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BBC Radio is a service of the British Broadcasting Corporation which has operated in the United Kingdommarker under the terms of a Royal Charter since 1927. For a history of BBC radio prior to 1927 see British Broadcasting Company, Ltd.

BBC Radio 1 to 7 are based in Londonmarker, but programmes are also made in Belfastmarker, Birminghammarker, Bristolmarker, Cardiffmarker, Glasgowmarker and Manchestermarker.

All BBC Radio channels are available on DAB radio and also on the internet in Real Media and WMA streams – #See_also.


National (UK)

The BBC today runs ten national domestic radio stations, four 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 & 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 & music documentaries.
  • 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 & music 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 & music documentaries.
  • BBC Radio 4: news, current affairs, arts, history, original in-house drama, original in-house first-run comedy, science, books and religion.
  • BBC Radio 5 Live: news, sports, talk.

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


The BBC also runs radio stations for three of the nations of the UK. 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 stations, which often broadcast contemporary popular music, BBC nations' radio stations offer a more "serious" alternative.

There exist many BBC Local Radio services across England, often catering to individual counties.


BBC Radio services are broadcast on various FM and AM frequencies, digital radio or DAB, and streaming live on BBC Online (giving the stations a worldwide audience).

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 are also underway of MP3 downloads and podcasting for selected shows—see media.


Throughout its history the BBC has produced many programmes, and a complete list of all programmes will be available here soon. In the meantime, some particularly significant, influential, popular or long lasting programmes include:

For more BBC radio programmes see :Category:BBC radio programmes.

History of BBC Radio

The BBC radio services began in 1922. It was licensed by the British Government 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 and this is still reflected in the title of the BBC's listings magazine called 'Radio Times'.

First charter

On 31 December 1926 the British Broadcasting Company became the British Broadcasting Corporation and gained control of the airwaves under the terms of a Royal Charter. John Reith, who had been the founding Managing Director of the commercial company, became the first director. He expounded firm principles of centralised, all-encompassing radio broadcasting, stressing programming standards and moral tone. These are 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". Critics of his approach state that he was dictatorial and that he imposed a theocratic viewpoint on the broadcasting service. Reith's ideals were utterly at odds with the model of light entertainment based commercial radio adopted in some other countries (e.g. the USA).

Competition from overseas stations

Although no other broadcasting organisation was licensed in the UK until 1973, commercial competition soon opened up from overseas. The commercial competitors were for the most part represented by the International Broadcasting Company that bought blocks of airtime from radio stations such as Normandy, Toulouse, Ljubljana, Juan les Pins, Paris, Poste Parisien, Athlone, Barcelona, Madrid and Rome. In the period from 1927 to 1939, light entertainment on the British airwaves was for the most part the domain of the 10 part-time English language IBC stations. By 1938 on Sundays upwards of 80% of the British audience turned their dials away from the BBC to these IBC stations which followed an American format of commercial broadcasting. They were eventually silenced by the advent of the German military taking control of their transmitters in Francemarker, Luxembourgmarker and other countries during World War II.

American Armed Forces influence

The respite from American influence on British broadcasting was short lived. When the US military flooded Europe with troops during World War II, American-style programming followed and the BBC was forced to transmit these shows, first on the BBC Forces Programme and later on the BBC General Forces Programme, both on the former frequencies of the BBC National Programme. After the war the BBC Forces transmitters that had carried these shows were transformed into a network called the BBC Light Programme.

The original BBC stations which had been linked together to form the BBC Regional Programme were transformed into the BBC Home Service. A third part-time service was created under the name of the BBC Third Programme. For the history of these stations see Timeline of the BBC.

Empire and the world

To provide a different service from the domestic audience the Corporation started 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 The Overseas Service but is now known as the BBC World Service.

Commercial radio influence

WWII silenced all but one of the original IBC stations, only Radio Luxembourg continued its nightly transmissions to Britain as a commercial radio station featuring American-style entertainment and religion.

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 imposing the "Marine Offences Act", a law which all but wiped out all of the stations by midnight on 14 August 1967. Only Radio Caroline survives.

One of the stations called Wonderful 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 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 Dallasmarker, Texasmarker so that "Wonderful Radio London" became "Wonderful Radio One on BBC".

BBC analogue networks

BBC Radio 1 was launched as a part-time pop music station 30 September 1967. The BBC Light Programme was renamed Radio 2 and broadcast easy listening, folk, jazz and light entertainment. The BBC Third Programme and BBC Music Programme was merged to form Radio 3 and the BBC Home Service became Radio 4.

BBC Radio 5 was launched on 27 August 1990 as a home for sport and children's programming, and was replaced and renamed on 28 March 1994 with BBC Radio Five Live, a dedicated news and sport network.

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 1Xtra, 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. For some time the majority of listeners used Freeview, digital satellite and digital cable services to listen to these networks.

Directors of BBC Radio

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

Note: 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.

See also


  2. [1]

Further reading

External links

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