BBC National Programme
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
On 21 August 1927, the BBC opened a high power mediumwave transmitter at Daventry, 5GB, to replace the existing local stations in the English Midlands. The BBC began to replace its previous local services with similar high-power regional services in a process called The Regional Scheme.
That allowed 5XX to provide a formal service, programmed from London, for the majority of the population. This came to be called the BBC National Programme.
Each local transmitter was slowly either converted to a regional service relay or closed entirely and replaced by high power regional broadcasts. Most of these transmitters also carried the BBC National Programme on a local frequency to supplement the longwave broadcasts from 5XX, for a brief time Scotland receiving a modified service known as the Scottish National Programme, programmed from Glasgow, until the frequency was required for the Western Regional Programme.
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).
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
- Briggs, Asa History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom Oxford:Oxford University Press 1995 ISBN 0-19-212930-9