The station was launched at 05:30 on 30 September 1967, and evolved from the Light Programme, with some of the Light Programme's music shows transferring to the newly launched BBC Radio 1. The first show had started at 05:30 am (on the Light Programme) but continued with Breakfast Special from Paul Hollingdale as Radio 1 split.
In early years, much programming and music was common to both stations, particularly on the shared FM frequency. Radio 1 was targeted at the audience of pirate radio stations whereas Radio 2 settled down as a middle-of-the-road station playing laid-back pop/rock, folk and country, jazz and big-band music, easy listening, light classics, and oldies, with significant amounts of comedy and sport. Notable broadcasters on Radio 2 in the 70s and 80s were Ray Moore on early breakfast, Terry Wogan on breakfast, replaced by Ken Bruce and later Derek Jameson; Jimmy Young and his lunchtime news and current affairs show; 'Diddy' David Hamilton on mid-afternoons, John Dunn at what became known as drivetime. Radio 2 became the first national 24-hour radio station in the UK in 1979.
The station's policy remained stable with only minor changes until April 1986 when Frances Line, head of music, repositioned the station. She would become Controller in 1990. An ageing Radio 1 audience which had grown up with the station was sticking with it into their 40s and beyond; Line repositioned Radio 2 to appeal exclusively to the over-fifties and introduced older presenters and based the playlist around nostalgia, easy listening and light music. As a result, David Hamilton quit the station at the end of 1986, claiming the music policy had become "geriatric"; Terry Wogan's replacement Derek Jameson also appealed to an older, down-market demographic. Although popular with its target audience, the policy alienated many younger listeners who had listened to both Radio 1 and Radio 2 and the station's audience fell. It took another hit when sports coverage moved to Radio 5 in August 1990. Another blow was struck by the rise of album-rock commercial stations (particularly Virgin Radio) and 'gold' spinoffs from Independent Local Radio stations playing classic pop and rock. With the station's audience in decline a change of emphasis was needed.
Line was replaced by James Moir in 1996. Moir repositioned Radio 2 with a largely AOR/contemporary playlist by day, aimed at a more mature audience than Radio 1 (which, post-Britpop, was again starting to focus on a young audience) but still embracing new music, and more specialist broadcasting by recognised genre experts in the evenings. Unlike the early-1990s repositioning of Radio 1 in which the BBC lost many well-known names, many former Radio 1 presenters stayed with the BBC and moved across to Radio 2.
Radio 2 is now termed "the nation's favourite", a title the BBC formerly used for BBC Radio 1. It is the most listened-to station in the UK, its schedule filled with broadcasters such as: Steve Wright, Chris Evans, Simon Mayo, Tony Blackburn, Ken Bruce, Jeremy Vine, Mark Radcliffe, Jo Whiley, Paul Gambaccini, Johnnie Walker and Bob Harris.
As well as having most listeners nationally, it ranks first in many regions above local radio stations. BBC Radio 2 played to 27% of the available audience in 2006.
In February 2007, Radio 2 recruited Jeff Smith, director of UK and International programming at Napster and a former head of music at Radio 1, as its new head of music. Smith joined the network on 26 March.
The licence fee funding of Radio 2, alongside Radio 1, is often criticised by the commercial sector. In the first quarter of 2011, Radio 2 was part of an efficiency review conducted by John Myers. His role, according to Andrew Harrison, the chief executive of RadioCentre, was "to identify both areas of best practice and possible savings."
On 29 July 2013, Radio 2 changed its "sonic logo" for the first time in 15 years, replacing the "heritage" logo composed by US jingle company Groove Worx with a new seven note melody composed by British composer and producer Jem Godfrey. This coincided with the launch of a new jingle package produced by Godfrey in association with Wise Buddah Productions, marking Radio 2's second new package in as many years.
Radio 2 has recently been running several "pop-up" DAB services to cover special events, the first being BBC Radio 2 Eurovision, providing coverage of the Eurovision Song Contest 2014. The station returned in 2015 for coverage of that year's contest. Others include BBC Radio 2 Country covering the C2C: Country to Country festival and BBC Radio 2 50s, a service dedicated to music programmes covering the 1950s.
The station's audience is now mainly adults over the age of 35 (82% of listeners) although in recent years it has attracted more younger listeners. Its daytime playlist features music from the 1960s to various current chart hits, album and indie music. The station's appeal is broad and deep, with accessible daytime programmes and specialist programmes of particular types or eras of music. In 2009, Radio 2 again won the Music Week Award for National Radio Station of the Year, an award it has won for several consecutive years.
Weekday evenings feature specialist music, including jazz, folk music, blues, country and western, reggae, classic rock, showtunes and biographies and documentaries on musical artists and genres. This specialist programming typically runs from 19:00 to 20:00, and from 22:00 to midnight. Radio 2 hosts both the BBC Concert Orchestra and the BBC Big Band.
"Sounds of the Sixties" remains a regular fixture on the Saturday schedule, as does Johnnie Walker's "Sounds of the Seventies" on a Sunday. On 5 October 2013, these two shows were joined by "Sounds of the Eighties", which is hosted by Sara Cox and broadcast on Friday between 2200 and midnight.
On Sundays, the schedule reverts closer to its old style, with a focus on easy listening, Jazz and Show music, with presenters like Clare Teal and Don Black and long-standing programmes like The Sunday Hour.
Radio 2 does not broadcast complete works of classical music (the domain of Radio 3) or offer in-depth discussion or drama and although some book readings, comedy and arts coverage still remains on the station this is the remit of Radio 4. Jeremy Vine's weekday lunchtime show covers current and consumer affairs informally, a style pioneered by Jimmy Young. Until Radio 5 Live, Radio 2's medium wave frequencies carried the BBC's sports coverage. Radio 5 Live was positioned on Radio 2's mediumwave frequencies.
Like all BBC radio stations broadcasting to UK audiences, Radio 2 is funded by the television licence fee, and does not broadcast adverts.
BBC Radio 2's last closedown was at 02:02 on 27 January 1979. Sarah Kennedy (who later became a daily early-morning presenter from 1993 until her departure in August 2010) was at the Newsdesk after Brian Matthew finished "Round Midnight". From 02:00 to 05:00 the following night, listeners heard "You and the Night and the Music". Radio 2 has the longest period of continuous broadcasting of any national radio station in the UK.
The BBC Pips are broadcast at 07:00 and 08:00 on weekdays, then again at 17:00 and 19:00.
BBC Radio 2 moved its studios from Broadcasting House to the adjacent Wogan House in 2006. Although the majority of programming comes from London, some shows are broadcast from other cities around the UK, including Birmingham and Manchester. For many years, the network's overnight presenters, such as Janice Long and Alex Lester, were based in Birmingham, but made the move to London in April 2008.
In addition to its regular and stand-in presenters, Radio 2 is often joined by guest presenters that host one-off documentaries or short series. Such guests have included David Mitchell, Suzi Quatro, Carla Bruni, Sir Tim Rice, Kate Thornton, David Quantick, Hugh Laurie and Michael Grade.
Many of Radio 2's additional on-air staff (particularly newsreaders) are shared with sister station BBC Radio 6 Music.
The presenter Sarah Kennedy has sometimes attracted controversy. In May 1999, she gave a bizarre performance while standing in for Terry Wogan, blaming the incident on a lack of sleep the previous night. Her slurred speech throughout her show on 13 August 2007 also made the headlines. She blamed a sore throat and later took a month-long break. It was later reported that Kennedy was recovering from pneumonia, and she returned to work on 10 September. In October 2007, she was reprimanded after joking that she had almost run over a black pedestrian because she could not see him in the dark. The BBC later apologised for the comment. She was also "spoken to" by BBC bosses after praising Enoch Powell during a show in July 2009, describing him as "the best prime minister this country never had".
On 16 October 2008, an episode of the Russell Brand Show, co-hosted by fellow Radio 2 presenter Jonathan Ross was recorded for transmission at a later date. The show included Brand and Ross leaving four prank messages on actor Andrew Sachs' answerphone including offensive remarks about his granddaughter and use of foul language. The programme was subsequently broadcast on Saturday 18 October, partially censored, having passed the various pre-transmission checks from the programme's editors. Initially, the programme only received a negligible number of complaints regarding Jonathan Ross' bad language; however, the incident was reported a week later by the Mail on Sunday and a public outcry soon ensued. The case was referred to both Ofcom and the BBC Trust, and in the interim, Ross and Brand were both suspended for 12 weeks from all BBC programmes pending investigation. Soon after these announcements, Russell Brand announced his resignation from the BBC shortly followed by the controller at the time, Lesley Douglas. Jonathan Ross was suspended from the BBC without pay for 12 weeks.
In July 2009, longtime presenter Malcolm Laycock announced his resignation live on air following a long running dispute over the content of his show, Sunday Night at 10, and issues regarding his salary. He later criticised Radio 2 management for abandoning its older listeners and claimed to have been constructively dismissed by the station, although Radio 2 denied this was the case.