We’re almost certain that you’ve never heard of Major Christopher Reynolds Stone, D.S.O., M.C. But he was the first person to play music to a radio audience and he did it for the first time 90 years ago today – 7 July 1927.
Major Stone was born on 19 September 1882, was educated at Eton College and served in the Royal Fusiliers. In 1906 Stone published a book of Sea songs and ballads and in 1923 he wrote the history of his old regiment. He became the London editor of The Gramophone, a magazine started by his brother-in-law Compton Mackenzie.
Stone approached the BBC himself with the idea for a record programme, which the corporation initially dismissed. Stone managed to convince them though, and on 7 July 1927 he started playing records on air on his programme “Time For A Tune”.
His relaxed, conversational style was exceptional at a time when most of the BBC’s presentation was extremely formal, and his programmes became highly popular as a result. He wore a dinner jacket and tie when he presented. (Something we’re thinking of implementing here at Phoenix FM).
Commerical radio was banned in the UK at this time, but a number of commercial stations popped up in France with high-powered transmitters aimed a the UK market. In 1934 Stone joined one of these, Radio Luxembourg, on a salary of £5,000 a year – the equivalent of £250,000 today. This got him banned by the BBC as a result.
He also wrote a column reviewing new popular records for the Sunday Referee newspaper and appeared in advertisements for Bush radio sets. In 1937, as “Uncle Chris”, he presented the first daily children’s programme on commercial radio, Kiddies Quarter Hour on another French commercial station aimed at the UK, Radio Lyons.
Stone later rejoined the BBC and caused a major row in 1941. On 11 November he wished King Victor Emmanuel of Italy a happy birthday on air, adding “I don’t think any of us wish him anything but good, poor soul.” This good wish towards the head of a state Britain was at war with at the time led to the sacking of the BBC’s Senior Controller of Programmes and tighter government control over all broadcasts.
Stone was an avid record collector; in the mid-1930s he already owned over 12,000. When he turned 75 in 1957 the magazine Melody Maker celebrated his 75th birthday by praising his pioneering work: “Everyone who has written, produced or compered a gramophone programme should salute the founder of his trade.”