Trisha Shetty (Editor)

BBC Radio

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Area served


London, United Kingdom

Mass media

Radio broadcasting

Parent organization

BBC Radio httpsuploadwikimediaorgwikipediacommonsthu

Key people
Helen Boaden (Director of Audio and Music)

1927, London, United Kingdom

Bbc90 90 years of bbc radio in 90 minutes

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. It 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 (5 Live on AM only) 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 which broadcast from MediaCityUK in Salford) broadcast from bases in London, usually in or near to Broadcasting House in Marylebone. However, the BBC's network production units located in Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow and Manchester also make radio programmes.

1943 bbc music while you work bbc radio broadcast no 4


The BBC's radio services began in 1922. The British Government licensed the BBC 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 - the title of the BBC's listings magazine, Radio Times, reflects this.

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 he set out in his autobiography, Broadcast Over Britain (1924), 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".

Competition from overseas stations

Although no other broadcasting organisation was licensed in the UK until 1973, commercial competition soon opened up from overseas. The English language service of Radio Luxembourg began in 1933 as one of the earliest commercial radio stations broadcasting to Britain and Ireland. With no possibility of commercial broadcasting available from inside the UK, a former British Royal Air Force captain and entrepreneur (and from 1935 Conservative Party member of parliament) named Leonard F. Plugge set up his own International Broadcasting Company in 1931. The IBC began leasing time on transmitters in continental Europe and then reselling it as sponsored English-language programming aimed at audiences in Britain and Ireland. Because Plugge successfully demonstrated that State monopolies such as that of the BBC could be broken, other parties became attracted to the idea of creating a new commercial radio station specifically for this purpose. It was an important forerunner of pirate radio and modern commercial radio in the United Kingdom. The onset of World War II silenced all but one of the original IBC stations, only Radio Luxembourg continued its nightly transmissions to Britain.

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

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 ("Big L") 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 (part-time at first)
  • The BBC Light Programme (1945–67) was renamed Radio 2 and broadcast easy listening, folk, jazz and light entertainment.
  • The evening BBC Third Programme (1946-???) and daytime BBC Music Programme (1965-) were merged under the heading of Radio 3, although the Third Programme kept its separate title until 1970.
  • The BBC Home Service (1939–67) 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 (DAB) 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.

    National (UK-wide)

    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 (satellite, cable and Freeview) plus live streams and listen again on the Internet.

    The "main" radio stations, available via both analogue (FM and/or AM frequencies) and Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB), are:

  • BBC Radio 1: youth oriented, mostly contemporary pop and rock music (including Top 40 singles), 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.
  • Slogan = Where It Begins

  • 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.
  • Slogan = The home of great music – Pop and Rock from the sixties, seventies, eighties and beyond to blues, big band, country and jazz with the best live music and documentaries

  • BBC Radio 3: arts and high culture, special-interest music (classical, jazz, world music), plus news, original in-house live music sessions, original live music concerts and music documentaries. Available on 90-93 FM and digital platforms.
  • Slogan = Radio 3 broadcasts classical music, jazz, world music, new music, arts programmes and drama. It's the home of the Proms and broadcasts more live music than any other network

  • 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.
  • Slogan = Intelligent speech, the most insightful journalism, the wittiest comedy, the most fascinating features and the most compelling drama and readings anywhere in UK radio

  • BBC Radio 5 Live: news, sports and talk programmes available on 909/693 MW and digital frequencies.
  • Slogan = Live news and live sport. Premier League football, Champions League football, Europa League football, international football, FA Cup football, Championship Football, Football League, Scottish...'

    The new digital-only (Internet Streaming/Sky/freesat/Freeview/DAB) radio stations are:

  • BBC Radio 1Xtra: new urban music, plus news, original in-house live music sessions, original live music concerts and music documentaries
  • Slogan = BBC Radio 1Xtra – Hip Hop, RnB, Grime, Dancehall, Afrobeat, Drum n Bass – championing UK and international underground diverse music

  • BBC Radio 4 Extra: classic comedy, drama, books, science fiction, fantasy and children's programmes
  • Slogan = Showcasing the best in comedy drama and entertainment. With quizzes, sitcoms, panel games, satire, stand up, life stories, classics from the archive, science fiction and fantasy

  • BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra: a companion to Radio 5 Live for additional sports events coverage
  • Slogan = More live sport. Pure live sport. Live cricket from the Test Match Special team, football commentary, Formula 1, rugby union, rugby league, baseball, NFL American Football, tennis...

  • BBC Radio 6 Music: an eclectic mix of alternative genres including rock, funk, punk and reggae (and most non-special interest genres), plus news, original in-house live music sessions, original live music concerts and music documentaries
  • Slogan = The place for the best Alternative Music. From Indie Pop and Iconic Rock to Trip Hop, Electronica and Dance with great Archive Music Sessions, Live Music Concerts and Documentaries

  • BBC Asian Network: aimed at the large South Asian community in the UK (primarily a digital radio station, but available in parts of the Midlands on medium wave)
  • Slogan = BBC Asian Network – Bollywood, Bhangra, Asian Urban and underground. Home of Desi music, news and documentaries

    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 (ILR) 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 (and the Channel Islands), 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 (by mandate of the Agreement providing details of the topics outlined in the BBC Charter), 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. Slogan = The BBC's international radio station


    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.

    International syndication

    The BBC also syndicates radio and podcast content to radio stations and other broadcasting services around the globe, through its BBC Radio International business which is part of BBC Worldwide. Programmes regularly syndicated by BBC Radio International include: In Concert (live rock music recordings from BBC Radio 1 and BBC Radio 2, including an archive dating back to 1971); interviews, live sessions and music shows; Classical Music (including performances from The BBC Proms); Spoken Word (Music documentaries, Dramas, Readings, Features and Comedies, mainly from BBC Radio 4) and channels, including BBC Radio 1.

    BBC Radio International also provides many services internationally including inflight entertainment, subscription, and satellite services. BBC Radio International is partnered with (Sirius Satellite Radio) and (British Airways) as well as many other local radio stations.


    Throughout its history the BBC has produced many radio programmes. Particularly significant, influential, popular or long lasting programmes include:

  • Any Questions? (1948–present): Topical debate series.
  • The Archers (1950–present): 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 (1922–1964): Long running slot for children's programmes.
  • Desert Island Discs (1942–present): 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 (1952–present): Long running live music show, covering a wide range of music tastes.
  • Gardeners' Question Time (1947–present): Gardening programme in which gardening experts give advice and answer listeners' questions.
  • The Goon Show (1951–1960): Highly influential comedy series with elements of surrealism.
  • Hancock's Half Hour (1954–1960): Influential comedy series which transferred to television.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1978–1980 and 2004–2005): Comedy science fiction serial by Douglas Adams.
  • I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue (1972–present): Comedy series parodying the radio panel game format.
  • It's That Man Again (1939–1949): Comedy series popular during and after World War II.
  • Journey Into Space (1953–1958): Science fiction series which was the last UK radio programme to achieve a higher audience than television.
  • Just a Minute (1967–present): Long running panel game where the contestants must attempt to speak for one minute without repetition, hesitation or deviation.
  • Letter from America (1946–2004): Commentary on American news and events by Alistair Cooke. The longest-running speech radio programme in history.
  • The News Quiz (1977–present): Topical comedy show
  • The Reith Lectures (1948–present): Annual series of lectures given by leading figures of the day.
  • Round the Horne (1965–1968): Comedy series notable for its innuendo and use of the gay slang polari.
  • Sports Report (1948–present): Saturday sports round-up including the classified football results.
  • Test Match Special (1957–present): Live cricket coverage.
  • Today programme (1957–present): Early morning news and current affairs programme.
  • Top Gear / John Peel (1967–2004): Pioneering and influential alternative music programme.
  • Woman's Hour (1946–present): Long running magazine programme for women.
  • Workers' Playtime (1941–1964): Lunchtime variety show.
  • The World at One (1965–present): Lunchtime news show.
  • Expenditure

    The following expenditure figures are from 2012/13 and show the expenditure of each service they are obliged to provide:


    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.


    BBC Radio Wikipedia