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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

Wednesday, 28 August 2013
8:47 AM

I find it quite amazing saying digital Tv was a.success. Interference from cars poor signal breaking up out of sync when it rains and snows you lose loads of channels. Yes we have had engineers in" it just the distance they say "50 miles.

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Mark's 9 posts GB flag
Bob Huckin
10:39 AM

I've always embraced DAB technology at home and now have six DAB receivers around the house, plus an in-car adaptor which works perfectly.
However, the car adaptor (and any other car DAB system) falls down with signals from local muxes, once I leave an area.
I'll explain. I listen to Gold. On DAB in Nottingham it's perfect. But once I leave the city boundary, on DAB.- it's gone. On medium wave however, it stays with me for miles and miles. And I have MW presets which at the touch of a button and a bit of pre tuning, give me Gold wherever I go.
So a local station on DAB in a car is a non starter if you're not staying local. That's why I still listen to medium wave.

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Bob Huckin's 9 posts GB flag
Michael S
11:39 AM

It's true that local DAB coverage can be an issue when travelling outside the area... hopefully this will improve as time goes on.

For example, in West Yorkshire, the Leeds mux was recently added to Emley Moor - massively boosting coverage to the point where it almost certainly beats FM for all of the stations carried, even BBC Radio Leeds. We can only hope that this process continues.

In the meantime, fallback to FM and MW will be required. I suppose that some people will tolerate the hiss and dropouts from distant local analogue transmissions as they travel away from their local area - something that just isn't possible with DAB.

Of course in some cases the coverage argument works the other way... I'm a regular listener to Real Radio Yorkshire that becomes too bad to listen to on FM much past York when heading East. However, it is carried on the Yorkshire DAB mux which has much better coverage. That said, I think the Yorkshire mux is being switched off next year!

One step forward.... :)

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Michael S's 7 posts GB flag
Nicholas Willmott

12:13 PM

If they switch off analogue radio on the VHF/FM band 88 to 108 MHz, could that same band be re-used for DAB muxes? Obviously DAB receivers would then have to be made capable of tuning in the 88 to 108 MHz range as well as the range currently used for DAB.

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Nicholas Willmott's 80 posts GB flag

4:05 PM

Nicholas Willmott: There are no plans to do so, FM is going to be used for community radio low power stations.

You are correct, most DAB radio only look for signals in "Band III"

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Briantist's 38,915 posts GB flag
Nicholas Willmott

5:24 PM

Do any DAB radios tune in the 88 to 108 MHz range?

How about this idea to re-use various bands:
1) Switch off all analogue transmissions on 88 to 108 MHz.
2) Move all the DAB muxes from the current band III range into the current 88 to 108 MHz range. Obviously this move will render most DAB radios obsolete. Still they could take advantage and transmit using DAB+ instead of DAB in the 88 to 108 MHz as everyone is forced to replace their digital radios.
3) Put 4G LTE in the band III space currently used for DAB - it would then be well away from the range used for DTT.
4) That would allow the 800 MHz band (UHF channels 61 to 68) to be used for DTT. They could then ensure that every UK transmitter has 4 muxes as follows: BBCA - old BBC1 analogue frequency, BBCB - old BBC2 analogue frequency, D3&4 old ITV frequency and SDN old C4/S4C frequency. Arq A, Arq B and perhaps an extra mux could perhaps be slotted in at the current 80 "full Freeview" sites.

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Nicholas Willmott's 80 posts GB flag

5:47 PM

Nicholas Willmott:

The propagation of signals in the 800 MHz range makes them very suitable for LTE. They provide a good range of service from the transmitter and also penetrate buildings very well. We have already seen how poor the EE 1800 MHz 4G service performs indoors.

The services in many cities will start by the end of this year.

LTE isn't designed to work at lower then 700MHz - E-UTRA - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The plan at the moment is to remove the 700MHz band from DTT as well. This is going to require a wholesale change in the transmitter frequencies over the whole of the UK, in about 2019. More at Ofcom annual plan: 600MHz band for Freeview HD, potential release of 700 MHz | About us | - 11 years of independent, free digital TV advice .

See Ofcom channel bingo II - introducing the bands | 4G-at-800 | - 11 years of independent, free digital TV advice

The commercial multiplex operators themselves have no desire to transmit from any more masts as this would cause them considerable expense to cover a very small number of extra viewers.

The UK has chosen not to use DAB+ due to the considerable penetration of DAB only devices in use. It might be that DAB+ is used in the future - for a second national multiplex - when there is sufficient market penetration of devices.

The size of the EU as a single market means that the UK has to co-ordinate the use of frequencies so manufacturers can make devices that will work everywhere.

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Briantist's 38,915 posts GB flag

6:10 PM

@ Jamie

"not a fan of the removal of DAB Regional such as Severn Estuary (South Wales & W of England) Mux in favor of such as extra local Muxs so likes of Heart and Capital can clog the airwaves with only about 5 hours of local content for Breakfast and Afternoon Rush Hour."

The closure of the Severn Estuary regional mux has resulted in improved coverage for Radio Wales & Radio Cymru. These are vital Welsh radio services which would not have reached the whole of SE Wales if the regional mux had not been switched off, as the local mux was previously sharing a frequency with Swindon & South Devon.

The frequency reallocation was essential to allow the local mux (including BBC Wales/Cymru) to reach the Vale of Glamorgan and Monmouthshire. It's nothing to do with Heart & Capital.

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Mark's 181 posts GB flag

7:56 PM

The question at the top was "....amplitude- and frequency- modulation - and to wonder why anyone is still using it." Because I can only receive local BBC on MW, and because I like to listen to more distant stations; and because I can listen anywhere in or around the house on a cheap-to-run very portable battery radio. There can be a bit of crackle, but no annoying warbling, drop-outs or swishing. DAB is unlikely to equal this anytime soon... Analog radios rarely fail, but can be easily serviced. (I have a BSc in computing and use AM, FM, SSB, DAB, webradio etc.) 4G will ultimately offer technical solutions, but at considerable cost to the consumer. AM costs almost nothing.

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michael's 872 posts GB flag

8:34 PM

In addition to what Michael (above) says, digital transmission is more energy expensive and involves a significant delay.
A digital transmitter consumes more electrical energy to operate to give the same coverage area. Likewise, a digital receiver uses more electrical energy to power the more complex signal processing circuitry required to produce sound and/or vision.
The delay comes about because of the need to convert analogue signals from microphones into a digital format by sampling, then delaying the vision signal produced by a CCD camera so the sound and vision are 'in sync' with each other. Plus there is a propagation delay in the system bringing the signals to your local transmitter and finally in the preparation of that signal for final transmission. The delay can be detected by listening to the 'pips' on Radio 4 at 8 AM, on a DAB or Freeview tuned to R4 the delay is about 4-5 seconds. The VHF FM transmission is the more accurate but even that has a small delay (less than 1 second usually).
4G is only about mobile communications, but some manufacturer(s) just may find a market for other equipments for use in the home, in a similar way to the market for Internet 'Radios' that do not use RF transmission at all.

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MikeP's 3,056 posts GB flag
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