Jump to content

BBC Radio

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

BBC Radio
Company typeDivision
IndustryMass media
Founded18 October 1922; 101 years ago (1922-10-18)
Area served
Key people
  • Bob Shennan (Group Managing Director, BBC)
  • Lorna Clarke – Controller, Pop
  • Aled Haydn Jones – Controller, Radio 1
  • Helen Thomas – Controller, Radio 2
  • Alan Davey – Controller, Radio 3 and Classical
  • Mohit Bakaya – Controller, Radio 4 and 4 Extra
  • Heidi Dawson – Controller, Radio 5 Live and 5 Sports Extra
  • Jonathan Wall – Controller, BBC Sounds
  • Graham Ellis – Controller, BBC Audio
ServicesRadio broadcasting

BBC Radio is an operational business division[1] and service of the public service broadcast outlet 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.[2]

Of the national radio stations, BBC Radio 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 Live are all available through analogue radio (MW or FM, also BBC Radio 4 broadcasts on longwave[3]) as well as on DAB Digital Radio and BBC Sounds. The Asian Network broadcasts on DAB and selected AM frequencies in the English Midlands. BBC Radio 1Xtra, 4 Extra, 5 Sports Extra, 6 Music and the World Service broadcast only on DAB and BBC Sounds, while Radio 1 Dance and Relax streams are available only online.

All of the BBC's national radio stations broadcast from bases in London and Manchester, usually in or near to Broadcasting House or MediaCityUK. However, the BBC's network production units located in Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff and Glasgow also make radio programmes.[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[edit]

George V giving the 1934 Royal Christmas Message on BBC Radio

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 1924 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".[5]

Competition from overseas stations[edit]

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 domestic commercial broadcasting in the UK, a former British Royal Air Force captain and entrepreneur (and from 1935 Conservative Party MP) named Leonard Plugge set up his own International Broadcasting Company in 1931.[6] 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, with only Radio Luxembourg continuing its nightly transmissions to Britain.

Empire and the world[edit]

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 and is now known as the BBC World Service.[7]

Commercial radio influence[edit]

Beginning in March 1964, Radio Caroline became the first of what would become ten offshore pirate radio stations that began to ring the British coastline, mostly along the south-east coast. By 1966 millions were tuning into these commercial stations, and the BBC was rapidly losing its radio listening audience.[8][9] This was largely due to the fact that even though they were fully aware of the problem, the BBC still only played a few hours of pop music records a week, as opposed to the pirates which broadcast chart music and new releases every day.

The British government reacted by passing the Marine, &c., Broadcasting (Offences) Act 1967, which virtually wiped out all of the pirate stations at midnight on 14 August 1967, by banning any British citizen from working for a pirate station. Only Radio Caroline survived, and continues to broadcast today, though the last original offshore broadcast was in 1989.

One of the stations, Radio London (also known as "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 output, creating the four analogue channels that still form the basis of its broadcasting today. The creator of Radio 1 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. Kenny Everett was asked for input in how to run the new pop station due to his popularity with both listeners and fellow presenters. Tony Blackburn, who presented the first Radio 1 Breakfast show, had previously presented the morning show on Radio Caroline and later on Radio London. He attempted to duplicate the same sound for Radio 1. Among the other DJs hired was John Peel, who had presented the overnight show on Radio London, called The Perfumed Garden. Though it only ran for a few months prior to Radio London's closure, The Perfumed Garden got more fan mail than the rest of the pop DJs on Radio London combined, 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. On Everett's suggestion, Radio London's PAMS jingles were commissioned to be re-recorded 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.[10] 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."[10]

BBC analogue networks[edit]

On 30 September 1967:

  • BBC Radio 1 was launched as a pop music station, initially on a part-time basis.
  • The BBC Light Programme (launched 29 July 1945) was renamed BBC Radio 2 and broadcast easy listening music, folk, jazz, light entertainment and sport.
  • The evening BBC Third Programme (launched 29 September 1946) and daytime BBC Music Programme (launched 22 March 1965) were merged under the heading of BBC Radio 3, although the Third Programme kept its separate title until 3 April 1970.
  • The BBC Home Service (launched 1 September 1939) became BBC 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[edit]

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 had "Radio" added to their names in 2008. In 2011, BBC Radio 7 was renamed BBC Radio 4 Extra and the service was more closely aligned with Radio 4.

2020s spin-off stations[edit]

At the start of the 2020s, two Radio 1 spin-offs were launched on BBC Sounds, BBC Radio 1 Dance in October 2020, followed by BBC Radio 1 Relax in April 2021.

In February 2024, the corporation announced plans to launch three new spin-offs, pending public consultation and regulatory approval: one from Radio 1 for “music from the 2000s and 2010s, catering to the appetite from young audiences for recent nostalgia”; one from Radio 2, with “‘a distinctive take on pop nostalgia’ from the 50s, 60s and 70s”; and one from Radio 3 for “calming classical music”. In addition, Radio 1 Dance would launch on DAB expanded programming.[11]


Much of BBC radio comes from Broadcasting House, Portland Place at the head of Regent Street, London

National (UK-wide)[edit]

The BBC today runs national domestic radio stations, six of which are available in analogue formats (via FM or AM), while other have a purely digital format – they can be received via DAB Digital Radio, UK digital television (satellite, cable and Freeview) plus live streams and listen again on BBC Sounds. The current stations are:

  • BBC Radio 1youth-orientated music, including talk, comedy and alternative music, plus news, original in-house live music sessions, original live music concerts and music documentaries. Available on 97–99 FM and on digital platforms.
Slogan: The biggest new pop & all day vibes
  • BBC Radio 1 Dance – a dance music-oriented 'stream' consisting of repeated and simulcast programming from Radio 1. Available only on BBC Sounds.
Slogan: The biggest current, future and classic dance vibes
  • BBC Radio 1 Relax – a chillout music and mindfulness-orientated 'stream' consisting of repeated and simulcast programming from Radio 1 and 1Xtra, available only on BBC Sounds.
Slogan: The ultimate vibes to unwind
  • BBC Radio 1Xtra – new black and urban music, plus news, original in-house live music sessions, original live music concerts and music documentaries. The service simulcasts Radio 1 from 21:00 to 23:00 on Saturdays. Available only on digital platforms
Slogan: Amplifying black music and culture
  • BBC Radio 2adult-orientated music, along with talk, comedy and alternative music, 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 World's biggest stars on the UK's most listened to radio station / This is Radio 2, on the BBC Sounds app, on your smart speaker and on 88 to 91 FM (intro to the news bulletins)
  • 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: Adventures in classical
  • BBC Radio 4 – news, current affairs, arts, history, original in-house drama, original in-house first-run comedy, science, books and religious programming. 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 and on digital platforms.
Slogan: Inquisitive speech radio to make sense of your world
  • BBC Radio 4 Extra – classic comedy, drama, books, science fiction, fantasy and children's programmes. Originally named BBC Radio 7. Available only on digital platforms.
Slogan: Journey into the Radio 4 archive
  • BBC Radio 5 Live – news, sports and talk programmes, available on 693 and 909 kHz MW and digital frequencies. Also simulcast on BBC local radio station frequencies during overnight hours. Launched in 1994 as a replacement for the original Radio 5.
Slogan: The voice of the UK - breaking news & live sport
  • BBC Radio 5 Sports Extra – a sister station to Radio 5 Live for additional coverage of sporting events. Available only on digital platforms.
Slogan: More live sport. Pure live sport.
  • 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. Available only on digital platforms.
Slogan: Music beyond the mainstream
Slogan: Celebrating British Asian life, culture and music

Nations, regions and local stations[edit]

The BBC also operates radio stations for three UK nations: Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. These stations focus on local issues to a greater extent than their UK-wide counterparts, organising live phone-in debates about these issues, as well as lighter talk shows with music from different decades of the 20th and 21st centuries. Compared to the majority of the UK's commercially funded radio stations, which generally broadcast little beyond contemporary popular music, the BBC's "national regional" stations offer a more diverse range of programming.

Local services[edit]

There are forty BBC Local Radio services across England and the Channel Islands, often catering to individual counties, cities, or wider regions.[12]

World Service[edit]

BBC World Service is the world's largest international broadcaster,[13][14] 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 World's Radio Station


BBC Radio services are broadcast on various FM and AM frequencies, DAB digital radio and live streaming on BBC Sounds, which is available worldwide.

They are also available on digital television in the UK, and archived programs are available for seven days after broadcast on the BBC website; many shows are available as podcasts.

International syndication[edit]

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 Studios. 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 in-flight 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:


The following expenditure figures are from 2012/13 and show the expenditure of each service they are obliged to provide:[15]

2012–2013 BBC Radio expenditures of each service it is required to provide
Service 2012/13 Total Cost
Comparison with
2011/12 (£million)
BBC Radio 1 54.2 + 3.6
BBC Radio 1Xtra 11.8 + 0.7
BBC Radio 2 62.1 + 1.6
BBC Radio 3 54.3 + 1.8
BBC Radio 4 122.1 + 6.2
BBC Radio 4 Extra 7.2 – 1
BBC Radio 5 Live 76 + 6.7
BBC Radio 5 Sports Extra 5.6 + 0.3
BBC Radio 6 Music 11.5 – 0.2
BBC Asian Network 13 0
BBC Local Radio 152.5 + 6
BBC Radio Scotland 32.7 + 0.6
BBC Radio nan Gàidheal 6.3 + 0.3
BBC Radio Wales 18.8 + 1.1
BBC Radio Cymru 17.6 + 1.7
BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Radio Foyle 23.8 0
Total 669.5 + 29.4


Appointed Director
1963 Frank Gillard
1970 Ian Trethowan
1976 Howard Newby
1978 Aubrey Singer
1982 Richard Francis
1986 Brian Wenham
1987 David Hatch
1993 Liz Forgan
1996 Matthew Bannister
1999 Jenny Abramsky
2008 Tim Davie
2013 Helen Boaden
2016 James Purnell

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "BBC Management Structure". 26 July 2013. BBC. Archived from the original on 15 December 2011. Retrieved 26 July 2013.
  2. ^ BBC Audio & Music Archived 23 July 2012 at archive.today, Retrieved 18 November 2010
  3. ^ "BBC – About Radio 4". BBC. Retrieved 23 September 2022.
  4. ^ "BBC National Radio" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 February 2009. Retrieved 1 February 2009.
  5. ^ "No need to change BBC's mission to 'inform, educate and entertain'". UK Parliament. 31 October 2016. Archived from the original on 31 October 2016. Retrieved 31 October 2016.
  6. ^ AND THE WORLD LISTENED The Biography of Captain Leonard F. Plugge – A Pioneer of Commercial Radio. Kelly Publications 2007. Author: Keith Wallis
  7. ^ History Archived 22 May 2020 at the Wayback Machine BBC World Service
  8. ^ "The Offshore Radio Revolution in Britain 1964–2004". H2G2. 31 August 2004. Archived from the original on 9 July 2007. Retrieved 22 July 2007.
  9. ^ Imogen Carter (27 September 2007). "The day we woke up to pop music on Radio 1". Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 18 October 2007. Retrieved 30 September 2007.
  10. ^ a b Andrews, Amanda (28 November 2010). "BBC enlists commercial sector help to shake up radio". The Telegraph. Archived from the original on 12 January 2022. Retrieved 12 March 2011.
  11. ^ McIntosh, Steven (7 February 2024). "Radio 2 spin-off among four new stations planned by BBC". BBC News Online. BBC News.
  12. ^ "BBC Local Radio in England Policy 2010/2011". Statements of Programme Policy > British Broadcasting Corporation. Archived from the original on 3 April 2012. Retrieved 2 August 2011.
  13. ^ "Microsoft Word - The Work of the BBC World Service 2008-09 HC 334 FINAL.doc" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 21 October 2020. Retrieved 16 February 2011.
  14. ^ "World s largest international broadcaster visits city". Coal Valley News. Archived from the original on 21 January 2011. Retrieved 16 February 2011.
  15. ^ "BBC Full Financial Statements 2012/13" (PDF). BBC Annual Report and Accounts 2012/13. BBC. 2013. pp. 8–9. Archived (PDF) from the original on 24 August 2013. Retrieved 17 August 2013.

Further reading[edit]

  • Donovan, Paul (1991). The Radio Companion. London: HarperCollins. ISBN 0-586-09012-6.

External links[edit]