The first radio licences were issued in November 1922 when the fledgling British Broadcasting Company began its transmissions. Before that however, there were things to listen to on "the wireless" and you had to have permission to do so.
Here's an example from July 1920 where a personal letter was sent out giving permission to listen!
This second example is from January 24th 1923 to an address in Birmingham where the BBC started its radio service on November 15th 1922. Interestingly this letter is dated AFTER radio licences were being issued (see below)
(Thanks to John Darlaston for this treasured document that belonged to his father)
These letters later enclosed a permit to be carried at all times
Soon there was an official form to fill in and you could have one of three types of licence. Note that if you bought a radio made by the British Broadcasting Company you got a 33% discount. If you made it yourself, you had to do your best not to use "foreign" components !
Here's the earliest known example of the "Broadcast Licence" detailed in the letter above. Issued in November 1922 it is for a receiving station using BBC branded apparatus. It cost a staggering ten shillings (fifty pence) - a huge amount of money in those days.
And here we have an example of the "Interim Licence" issued in October 1923. This is one of only two examples of this licence seen by the author (and sadly he doesn't own either!)
(Licence supplied by Anne Murray - the licence belonged to her mother who lived in Uddington Scotland)
And to prove that if you didn't buy a "BBC" branded set you paid 50% more for your licence - here's a copy of a licence from 1924
(Source "The Revenue Journal of Great Britain")
This September1924 licence pre dates the formation of the British Broadcasting Corporation by two years. By this time the broadcast / constructors licences had been abolished to be replaced with a single "Receiving Licence".
The design changes over the years; here's one issued in 1925
and one from 1926
The number of radio licences issued grew steadily through the 1920s, the official figures from the BBC handbooks of the decade show the following:
1923 200 000
Jan '24 600 000
Jan '25 1.2m
Jan '26 1.8m
Jan '27 2.2m
Jan '28 2.4m
Jan '29 2.6m