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The end is near for analogue radio... Part one, a Medium and Long Wave goodbye

The UK Government has announced that it will shortly consider announcing the dates of the digital radio switchover. I thought it might be an excellent time to consider the history of amplitude- and frequency- modulation - and to wonder why anyone is still using it.

The UK Government has announced that it will shortly consider a
published on UK Free TV

It is well know that the BBC was the British Broadcasting Company from 18 October 1922 until it was re-launched as on 1 January 1927 as a Corporation with a Royal Charter. Less well known is that the first radio services were the nine regional radio stations, which broadcast on Medium Wave

These were, in 1922 2LO from London, 5IT from Birmingham, 2ZY from Manchester, 5NO from Newcastle upon Tyne; in 1923 5WA from Cardiff, 5SC from Glasgow, 2BD from Aberdeen, 6BM from Bournemouth; and joined n 1924 by 2BE from Belfast.

In the beginning

This wasn't down a "commitment to the regions", but the limits of the technology. It was possible to set up medium wave transmitters in populated cities. Even though "trunk" telephone calls could be made from 1923, these were not suitable to create a radio network.

From 1927, the BBC Regional Programme moved to higher power transmitters to provide a service that covered the country. The "basic regional programme" from London acted as a sustaining service to the Midland, North, Scottish, West, Midland, Northern Ireland (opt out from North), Welsh (split from West) , North East/Cumbria (opt out from North), and West regional services. This was known as The Regional Scheme.

Long Wave, high power services were tested in the late 1920s, and March 9th 1930, broadcasting to the whole of the UK from Daventry, the BBC National Programme started.

Borg the Regional Scheme and National Programme services were mixed mainstream radio service, with a variety of programmes to suit all tastes. Listeners could switch between stations to choose programmes, but both would carry all forms of radio.

This is all shown in exquite detail in DEVELOPMENT OF THE A.M. TRANSMITTER NETWORK Compiled by Clive McCarthy Version 4, 15 May 2004 [pdf].


Worried about enemy aeroplanes using the radio towers to triangulate bombing raids, the transmitter network was reconfigured on September 1st 1939 to use just two frequencies (668 and 767kHz) and provide a single national programme. This service was known as the Home Service. Long Wave's National Programme was closed down.

From January 1940, this was joined by a lighter service called "For the Forces", later the General Forces Programme.

From July 29th 1945 the Home Service with its drama, talks and informational programmes was split into six regional services (Basic, Midland, North, West, Welsh, Scottish), and in 1963 Northern Ireland.

The Forces format became the Light Programme on Long Wave and Medium Wave. There is an excellent description of this service at Radio Rewind - Light Programme Menu.


From 29 September 1946, the Third Programme was added. It broadcast from 6pm to midnight a mixture of cultural and intellectual programmes, but this was changed in October 1957 to carry educational programmes, and was changed to having all day classical music with the BBC Music Programme, in 1965.

However, television, restarting after the war, with ITV coming on air in 1955 and BBC TWO in April 1964, took audiences away from radio, especially in the evening.

In the mid 1960s, a new challenge happened from pirate stations, which were literally broadest from off-shore locations. They introduced the concept of "pop music" to UK radio, and the playing of gramophone records, rather than having (at the instance of the Musician's Union) live music.

To this end, the BBC, still the sole legal provider of radio issued "Broadcasting in the Seventies".

This document, which was much discussed in the press and Parliament at the time, made two major decisions: the move from regional radio to local radio, and the national stations being reorganised into genre-based stations.

Local and national pop

The Light Programme was split into three: "pop music", with DJs playing gramophone records would be Radio 1. The "light music" would become Radio 2, with a mix of DJs and live music. The Light Programme's drama (The Archers), comedy (such as Round the Horne), politics (Any Questions?) and other speech (such as Woman's Hour) would move to Radio 4.

Radio 4 would also take the speech and drama from the Third Programme, and this would all be added to the basic Home Service. Radio 4 would generally be a UK-wide service.

The Home Service for Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland would become Radio Wales, Radio Scotland and Radio Ulster. Only in the South West (until 1983) and East Anglia (until 1980) where there were no BBC local radio stations, would there be regional opt-outs from Radio 4 UK, aside from five-minute regional news, which were phased out in 1978.

The four BBC networks broadcast on the medium wave (with the exception of Radio 2, which was on long wave) as well as VHF.

Read more about this: BBC Engineering No 87 July 1971 [pdf] and BROADCASTING IN THE SEVENTIES (B.B.C. PLAN) (Hansard, 22 July 1969) also The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom: Volume V: Competition - Asa Briggs - Google Books [page 719] and Life on Air: A History of Radio Four eBook: David Hendy: Kindle Store.

There was a final change to the networks on November 23rd 1978, when Radio 4 moved to 200 kHz Long Wave, Radio 1 to 1053/1089kHZ, Radio 2 to 693/909 kHz and Radio 3 to 1215kHz.

By 1990, most homes had moved - after much complains in some parts - to VHF reception. The BBC took the medium wave from Radio 2 and created Radio 5 (later 5 Live), and in 1992 the BBC handed over Radio 3's medium waves to Virgin Radio, and 1994 Radio 1's medium wave frequencies to Talk Radio (now Talk Sport) .

Part 2 tomorrow, in which radio gets very high. The end is near for analogue radio... radio gets very high - Digital radio - - 11 years of independent, free digital TV advice

Help with TV/radio stations?
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In this section
Which 45 masts transmit the 15 new national DAB radio stations? 1
UK Free TV: 392 AM radio transmissions now have coverage maps2
New! 1000s of new DAB and FM radio coverage maps3
We ARE going to get BBC Local Radio on Freeview ... today!4
How do the two new national DAB radio bids compare?5
More digital radio stations. Ofcom - finally - proposes DAB+6

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

8:10 PM

MikeB et al:
DAB as a digital technique suffers the same limitations as any system that samples an analogue signal and tries to reproduce the analogue original. DAB has frequency range limitations that are narrower than FM radio. CD audio recordings have a similar limitation, effectively because of the sampling rate. The effect is to not reproduce the upper frequencies that form the tonal qualities of the sound heard. Compare a CD recording of a pipe organ with that of the same organ recorded by a good analogue technique and then compare with the live rendition! Having sung in choirs and choral societies for over 50 years, I know which I prefer. (I'm also an electronics engineer.)
DAB has problems as some have experienced, just as some have had trouble with Freeview digital transmissions.
Not all DAB radios have a VHF FM capability, two of mine don't but one does. The FM signal where I live is more reliable and clearer than DAB.
DAB+ would have been preferable but that will not happen now - too much investment in DAB.

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MikeP's 3,056 posts GB flag
eric dockum
8:14 PM

So this week I could listen to live test match commentary anywhere, including in the car on LW, on existing equipment.

At 30 quid a pop I cannot replace the numerous radios acquired over my life that are stationed around the house, greenhouse, shed and workshop, plus those in 3 cars. Don't forget the mini fm radios that predated the ipod, mobile phone and the walkman... Oh, and the clock radio by my bed..

So my current simple and cheap, and depreciated to zero system of radios will be made useless at a stroke. At most I would have one or two new ones. Therefore I will listen to radio less. Is that the objective?

A similar trick has lead to a massive pile of discarded tv's at the local tip, but I think people will view the radio differently, and not go out to replace the radios.

I am not against Tech, I am a chartered engineer, my house has a gigabit network, my own server, at the last count 6 computers, plus mobile devices. And use the interwebs to write this.

To whom should I sent the pile of radios, car radios, clock radios, pocket radios etc?

If it ain't broke lets break it seems to be the order of the day.

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eric dockum's 2 posts GB flag
Clive Johnson
8:41 PM

It is vandalism to scrap the FM radio network when most people have so much investment in it and DAB offers no improvement sound-wise - in practice it is usually a down-grade. As usual, the consumers are put last, behind political and commercial interests.

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Clive Johnson's 18 posts GB flag

9:02 PM

you can never ever beat the sound of a good analogue broadcast on a good system you feel every breath the presenter makes and those days will be coming to an end sad!!!

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nick's 38 posts GB flag

9:09 PM

DAB sound quality it very poor compared to FM. A lot of stations and radio's are in Mono, hello it's 2013! The biggest problem with DAB is the same as digital TV you either have a signal or you don't. I can put up with hiss on FM in bad areas I can't put up with the on off on off of DAB. FM struggles in most city's so DAB stands no chance, or are they planing to build lots of new transmitters??

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Ian's 497 posts GB flag
Ian's: mapI's Freeview map terrainI's terrain plot wavesI's frequency data I's Freeview Detailed Coverage

10:40 PM

PJH: I chose my words very carefully - I wrote that cost is 'no longer a problem', although its true that DAB radios did start out relatively expensive.

MikeP - the dynamic range of DAB audio is less than analogue, but for most of us, listening on a relatively small radio in our kitchen, etc, is that a huge problem? And of course if you do get a good signal, there is a lot less pop and hiss.

DAB coverage is improving, and is generally good in cities - rural areas tend to come off worst.

The reality is that nobody is sure about when FM is going to go. I suspect FM is going to be around for a while, if only because its still so widely used. 100m radios are still in use, and its only now that cars have to have DAB radios as standard. 2015 is apparently the next date, but who knows?

Coverage and listening percentages are still not there yet, and if there is one thing we know about politicians, if they can put something off, they will.

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MikeB's 2,579 posts GB flag
11:27 PM

The only good thing about "" digital, is this web site and its classy workers.

Digital without the "" does not exist, never has and never will; it's all analogue, 'cos that's the way it is- around by-yere, in case y'all hadn't noticed.

The only reason we need to use the actual "" digital is to manage compression, which requires simultaneous samples of signals from different times to be compared and manipulated. You have to have a memory to do this, and a pdq one at that.
The moment someone comes up with an analogue version, "" digital is toast, and far more sensible approaches making the best of the medium, instead of like fitting old milk bottles into your fridge, resurface.
What? Can't ever work out? Well I am not a betting fella.

Digital Radio .... Bah Sir! Bah I say.
Stuff it up yer GDP .... !

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Peter's 2 posts GB flag
P. Kieran Ward

11:48 PM

Hi Nicholas Willmott!

You query if anyone listens on A.M. nowadays! In Belfast - where I live - our first commercial station was Downtown Radio which commenced broadcasting in March 1976 in both A.M and F.M. At a later time the station moved frequency to 97.4MHz for its initial frequency of 96.6MHz. Due to the failure of the planned commercial station for Derry in 1983, Downtown ceased F.M. broadcasting to the Greater Belfast area on 97.4MHz F.M. to facilitate the introduction of a sister station Cool FM, aimed at a younger age group. Although Cool FM only broadcast on the 97.4MHz frequency in the Greater Belfast area, Downtown Radio continued to broadcast on 1026 kHz AM to a large part of Northern Ireland. Over the intervening years Downtown Radio were allocated additional F.M. frequencies across the country but have never been allocated a F.M. frequency on its own for the Greater Belfast area and as a consequence if you want to listen to Downtown Radio in Belfast A.M. is the only way.

It is true to say that Downtown Radio is available on DAB but the take up of DAB in Northern Ireland has been very poor.

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P. Kieran Ward's 89 posts GB flag
Wednesday, 28 August 2013
Michael S
12:11 AM

I'm a regular visitor to this site and have been reading these comments with interest. It does seem though, that some people need to start thinking a bit more pragmatically.

As a volunteer at my local community radio station I've always been a radio fan and of course worried about any talk of getting rid of FM.

However... I'm also a tech fan and earlier this year I took the plunge and got myself a Pure Sirocco 550 - a great piece of kit and perfect for comparing the merits of FM, DAB and Internet radio.

Living in BD10 I'm less than 1 km away from the Idle transmitter - which as well as occasionally broadcasting me on 106.6FM (when I'm volunteering at BCB), also carries quite a lot of other FM, as well as the BBC, Digital One and Yorkshire DAB mux's. I can also receive the Leeds mux from Beecroft Hill and even the Bradford mux makes it reliably over Baildon Moor from the Keighley transmitter - despite the pessimistic predictions of most coverage maps!

I've done a lot of listening and comparing and also been talking to people at work about their experiences of DAB, especially in their cars.

The result - shock horror - it's not all that bad! In fact, it's actually quite good.

Comparing FM broadcasts with the equivalent DAB streams (most of which are carried at 128Kbps) shows that the quality is comparable and in many cases, better - Classic FM (despite dropping to 128Kbps) and the BBC stations are worthy of particular praise - maybe there's an issue with their FM broadcasts from Idle, but DAB is definitely better.

The number and choice of stations is great too. Maybe I'm lucky living in West Yorkshire where coverage is good, but the thing is I CAN see the point of DAB. I'm not advocating we should turn of FM anytime soon - but it is progress.

People were predicting the end of the world as we know it when analogue TV was switched off - but guess what, it was a success.

I think ultimately the same will be true of radio. The process will take longer, but it will happen and it needs to happen.

Don't get me wrong, I think it's great that there are people who get so passionate about analogue and who can argue about the benefits and merits of different technical solutions - I spend may hours doing that myself. We need people like that.

But... for the vast majority, DAB works and just about everybody who I talk to about their "overall experience" is supportive. That is what matters.

Yes, DAB+ would be great, maybe DRM would've been a good idea... but we are where we are. Pragmatism is the order of the day.

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Michael S's 7 posts GB flag
8:41 AM

In Gloucestershire Cotswolds and Forest of dean have poor or no Dab just like Mobile phone coverage or they suggest a huge aerial on the roof. I suspect a computer predictions of 98% in a few years and they were covered turn it off !

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Mark's 9 posts GB flag
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