17th April 1916
The Ceto was involved with salvaging several ships at Scapa Flow after the war.
In 1928 she was used as possibly the first seaborne radio station.
The Daily Mail and other papers chartered the Ceto to sail around the UK playing music and advertising their newspapers.

‘Q’ ships were decoy ships that were well armed.
Their job was to lure enemy warships within range of their guns.
Small coasters, yachts and fishing boats were used for this purpose.
U boats in particular would fire at the craft and order the crew to take to their boats.
Gunfire or a bomb put aboard would sink the craft.
‘Panic’ crews would ‘abandon’ their ship leaving the gun crews standing hidden alongside their guns.
Many U boats were damaged or fought off in this way.
The HMS Celo mentioned, was such a decoy ship.
She, a small coaster, was on patrol near the Goodwin Sands.
The crew attacked a passing a U boat without success.
It is known that 3 U boats were to founder on the Sands, UC 46 on 8/2/17, UC 63 on 1/11/17, U 48 24/11/17.


Finally Wikipedia


Ceto—The Ceto was a steam yacht reportedly renamed “Broadcasting Yacht” and fitted out for radio broadcasting purposes in 1928. Starting from off the coast of Dundee, Scotland, ‘Daily Mail Radio/Radio Daily Mail’ (reports vary) broadcast easy listening music to various points around the British coast as it cruised around the nation’s coastline. The sole sponsors of this voyage were Britain’s Daily Mail, Evening News, and Sunday Dispatch newspapers, and the intent was not so much to set up an offshore station but rather to publicise the papers. The brain behind this publicity stunt was Valentine Smith, the Daily Mail’s publicity officer.


Author: wirelesswaffle

A radio enthusiast from the UK - but also includes humour and comments on a wide variety of subjects including music and photos. A hobby site

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