Electrophone System

The Electrophone system was a distributed audio system which operated in the UK between 1895 and 1926.  This system relayed live theatre and music hall shows and, on Sundays, live sermons from churches.  This was a subscription service and users would firstly ask the operator, by using their normal phone line, to connect them to Electrophone.   The Electrophone switchboard operator would ask them which theatre they wanted to connect to.  For opera, they would be connected to the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden.

They would then use the supplied receivers to listen to the service.  Users would invite friends around to listen and in one of the pictures below there is a stand with four receivers. 

At 5 a year, the service was not cheap but you were provided with two receivers.  Extra receivers would cost an extra 1 each.

You could also pay via a coin-in-the-slot machine but if they wanted the service at home they needed to pay a subscription.

The system operated with rows of microphones, installed in the theatres in front of the footlights.  When installed in Churches the microphones were sometimes disguised as bibles.

By 1908 Electrophone had around 600 subscribers and carried performances from 30 theatres and churches.  During the First World War, recuperating servicemen were given free access to Electrophone services.

Other European countries also used similar systems.

The fore runners of radio, these systems became redundant after the introduction of radio.

The 1928 GPO Rate Book describes the following equipment:-

Tables, Electrophone, NT No. 10
CB convertible to LB.
Equipped for 4 but expandable to 8.
Fitted with 2 Receivers Headgear No. 3B, 2 Receivers NT No. 5 and a Transmitter No. 17.
A Hook No. 17 would be supplied for each Receiver NT No. 5.

Transmitters No. 16
Angelina type, Local Battery, Transmitter used on the stage circuits.  Mouthpiece No. 13 included.
The later No. 16, mark 234, was not an Angelina type, but had a Transmitter Inset No. 9 as the main transmitter.

Electrophone users listen to a direct relay from a London theatre scene in the electrophone reception room, Pelican House, 36 Gerrard Street, London 1908
Telephonists and electrophone switchboard at Victoria telephone exchange in Westminster, London 1922
Adelphi theatre Distribution board in 1920.  This would have been under the stage. Note the National Telephone Companies phone.
Adelphi theatre microphones, seen across the front of the stage in front of the foot lights.
Electrophone receivers on a stand





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Last revised: January 18, 2016