There was a lot of discussion in the early days of broadcasting about what the audience should be called. The first issues of Radio Times regularly placed the word listener in inverted commas, wherever it appeared, although there are exceptions, such as the headings of articles “Lord Gainsford’s Message to Listeners” and “Letters from Listeners” on page 1 (the cover) of the first issue (dated 28 September 1923) – in the body of the magazine, the inverted commas are inserted in the same headlines. Examples from the same issue are ‘… utterances have been winged by wireless to Britain’s huge invisible audience of “listeners”’ and ‘music-lovers who are also “listeners” have a great treat in store’, both from page 3. An exception occurs on page 23, when ‘ … the parents of a little girl who was seriously ill begged the B.B.C. to send out a message exhorting the child, who was an enthusiastic listener, … to be brave in her ordeal.’ Perhaps this is a typo, and the inverted commas were inadvertently omitted? On the same page is an advert for the Efescaphone, which says ‘Listen-in with an Efescaphone’. Another advert on page 30 includes the words ‘It brings the joy of “listening in” … within the reach of every home.’
On the other hand, the word hearer was written without comment: ‘ … you kindly invited your hearers to let you know how we enjoyed these talks.’ (28 September 1923, page 12). The second issue, 5 October 1923, goes to even greater lengths, but is somewhat confused: the verb listen is sometimes in inverted commas, and sometimes not. The discussion must have been continuing within the Company, because on page 53 of this issue, in an article by the Chief Engineer, P P Eckersley, we find ‘… an engineer’s trouble that perhaps is not fully appreciated by “listeners”* in various localities.’ footnote – ‘*I had the Editor rather badly there; he thought I was writing “listeners-in,” to which he objects.’ This insistence on using inverted commas could only draw attention to the word listener, and in issue 4, (19 October 1923), there is a letter to the editor (page 126):
Why are owners of receiving sets called “listeners-in” or “listeners”? The term, “listener” is applicable to one who listens to anything and by any means, but as applied to listening by wireless the term is surely an expedient. We are often told that wireless is in its infancy; are we to wait until it reaches maturity before the so-called “listener-in” receives his baptismal name?
I consider that the most appropriate term for one who listens to radio transmissions is “Radiaud”. Like all new words, it will sound strange at first; but after it has served its apprenticeship it should find its place in our dictionary, and the foreigner who is studying our language will there discover the difference between the man who is listening to the street corner orator and a member of the vast unseen audience.
Hon. Secretary Hornsey and District Wireless Society.’
(I suspect that ‘Radiaud’ is a misprint for ‘Radiand’, which would make more sense.)
Perhaps as a result of this letter, the practice of singling out the word listener was dropped in the next issue (no. 5, 26 October 1923), but nobody seems to have told the advertisers, because on page 144, Burndept Ltd, plugging the Ethophone V Broadcast Receiver, reprint copy from a previous issue, complete with inverted commas, entitled ‘”Listening” Amidst the Eternal Snows’. And on page 186 (6 November 1923), an advert for the Berkeley Easy Chair, made by H J Searle and Son, Ltd, says it provides ‘ideal conditions for “listening-in”.’ The editor must have been caught napping in issue no 7 (9 November 1923), because on page 216, we read ‘Mind you listen-in on Armistice Day …’ which contradicts what Eckersley had written on 28 September (see above).
Reith clearly wanted to settle the question once and for all: ‘An objectionable habit is to refer to the listener as the listener-in: this is a relic of the days when he actually did listen in to messages not primarily intended for him; now he is the one addressed, and he accordingly listens. Only the unlicensed listen-in.’ (Broadcast over Britain p.162)