THE RADIO is an ideal medium by which to conduct experiments in extra-sensory
perception, if the right technique can be found. Unfortunately, the perfect
method has not yet been evolved. On the other hand, perfect tests could be
arranged by means of television.
The first broadcast of 'psychic' matter was, according to my own personal
knowledge, in November, 1921. I happened to be in Berlin and on my friend's set
we listened to a description of some experiments in hypnosis. I do not know
where the broadcast came from, but probably from a German station. I made some
inquiries and could not discover that any previous psychic broadcasts had been
American Experiments in Radio Telepathy [top]
The first experiment in radio telepathy was conducted by Professor Gardner
Murphy of Columbia University, in collaboration with Professors Gault and
English. The test was broadcast by the Zenith Foundation(1) in Chicago on March
(1) The Zenith Foundation has also more recently staged radio competitions in
connection with Dr. Rhine's ESP cards.
The 'agents' (senders) numbered about forty and the tests included a number, a
wild animal with a letter written over his head, two intersected coloured lines,
a taste, a pain at some point on the hands or arm, the emotional experiences of
a drowning man, and finally what a fireman feels like when he is rescuing a
girl. All the stimuli were chosen automatically by means of a machine. Listeners
were informed of the general nature of the stimulus, whether it was an animal, a
number, and so on.
Rather more than 2,500 persons sent in replies, and the results were actually
worse than chance would lead one to expect. But two persons scored successes
which were outstanding, if inconclusive. In test five, one of the senders in the
studio had tied a string round the little finger of his left hand in order to
convey to listeners the sensation of a dull, throbbing pain. A listener reported
a similar pain in the left little finger. A young woman also sensed a pain at
the base of the little finger, plus the emotions of a drowning man. These
results are good, but Dr. Murphy was unable to follow them up with further
tests. But however good they were, these two isolated cases out of more than
2,500 did not prove that anything but chance was responsible(2).
(2) For a further account, see 'Telepathy as an Experimental Problem,' by
Gardner Murphy in The Case for and against Psychical Belief, Worcester, Mass.,
1927, pp. 273-4.
Early Objections to Radio Experiments
The idea of broadcasting experiments in telepathy was (so far as Europe is
concerned) originated, elaborated, and submitted to the old British Broadcasting
Company by me as long ago as 1924. In the spring of that year, I went to
considerable trouble in devising experiments in thought-transference, with
listeners as 'percipients,' which would have produced a mass of interesting
data. Colours, perfumes, geometrical figures, playing-cards, numbers, scenas,
etc. were included in my broadcasting scheme, which was finally rejected by the
BBC for some very curious reasons. On June 12, 1924, Mr. Arthur R. Burrows,
then Director of Programmes, wrote me that they were considering my proposal but
that they had 'to avoid doing anything which will justifiably expose us to an
attack by the medical profession and other students of the mental and nervous
systems.' By June 19 the Control Board had discussed my proposal, but 'it was
decided that a test of this character, with an unknown number of persons
listening, would carry little weight and could not in any case be convincing.'
Finally, I was told that 'in view of the fact, too, that the Company would be
exposed to a deal of criticism, some of which might be quite justifiable,' the
experiment could not take place.
It is strange to read in 1939 these old BBC letters of 1924. Since that date
many psychic plays have been broadcast, and mediums, fortune-tellers, dowsers,
fire-walkers and other 'psychics' have been on the air repeatedly.
But the old BBC were strangely 'psychic' themselves when they prophesied that
an experiment in radio mass telepathy would 'not in any case be convincing.' One
was staged in 1927, and the results were, to put it mildly, inconclusive.
Radio Test of 1927 [top]
Three years after my suggestions to the British Broadcasting Company (which, on
January 1, 1927, was incorporated by Royal Charter), a similar proposal for
broadcasting an experiment in telepathy was made by the SPR. This test was
arranged to take place on February 16, 1927, between 11.15 and 11.35 pm
The experiment was carried out by Dr. V. J. Woolley, then a member of the SPR.
He, Mr. S. G. Soal. and six other 'agents,' while sitting in an office in
Tavistock Square, thought hard for three minutes each of five objects which Dr.
Woolley successively produced at five-minute intervals. These objects were:
1. Two of clubs playing-card, printed in green on a black background.
2. A Japanese print of a skull (in a garden), on which a bird is perched.
3. Three sprays of white lilac in bloom.
4. Nine of hearts, printed in red on a black background.
5. Dr. Woolley himself in a bowler hat and grotesque mask.
While the 'agents' were in Tavistock Square, Sir Oliver Lodge was at the
broadcasting studio at Savoy Hill, telling listeners when to 'think.' It is not
quite clear why Sir Oliver was needed, as the announcing could have been done by
Dr. Woolley himself, or the experiment could have been held at Savoy Hill.
All Sir Oliver knew about the objects was that numbers one and four were
'playing cards of unusual design,' and that number two was a picture. This
information he passed on to the listeners, who were asked not only to 'guess'
what the various objects were, but also to record any emotions which their
mental pictures of the objects might engender. Listeners were asked to send
their recorded impressions to the SPR immediately after the broadcast. The
'agents' themselves remained locked up in their office all night, in order that
information concerning the nature of the objects could not leak out.
'Impressions' were received from 24,659 listeners, and the results were analysed
by Mr. S. G. Soal and Dr. Woolley. Taking the cards first, 190 persons correctly
guessed the two of clubs; but the nine of hearts, which was neither seen nor
chosen until fifteen minutes later, was recorded at the first test by 491
listeners. But when the nine of hearts was chosen and thought of, only 150
persons recorded it, although 145 other persons chose the two of clubs, the card
which was drawn fifteen minutes earlier. It is obvious that there was no
evidence of anything but pure chance.
Test No. 2 was announced as a 'picture,' and many listeners jumped to the
conclusion that it was a well-known portrait or famous painting from a gallery.
Only five persons recorded a skull, though one of these said it was 'a skull in
a garden,' which was correct. A sixth guess was 'human head,' though any
portrait recorded would answer this description. But, as Dr. Woolley points
out(3), three of the successful 'skull' guessers, also correctly guessed
'flowers' (the lilac) for No. 3 test. But in the 'lilac test,' only three
persons guessed correctly.
(3) 'The Broadcasting Experiment in Mass-Telepathy,' by V. J. Woolley;
SPR, Vol. XXXVIII, pp. 1-9.
Test No. 5 was that of Dr. Woolley 'dressed up' and five only out of the nearly
25,000 listeners recorded impressions of him. But 146 thought it was one of the
'agents'; 236 guessed 'masquerading'; 73 said 'masks or faces'; and 202 'hats.'
As was to have been expected, and as Dr. Woolley emphasizes in his report(4),
preferential mental associations must be taken into account. In the playing-card
tests, more people called odd numbers than even, and the picture cards were hot
favourites. But aces were most popular, these being called 10,766 times, the
winning ace (ace of spades) being recorded 3,891 times.
(4) op. cit.
After a most careful analysis, Dr. Woolley and his colleagues came to the
conclusion that no indication of paranormality was evident from the broadcasting
experiment. And statistical methods were difficult because, except in the case
of the playing-cards, the mean chance expectation of good guesses could not be
determined. This could be remedied by using a different technique(5).
(5) A sequel to the BBC experiment was the inviting of 150 of the more
promising listeners to be tested in their own homes, while the 'agents' met in
London. Mr. S. G. Seal, in a long and detailed report ('Experiments in
Supernormal Perception at a Distance,' Proc., SPR, Vol. XL, pp. 165-362)
concluded that the results were entirely negative.
Tests in the Home [top]
Any two or more persons can conduct their own radio tests for
ESP in their
own homes with little trouble or expense. All that is needed is a pack of
playing cards (the special 'Telepatha' or 'Zener' cards are better) and a
wireless set. Tests can be carried out in experiments between friends in
different houses, streets, towns, or even countries. By previous agreement
between agents (senders) and percipients (receivers), competitions can be
arranged as follows: On the last striking note of Big Ben, or the last of the
six dot seconds of the Greenwich time signal, the sender looks at a card (plain
or coloured) for one minute. The receiver, in another house or town, during the
same period, tries to visualize what card (suit, value, or colour) the sender is
looking at. At the end of one minute, the sender looks at another card for a
minute, and so on for a number of cards. Both sender and receiver keep a careful
(duplicate) record of what they respectively look at and visualize and these
records are exchanged by both sender and receiver at once posting them in the
nearest pillar-box. Upon receipt of the exchanged records, both sender and
receiver will see what successes have been achieved. Competitions among groups
of friends, or between clubs, towns, or villages can easily be arranged by means
of the radio, one suggestion being that a person acts as sender to a number of
his friends, who become the receivers. These can be in a group or scattered all
over the country. Prizes can be awarded for the best results, and both
clairvoyant and telepathic experiments can be carried out in the way I have
First Medium to Broadcast
The first professional medium to broadcast in this country was Miss Gene Dennis,
the American clairvoyante(6), who appeared in the 'In Town To-night' series on
April 21, 1934. Another American, Miss Nella Webb, the 'astrologer to
Hollywood,' broadcast on May 11, 1935. Since then, a number of astrologers,
fortune-tellers, diviners, 'magicians,' witch-doctors,' and gypsies have been on
(6) For tests with her, see Confessions of a Ghost-Hunter, op. cit., pp. 260-6.
Experiments in fire-walking(7) and dowsing have been both broadcast and
televised, and we have had talks on modern witchcraft, ghosts, the Indian Rope
Trick, treatment by hypnotism and suggestion, magic in New Guinea, pagan ritual
in Renaissance art, superstitions, how to mesmerize apes, and the 'supernatural'
generally. In addition, the following are amongst the 'psychic' plays which have
been broadcast: Ghostly Fingers, The Magician, Witchcraft, Money! Money! Money!
An Exercise in Sheer Horror, Words Upon the Window-pane (by W. B. Yeats)(8),
rear's Eve, and Sutton Vane's Outward Bound. A series of talks on astrology
('Birthday Party') announced for January 1939, aroused a storm of protest from,
among others, the Astronomer Royal, Dr. H. Spencer Jones(9). On November 1,
1938, the 'Under Twenty Club' debated 'ghosts' which was broadcast. I was the
(7) See Chap. XIV.
(8) Died January 28, 1939.
(9) See the Daily Telegraph and Morning Post for January 10, 1939; and leading
article in The Times, January 24, 1939: ('Hullo, Gemini!').
What was a golden opportunity for presenting to the public a lucid and
informative account of psychical research was quite missed when the 'Inquiry
into the Unknown' series was broadcast in 1934. It was a symposium by various
people, some of whom knew very little of the subject about which they were
supposed to talk. During this series the records of Rudi Schneider's trance
breathing (afterwards found to be quite normal) were broadcast. A more amusing
series were the 'Things I Cannot Explain' talks in 1937. Among the speakers were
Sir Ernest Bennett, M.P., and Shane Leslie. The talks were printed in the
Listener(10), and make interesting reading. On April 15, 1939, Captain W. H. Gregson broadcast an account of his strange experiences at Borley Rectory, 'the
most haunted house in England.'
(10) From October 13, 1937 to January 5, 1938. In an article 'Things I
Explain' (Listener, January 12, 1938), I summed up and answered the various
Haunted House Broadcast
Plate XI. Stage set for
broadcasting from the 'haunted manor', Meopham, March 10, 1936. In front
of Harry Price are, in addition to microphone, electrical instruments
which automatically indicated any abnormal happening, variations in
temperature, etc., in various parts of the house. This was the first
broadcast ever to be made from a 'haunted house'.
Probably the most successful, and certainly the most interesting, broadcast of a
psychic nature was the relay from the old haunted house near Meopham, Kent,
which I organized for the BBC on March 10, 1936. The house belonged to a
friend of mine and parts of it are hundreds of years old. There was no reason to
hope that we should broadcast any actual phenomena, which, as is always the case
in haunted houses, are so very spontaneous, rare, and sporadic. But what we
attempted to do, and what we achieved, was to give listeners a perfect picture
of the technique employed in investigating an alleged haunted house. (See Plate
XL) Actually, one phenomenon did occur. Our sensitive transmitting thermograph
had been in the 'haunted cellar' all day, and the temperature was quite
constant, as shown by the straight line of the graph across the chart. But about
9.45 pm, during the broadcast, the temperature suddenly rose slightly, and
then fell sharply below what had been measured during the day. This kick in the
graph could not be accounted for in terms of normality.
A previous tenant of the house, Mr. G. Varley, upon hearing of our proposed
broadcast, sent me the following letter, dated March 8, 1936:
Cellar Ghost [top]
'I am most interested as I lived in the house for six months, between September,
1931, and March, 1932, having rented the house from the present owner, and I saw
the ghost on several occasions. Once, I, terrified, threw a poker at him, and he
did not move - so you can believe him a hardy, if disembodied spirit!
'The house, however, was, I believe, haunted by more than one ghost, and I could
tell you something about their habits and how I managed to lay, or rather, to a
certain extent, curb their activities during my stay.
'Of course almost the most persevering of the ghosts is the one that opens the
cellar door. I was always shutting that damned door! Usually, several times a
day, as I had a particular dislike of being "spied on" by the cellar ghost. But
it was always open again when I noticed it, though only once was I actually
present in the lounge when the ghost opened it. What happened on that occasion
is more of a tribute to the ghost than to my courage!
'I believe undoubtingly that the ghost has a sinister influence on the people
who stay in the house.
'I have really no doubt at all of the success of your broadcast, as we used to
hear footsteps and mutterings every night - the ghosts, however, may object to
your modern gadgets.'
(Signed) 'G. VARLEY.'
If we heard nothing unusual during the broadcast, it certainly was not the fault
of Mr. S. J. de Lotbiniere, BBC Director of Outside Broadcasts, who was in
charge of the transmission; or of myself, who set a number of 'traps' for the
'ghost.' But certain of those present at the broadcast slept in the house that
night and one at least heard footsteps in the early hours which could not be
accounted for. The only thrill I received that evening was the finding of a
human thigh-bone, much the worse for post-mortem wear, which some humorist had
placed in my car during the broadcast.
Spiritualists and the BBC
It is a common complaint among spiritualists that they do not get a square deal
from the BBC They complain that other religions have a certain amount of time
allotted them on the air, but that the broadcasting of spiritualist services is
forbidden. The reply of the BBC is that spiritualism is not one of the
conventional religions, and it is a perfectly correct answer. Comparatively
speaking, there are only a handful of spiritualists, and it would be an insult
to the millions of other listeners who might have to listen to the rubbish which
is uttered at some spiritualist churches, or be compelled to switch off their
receivers. In the United States spiritualist services are broadcast but the time
has to be bought. I imagine that, short of obscenities, anything can be put on
the air in the States, if the time is paid for. Any spiritualist service
broadcast in this country would most likely be for propaganda purposes. I
sympathize with those sincere believers who are deprived of listening to
broadcast spiritualist services, but they are suffering because a few societies
choose to introduce into their church services extravagances which are deplored
by many of their members. Should the BBC ever permit spiritualist services to
be broadcast, details would first have to be submitted to the Corporation for
As regards the philosophy of spiritualism, a number of speakers have been
allowed on the air. The very first speaker on 'psychics' was Sir A. Conan Doyle,
whose talk (on May 20, 1924) on 'Psychic Development' was largely connected with
spiritualism. And Sir Oliver Lodge's talk, in the 'Inquiry into the Unknown'
series (March 9, 1934), was of a decidedly spiritualistic flavour. Finally, Mr.
Ernest W. Oaten, the editor of the Two Worlds, a Manchester spiritualist weekly,
was permitted to broadcast a talk on spiritualism a few years ago. But these
talks were in no sense services. As I write these lines, I have before me a
cutting from a recent issue of a spiritualist weekly(11) containing
an advertisement announcing that the Rev. Dick Sheppard and the Rev. Vale Owen,
both of whom are dead, 'will speak on spirit life and on the spirit of
Christmas.' Tickets of admission (is. and is. 6d.), if not sold at the 'usual
agencies,' had to be obtained in advance-just like booking a scat for a theatre
or cinema. There is no mention of any medium or trance address-just the plain
statement that these two distinguished and deceased divines 'will speak' on a
certain date and at a certain hour selected by those responsible for the show.
That such a stunt should be staged, or that such an advertisement should appear
is so unbelievable that I will reproduce it photographically. Here it is, and
the use of the cross should be noted:
(11) The Spiritualist News, December 3, 1938. The advertisement appeared at least
Apparently these exhibitions are run by a concern called the 'Dick Sheppard
Spirit Mission,' from a house named, of course, 'St. Martin's,' and from another
issue(12) of the same journal we learn what 'Dick Sheppard' said at a previous
meeting. Here is his soul-stirring message from the grave: 'To all people who on
earth do dwell - I send greetings. May you all learn, and realize, the Truth. I
have been appointed to a position of authority, and trust. I am responsible to
God and to His beloved Son Jesus Christ, whom I hope to serve all the days of my
life. I could not seek any greater honour. For the peoples of the earth I have a
wonderful message... There is no death ...' There is a whole column of this
ridiculous twaddle, and my only point in bringing it to the reader's notice is
to emphasize how utterly impossible it would be for the BBC to run the risk
of insulting millions of listeners by broadcasting such stuff. As it is, it
would be interesting to learn what the surviving relatives of Canon Sheppard and
Vale Owen think about it all.
(12) December 10, 1938.
Archbishop of Canterbury's Inquiry
I understand that the question of broadcasting spiritualist services was one of
the subjects discussed by the Archbishop of Canterbury's Commission on
Spiritualism, which began its labours in March, 1937. Dr. Francis Underhill,
Bishop of Bath and Wells, chairman of the Commission, stated in a Press
interview(13) that its sole aim is to 'arrive at the truth' concerning psychic
phenomena. No report has yet been issued. Mr. Oaten, in his address(14) to the
Commission, declared that 'the Church ... has used its influence in Parliament,
in the courts, in society, and through the BBC, to ignore, humiliate, and
(13) News-Chronicle, March 11, 1938.
(14) Spiritualism and the Church. An Address Given before the Archbishop of
Canterbury's Committee, by E. W. Oaten, Manchester, 1937, p. 21.
In this chapter I have been able to deal only with the broadcasting in this
country and in the United States, as I could not obtain reliable data concerning
Europe and nations farther afield. But I must mention that my friend M. Rene
Sudre, the distinguished French psychist and Scientific Editor of Le Journal,
has broadcast from the Eiffel Tower regularly at least once each week for nearly
twelve years, often on psychic subjects. This, I think, is a longer run than can
be boasted by any British broadcaster. And Dr. W. H. C. Tenhaeff, of Utrecht
University, has frequently spoken on scientific psychical research from the
Dutch radio stations, and his talks have proved immensely popular(15).
(15) I am indebted to the BBC for kindly supplying some of the data
incorporated in this chapter.
The article above was taken from Harry Price's "Fifty Years of Psychical
Research" (1939, Longmans, Green & Co.)