BBC National Programme

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The BBC National Programme was a BBC radio station from the 1920s until the outbreak of World War II.


When the BBC first began transmissions on 14 November 1922, the technology for both national coverage and joint programming between transmitters did not exist – transmitter powers were generally in the region of 1 kilowatt (kW).

Marconi began experimenting with higher power transmissions from a site in Chelmsford under the call sign "2MT" in July 1924. The experiments were successful, leading to the development of both shortwave international broadcasting and longwave national broadcasting, the latter with the call sign 5XX.

In July 1925 the Chelmsford longwave transmitter was relocated to a more central site at Borough Hill near Daventry in Northamptonshire. This provided a "national service" of programmes originating in London, although it remained somewhat experimental and was supplementary to the BBC's local services. Initially the national programme was transmitted on 187.5 kHz longwave but this was later changed, with the opening in 1934 of a new high-power longwave transmitter site at Droitwich, to 200 kHz, which was to remain the BBC's longwave frequency until 1988, when it was moved slightly to 198 kHz. Mediumwave transmitters were used to augment coverage.

The Regional Scheme[edit]

From the mid 20s onwards, and at an increasing pace following "nationalization" on 1 January 1927 (the British Broadcasting Company becoming the British Broadcasting Corporation), the BBC began seeking to replace the relatively low-powered local services it had provided outside London by a series of more powerful transmitting stations each capable of reaching an entire region of the country.

At Daventry, for example, a new high-power mediumwave transmitter, 5GB, was opened on 21 August 1927 to replace the existing local stations in the English Midlands. This freed up 5XX on the same site – the longwave transmissions from which could be received by the majority of the country's population – to provide a new unified service, programmed from London but with near nationwide coverage, which came to be known as the National Programme.[1]

A number of the low-powered transmitters were retained nevertheless, using local mediumwave frequencies to fill gaps in the coverage provided by both the National Programme from 5XX and the several versions of the Regional Programme. Scotland for a brief period (until the frequency was required for the West Regional Programme) had a modified service known as the Scottish National Programme, programmed from Glasgow.


Upon the outbreak of World War II, the BBC closed the National Programme and combined it with the Regional Programme to form a single channel known as the BBC Home Service.

The former transmitters of the National Programme continued to broadcast the Home Service until 1940, when the lack of choice and lighter programming for people serving in the Armed Forces was noted. At that point, the BBC Forces Programme was established on some of the former regional frequencies (804 and 877 kHz).

This network itself was replaced when the influx of American soldiers, used to a different style of entertainment programming, had to be catered for. The replacement service was named the BBC General Forces Programme and was also broadcast on shortwave on the frequencies of the BBC Empire Service (itself reborn after the war as the BBC Overseas Service and now known as the BBC World Service).

After VE-Day, the BBC reestablished the Regional Programme, but kept the title "BBC Home Service". The longwave frequencies of the former National Programme became the BBC Light Programme.


Both the National Programme and the Regional Programme provided a mixed mainstream radio service. Whilst the two services provided different programming, allowing listeners a choice, they were not streamed to appeal to different audiences, rather, they were intended to offer a choice of programming to a single audience. While using the same transmitters, the National Programme broadcast significantly more speech and classical music than its successor, the Light Programme. Similarly, the Regional Programme broadcast much more light and dance music than its successor, the Home Service.



  • Various authors The BBC Year-book 1933 London: British Broadcasting Corporation 1932
  • Various authors BBC Year Book 1947 London: British Broadcasting Corporation 1947
  • Graham, Russ J A local service Radiomusications from Transdiffusion, undated; accessed 5 February 2006
  • Graham, Russ J A new lease of life Radiomusications from Transdiffusion, undated; accessed 5 February 2006
  • Groves, Paul History of radio transmission part 1: 1922 - 1967 Frequency Finder, undated; accessed 5 February 2006; updated 23 May 2010
  • Paulu, Burton Radio and Television Broadcasting on the European Continent Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press 1967

Further reading[edit]

  • Briggs, Asa History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom Oxford:Oxford University Press 1995 ISBN 0-19-212930-9

External links[edit]