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BBC Radio 4 is a domestic UK radio station that broadcasts a wide variety of spoken-word programmes, including news, drama, comedy, science and history. It replaced the BBC Home Service in 1967.


Radio 4 is the second most popular British domestic radio station, after Radio 2, and was named "UK Radio Station of the Year" at the 2003, 2004 and 2008 Sony Radio Academy Awards. Costing £71.4 million (2005/6), it is the BBC's most expensive national radio network and is considered by many to be the corporation's flagship. There is currently no comparable UK commercial network (nor any internationally). This situation is unlikely to change in the near future, as Channel 4 abandoned plans to launch its own speech-based digital radio station in October 2008 as part of a £100m cost cutting review.

The controller of Radio 4 is Mark Damazer. The previous controller was Helen Boaden, who is now the head of BBC News. The most controversial controller in recent years was James Boyle, nicknamed "McBirt" for his support of the BBC's former Director-General, John Birt.

Music and sport are the only fields that largely fall outside the station's remit. There are occasional concerts, and documentaries related to various forms of popular music, almost entirely absent from the station until fairly recently, are broadcast from time to time, and ball-by-ball commentaries of most cricket test matches played by England are broadcast on long wave for over 70 days a year which means listeners rely on FM broadcasts or increasingly DAB for mainstream Radio 4 broadcasts for a fifth of the year. However the number of those relying solely on long wave is now a small minority.The cricket broadcasts even take precedence over on the hour news bulletins, but not the Shipping Forecast. Because the long-wave service can be received clearly at sea around the coasts of Britainmarker and Ireland, Radio 4 carries these regular weather forecasts for shipping and gale warnings. The station has also been designated as the UK's national broadcaster in times of national emergency such as a war: if all other radio stations were forced to close, Radio 4 would still carry on broadcasting. It was confirmed in a recent documentary that Radio 4 had an additional role during the Cold War: the commanders of nuclear-armed submarines believing that the UK had suffered nuclear attack were required to check if they could still receive Radio 4, and would launch a retaliatory strike if they could not.

The station is available on FM (in most of the UK), LW (throughout the UK and in parts of Northern Europe), MW (in some areas), DAB, Digital TV (including Freeview, Freesat, Sky and Virgin Media), and on the Internet.


The BBC Home Service was the predecessor of Radio 4 and broadcast between 1939 and 1967. It had regional variations and was broadcast on medium wave with a network of VHF FM transmitters being added from 1955 onwards. Radio 4 replaced the Home Service on 30 September 1967, when the BBC renamed many of its domestic radio stations, in response to the challenge of offshore radio. It moved to long wave in 1978, taking over the 200 kHz frequency previously held by Radio 2, and later moved to 198 kHz as a result of international agreements aimed at avoiding interference.

Between 17 January 1991 and 2 March 1991, the FM broadcasts were replaced by a continuous news service devoted to the Gulf War, nicknamed "Scud FM".

Radio 4 is part of the Royal Navy's system of Last Resort Letters. In the event of a suspected catastrophic attack on the United Kingdom, submarine commanders check for a broadcast signal from Radio 4 to verify annihilation of the homeland.

Programmes and schedules

Daily schedule

The night-time feed from the BBC World Service ends at 05:20, with a brief introduction from the early shift continuity announcer. The five-minute Radio 4 UK Theme (composed by Fritz Spiegl) followed this for 33 years until April 2006. It was replaced by an extension to the early news bulletin, despite some public opposition and a campaign to save it. After a continuity link and programme trail there is a shipping forecast, weather reports from coastal stations for 04:00GMT and the inshore waters forecasts, followed at 05:30 by a news bulletin, a review of British and international newspapers, and a business report. On weekdays, Farming Today, which deals with news of relevance to the agricultural sector, is followed by the Today programme from 06:00 to 09:00.

After the Today programme, the schedule is then determined by the day of the week, though on every weekday there are 'fixtures': Woman's Hour at 10:00, You and Yours at 12:00, The World at One and a repeat of the previous day's The Archers at 2:00pm, followed by the Afternoon Play at 2.15pm. At 5:00pm another current affairs programme, PM, is broadcast. At 6:30pm there is a regular comedy 'slot', followed by the The Archers. At weekends the schedule is different, but also has its 'fixtures' at various times.

On or after the hour, a news bulletin is broadcast—this is sometimes a two-minute summary, a longer piece as part of a current affairs programme, or a 30-minute broadcast on weekdays at 18:00 and midnight. At 12:00, FM has a four-minute bulletin while long wave has the headlines and then the Shipping Forecast; for the same reason, long wave leaves PM on weekdays at 17:54.

There is a news programme or bulletin (depending on the day) at 22:00. The midnight news is followed on weekdays by a repeat of Book of the Week. The tune Sailing By is played until 00:48, when the late shipping forecast is broadcast. Timing is said to be difficult as the Sailing By theme must be started at a set time and faded in as the last programme ends. Radio 4 finishes with the national anthem, God Save the Queen, and the World Service takes over from 01:00 until 05:20.

Timing is considered sacrosanct on the channel. Running over the hour except in special circumstances or occasional scheduled instance is unheard of, and even interrupting the time signal on the hour (known as 'crashing the pips') is frowned upon.

An online schedule page lists the running order of programmes.


Many Radio 4 programmes are pre-recorded. Programmes transmitted live include daily programmes such as Today, magazine programme Woman's Hour, consumer affairs programme You and Yours, and (often) the music, film, books, arts and culture programme Front Row. Continuity is generally managed from BBC Broadcasting Housemarker whilst news bulletins, including the hourly summaries and longer programmes such as the Six O'Clock News and Midnight News, and news programmes such as Today, The World at One and PM come from the BBC News Centre at Television Centremarker in White Citymarker. They were moved there in 1998 when the News Centre was opened to house both radio and TV news. News is due to return to Broadcasting House in 2008.

The Time Signal, known as 'the pips', is usually broadcast every hour to herald the news bulletin.


Radio 4 is distinguished by its long-running programmes, many of which have been broadcast for over 40 years.

Most programmes are available for a week after broadcast as streaming audio from Radio 4's listen again page and via BBC iPlayer. A selection of programmes is also available as podcasts or downloadable audio files. Many comedy and drama programmes from the Radio 4 archives are rebroadcast on BBC Radio 7.

Continuity announcers and newsreaders

Announcers link programmes and read trails for programmes and for the Shipping Forecast. Newsreaders read hourly summaries and longer bulletins.

Senior Announcers

Newsreaders/Continuity Announcers

Newsreaders (non-Today programme)/Continuity Announcers

Newsreaders (non-Today programme)

Continuity Announcers

  • Howard Philpott
  • Caroline Nicholls
  • Matthew Exell

Former staff

  • David Anderson (left to senior management, but covered during the May '05 strike)
  • Louise Botting (presenter of Money Box, 1977 - 1992)
  • Louise Bruce
  • Edward Cole
  • Andrew Crawford (can still be heard announcing I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue)
  • John Hedges
  • Alison Rooper (left 2005, now with Radio 3)
  • Astley Jones (left 2006)
  • Jonathan Lampon
  • Jenny Lane
  • Pennie Latin (left 11/04)

  • Bryan Martin (died 2009)
  • Patrick Muirhead (left 9/04)
  • Laurie Macmillan (died 10/01)
  • Jamie Owen
  • Andy Rushton (Test Match Special announcer 1998 – June 2007)
  • Moira Stuart (left 1981 to TV)
  • Anna Hill (left ~2000 – now presents Farming Today)
  • Clive Roslin (left ~1990)
  • Jane Steele
  • Catriona Young (now with Radio 3)

Frequencies and other means of reception

Radio 4 is broadcast on:


There have been criticisms voiced by newspapers in recent years over a perceived "left-wing" bias at Radio 4 across a range of issues such as the EU and the Iraq War, as well as sycophancy in interviews, particularly on the popular morning news magazine "Today" as part of a reported perception of a general "malaise" at the BBC. Conversely, the station has sometimes also been criticised for an overtly socially and culturally conservative approach, though these criticisms are less prominent than they once were following the station's evolution under recent controllers.

See also


  1. History of the BBC: 1960s
  2. The Sony Radio Academy Awards: Winners 2004
  3. Sony Radio Academy Awards - Winners 2008
  4. BBC Annual Report and Accounts 2005/2006, page 106
  5. Channel 4 has abandoned its entire radio project, as it seeks to make £100m in savings
  6. Met Office Shipping Forecast key
  8. Press release: New early morning schedule for Radio 4
  9. UK Theme to be dropped by Radio 4
  10. Today: The UK Theme
  12. Radio 4 Daily Schedule page
  13. BBC Annual Report and Accounts 1998-1999
  14. New era for Broadcasting House
  15. Radio 4: Listen Again
  16. Radio 4 - Downloading and Podcasting
  17. Being a newsreader by Harriet Cass
  18. List of BBC Radio newsreaders
  19. Ways of Listening to Radio 4
  20. BBC analogue broadcast frequencies
  21. BBC Radio 4 on Freeview
  22. Free Channels on the Sky Digital Satellite Platform
  23. Is Radio 4 alienating its core audience? - Telegraph
  24. BBC report damns its ‘culture of bias’ - Times Online
  25. BBC is given EU ‘bias’ rap | The Sun |HomePage|News|EU Referendum
  26. The BBC's commitment to bias is no laughing matter - Telegraph
  27. BBC Bias
  28. Stephen Pollard: I don't want bias with my cornflakes - Commentators, Opinion -

Further reading

  • Elmes, Simon And Now on Radio 4, 2007, Random House
  • Hendy, David Life on Air: A History of Radio Four, 2007, Oxford University Press

External links

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