BBC Radio is an operational business division
and service of the British Broadcasting Corporation which has operated in the United Kingdom under
the terms of a Royal Charter since 1927. The service provides national radio stations covering
the majority of musical genres, as well as local radio stations covering local news,
affairs and interests which also oversees online audio content.
Of the national radio stations, BBC Radio 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 Live are all available through
analogue radio as well as on DAB Digital Radio and internet services through RealMedia, WMA
and BBC iPlayer. The remaining stations, BBC Radio 1Xtra, 4 Extra, 5 Live Sports Extra
and 6 Music, all broadcast on digital platforms only.
All of the BBC’s national radio stations, with the exception of 5 Live and 5 Live Sports
Extra who broadcast from MediaCityUK in Salford, broadcast from bases in London, usually in
or near to Broadcasting House. However, radio programmes are also made in the BBC’s network
production units located in Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow and Manchester. History The BBC radio services began in 1922. It was
licensed by the British Government through its General Post Office which had original
control of the airwaves because they had been interpreted under law as an extension of the
Post Office services. Today radio broadcasting still makes up a large part of the corporation’s
output and this is still reflected in the title of the BBC’s listings magazine called
‘Radio Times’. First charter
On 1 January 1927 the British Broadcasting Company was succeeded in monopoly control
of the airwaves by the British Broadcasting Corporation, under the terms of a Royal Charter.
John Reith, who had been the founding managing director of the commercial company became
the first director general. He expounded firm principles of centralised, all-encompassing
radio broadcasting, stressing programming standards and moral tone. These are set out
in his autobiography, Broadcast Over Britain, influencing modern ideas of public service
broadcasting in the United Kingdom. To this day, the BBC aims to follow the Reithian directive
to “inform, educate and entertain”. Critics of Reith’s approach state that he
was dictatorial and that he imposed a theocratic viewpoint on the broadcasting service. Reith’s
ideals were utterly at odds with the model of light-entertainment-based commercial radio
adopted in some other countries. Competition from overseas stations
Although no other broadcasting organisation was licensed in the UK until 1973, commercial
competition soon opened up from overseas. The commercial competitors were for the most
part represented by the International Broadcasting Company that bought blocks of airtime from
radio stations such as Normandy, Toulouse, Ljubljana, Juan les Pins, Paris, Poste Parisien,
Athlone, Barcelona, Madrid and Rome. In the period from 1927 to 1939, light entertainment
on the British airwaves was for the most part the domain of the 10 part-time English language
IBC stations. By 1938 on Sundays upwards of 80% of the British audience turned their dials
away from the BBC to these IBC stations which followed an American format of commercial
broadcasting. They were eventually silenced by the advent of the German military taking
control of their transmitters in France, Luxembourg and other countries during World War II.
American Armed Forces influence The respite from American influence on British
broadcasting was short lived. When the US military flooded Europe with troops during
World War II, the BBC transmitted American-style programming, first on the BBC Forces Programme
and later on the BBC General Forces Programme, both on the former frequencies of the BBC
National Programme. After the war the BBC Forces transmitters that had carried these
shows were transformed into a network called the BBC Light Programme.
The original BBC stations which had been linked together to form the BBC Regional Programme
were transformed into the BBC Home Service. A third part-time service was created under
the name of the BBC Third Programme. Empire and the world
To provide a different service from the domestic audience the Corporation started the BBC Empire
Service on short wave in 1932, originally in English but it soon provided programmes
in other languages. At the start of the Second World War it was renamed The Overseas Service
but is now known as the BBC World Service. Commercial radio influence
WWII silenced all but one of the original IBC stations, only Radio Luxembourg continued
its nightly transmissions to Britain as a commercial radio station featuring American-style
entertainment and religion. Beginning in 1964 the first in what became
a fleet of 10 offshore pirate radio stations began to ring the British coastline. By 1967
millions were tuning into these commercial operations and the BBC was rapidly losing
its radio listening audience. The British government reacted by passing
the Marine Offences Act, which all but wiped out all of the stations by midnight on 14
August 1967. Only Radio Caroline survives. One of the stations called Radio London was
so successful that the BBC was told to copy it as best they could. This led to a complete
overhaul by Frank Gillard the BBC’s Director of Radio of the BBC output creating the four
analogue channels that still form the basis of its broadcasting today. The creator of
BBC Radio One told the press that his family had been fans of Radio London.
The BBC hired many out-of-work broadcasting staff who had come from the former offshore
stations. Tony Blackburn who presented the very first BBC Radio One morning show had
previously presented the same morning show on Radio Caroline and later on Big L. He attempted
to duplicate the same sound for BBC Radio One. Among the other DJs hired was the late
John Peel who had presented the overnight show on “Big L”, called The Perfumed Garden.
Though it only ran for a few months prior to Big L’s closure, The Perfumed Garden got
more fan mail than the rest of the pop DJ’s on Radio London put together, so much that
staff wondered what to do with it all. The reason it got so much mail was that it played
different music, and was the beginning of the “album rock” genre. Big L’s PAMS jingles
were commissioned to be resung in Dallas, Texas so that “Wonderful Radio London” became
“Wonderful Radio One on BBC”. The BBC’s more popular stations have encountered
pressure from the commercial sector. John Myers, who had developed commercial brands
such as Century Radio and Real Radio, was asked in the first quarter of 2011 to conduct
a review into the efficiencies of Radios 1, 2, 1Xtra and 6 Music. His role, according
to Andrew Harrison, the chief executive of RadioCentre, was “to identify both areas of
best practice and possible savings.” BBC analogue networks
On 30 September 1967: BBC Radio 1 was launched as a pop music station
The BBC Light Programme was renamed Radio 2 and broadcast easy listening, folk, jazz
and light entertainment. The evening BBC Third Programme and daytime
BBC Music Programme were merged under the heading of Radio 3, although the Third Programme
kept its separate title until 1970. The BBC Home Service became Radio 4.
BBC Radio 5 was launched on 27 August 1990 as a home for sport and educational and children’s
programming, but was replaced by BBC Radio 5 Live, a dedicated news and sport network,
on 28 March 1994. 2002 digital radio networks
With the increased rollout of Digital Audio Broadcasting between 1995 and 2002, BBC Radio
launched several new digital-only stations BBC 1Xtra, BBC 6 Music and BBC 7 in 2002 on
16 August, 11 March and 15 December respectively — the first for “new black British music”,
the second as a source of performance-based “alternative” music, the latter specialising
in archive classic comedy shows, drama and children’s programmes. BBC Asian Network joined
the national DAB network on 28 October 2002. The stations have since been renamed to include
the BBC Radio brand, to BBC Radio 1Xtra, BBC Radio 6 Music, and BBC Radio 7. In 2011, BBC
Radio 7 was renamed BBC Radio 4 Extra as the service was brought more into line with BBC
Radio 4. Stations National
The BBC today runs eleven national domestic radio stations, six of which are only available
in a digital format: via DAB Digital Radio, UK digital television plus live streams and
listen again on the Internet. The “main” radio stations, available via both
analogue and Digital Audio Broadcasting, are: BBC Radio 1: youth oriented, mostly contemporary
pop and rock music, plus news, original in-house live music sessions, original live music concerts
and music documentaries. Available on 97-99 FM in addition to digital platforms.
BBC Radio 2: adult oriented entertainment, wide range of music—specially adult contemporary
and middle of the road, also talk, comedy, plus news, original in-house live music sessions,
original live music concerts and music documentaries. Available on 88-91 FM and on digital platforms.
BBC Radio 3: arts and high culture, special-interest music, plus news, original in-house live music
sessions, original live music concerts and music documentaries. Available on 90-93 FM
and digital platforms. BBC Radio 4: news, current affairs, arts,
history, original in-house drama, original in-house first-run comedy, science, books
and religion. The service closes down and simulcasts the BBC World Service from 01:00
to 05:20 daily. Available between 92-95 and 103-105 FM, 198 LW, various medium wave frequencies
and on digital platforms. BBC Radio 5 Live: news, sports and talk programmes
available on 909/693 MW and digital frequencies. The new digital-only radio stations are:
BBC Radio 1Xtra: new urban music, plus news, original in-house live music sessions, original
live music concerts and music documentaries BBC Radio 4 Extra: classic comedy, drama,
books, science fiction, fantasy and children’s programmes
BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra: a companion to Radio 5 Live for additional sports events
coverage BBC Radio 6 Music: an eclectic mix of alternative
genres including rock, funk, punk and reggae, plus news, original in-house live music sessions,
original live music concerts and music documentaries BBC Asian Network: aimed at the large South
Asian community in the UK National Regions
The BBC also runs radio stations for the three “national regions”. These stations focus on
local issues to a greater extent than their UK counterparts, organising live phone-in
debates about these issues, as well as lighter talk shows with music from different decades
of the 20th century. Compared to many advertising-funded Independent Local Radio stations, which often
broadcast contemporary popular music, BBC nations’ radio stations offer a more “serious”
alternative. BBC Radio Scotland: News, music, sport and
talk from Scotland BBC Radio nan Gàidheal: Scottish Gaelic language
network BBC Radio Shetland: News, music, sport and
talk from Shetland BBC Radio Orkney: News, music, sport and talk
from Orkney BBC Radio Wales: News, music, sport and talk
from Wales BBC Radio Cymru: Welsh language network
BBC Radio Ulster: News, music, sport and talk from Northern Ireland
BBC Radio Foyle: News, music, sport and talk from north-west of Northern Ireland
Local services There are many BBC Local Radio services across
England, often catering to individual counties. World Service
BBC World Service is the world’s largest international broadcaster, broadcasting in 27 languages
to many parts of the world via analogue and digital shortwave, internet streaming and
podcasting, satellite, FM and MW relays. It is politically independent, non-profit,
and commercial-free. The English language service had always had a UK listenership on
LW and therefore DAB Services allowed, by this popular demand, it to be now available
24/7 for this audience in better quality reception. Broadcasting
BBC Radio services are broadcast on various FM and AM frequencies, DAB digital radio and
live streaming on BBC Online, which is available worldwide.
They are also available on Digital Television sets in the UK, and archived programs are
available for 7 days after broadcast on the BBC website; a number of trials of MP3 downloads
and podcasting for selected shows are also under way—see BBC Online#Streaming media.
Programmes Throughout its history the BBC has produced
many radio programmes. Particularly significant, influential, popular or long lasting programmes
include: Any Questions?: Topical debate series.
The Archers: Long running rural soap opera. Currently the most listened to programme on
Radio 4 and on the BBC’s on-line radio service. Children’s Hour: Long running slot for children’s
programmes. Desert Island Discs: Interview programme in
which the guest chooses the eight pieces of music they would take with them to a desert
island. The longest running music radio programme in British history.
Friday Night Is Music Night: Long running live music show, covering a wide range of
music tastes. Gardeners’ Question Time: Gardening programme
in which gardening experts give advice and answer listeners’ questions.
The Goon Show: Highly influential comedy series with elements of surrealism.
Hancock’s Half Hour: Influential comedy series which transferred to television.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Comedy science fiction serial by Douglas Adams.
I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue: Comedy series parodying the radio panel game format.
It’s That Man Again: Comedy series popular during and after World War II.
Journey Into Space: Science fiction series which was the last UK radio programme to achieve
a higher audience than television. Just a Minute: Long running panel game where
the contestants must attempt to speak for one minute without repetition, hesitation
or deviation. Letter from America: Commentary on American
news and events by Alistair Cooke. The longest-running speech radio programme in history.
The News Quiz: Topical comedy show The Reith Lectures: Annual series of lectures
given by leading figures of the day. Round the Horne: Comedy series notable for
its innuendo and use of the gay slang polari. Sports Report: Saturday sports round-up including
the football results of the day. Test Match Special: Live cricket coverage.
Today programme: Early morning news and current affairs programme.
Top Gear / John Peel: Pioneering and influential alternative music programme.
Woman’s Hour: Long running magazine programme for women.
Workers’ Playtime: Lunchtime variety show. Expenditure
The following expenditure figures are from 2012/13 and show the expenditure of each service
they are obliged to provide: Directors The official title of this post has changed
over the years. The most recent was in 2006 when it became “Director of Audio and Music”
to reflect the BBC’s online audio services. See also BBC Television, BBC domestic television services.
British Broadcasting Company Timeline of the BBC, for an overview of BBC
history. List of BBC Radio programmes adapted for television
References Further reading
Donovan, Paul. The Radio Companion. London: HarperCollins. ISBN 0-586-09012-6.
External links BBC Radio at BBC Online