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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

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In this section
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Wednesday, 28 August 2013
8:48 PM

I have 9 FM radios, some integrated with other devices such as amplifiers cd/tape players. I know people with more. All this perfectly working equipment, carefully chosen and with many more years life left, will have to be dumped if and when FM is withdrawn. Surely it doesn't take a lot of imagination to see why "anyone is still using it". (I have one DAB radio.)
Has anyone worked out the total tonnage of unnecessarily scrapped equipment if FM is withdrawn in the next 5 years or so? Or how green that is?
DAB should be able to make its own way in the market place. If it's good enough it will displace FM naturally - the slow uptake possibly speaks for itself.

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John's 3 posts GB flag

10:41 PM

John: I remember that there was a similarly slow take up of VHF/FM when that was introduced. Transmissions began in the Southeast in 1955, with stereo on the Third program from 1962. It was really the introduction of BBC local radio on VHF that generated some interest among listeners, but even so, medium wave transmitters were added later to give mass coverage as so few people were able to listen to the FM services. It was really the the addition of FM to Radio1 in the late 1980s and the switch off of Radio1/2/3 from medium wave in 1994 that pushed listeners over to predominantly FM usage.

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KMJ,Derby's 1,811 posts GB flag

10:56 PM

Slight correction to the dates mentioned, as Radio 2 lost its medium wave in 1990 to Radio5, this became 5 live in 1994. Radio 3 went FM only in 1992 - as mentioned in the article above.

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KMJ,Derby's 1,811 posts GB flag

11:21 PM

John : Having so many radios... reminds me of ...

As I recall, the average number of radios in a UK household is 1.9.

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Briantist's 38,915 posts GB flag
Thursday, 29 August 2013

1:16 AM

Prior to November 1978, Radio 2 was on MW in central Scotland on 202 metres.

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PJH's 240 posts GB flag

1:23 AM

Northern Ireland was an interesting case with Radio 3 medium wave.

Up until March 1976 Radio 3 broadcast from a low power transmitter in Belfast, initially on 192 metres but than 464 metres from around 1972 or so (when commercial radio started).

When BBC Radio ulster began in March 1976, this was used for BBC Radio 4 MW, which meant that NI had no MW outlet for Radio 3 for several years until the construction of a new 10 kw transmitter at Lisnagarvey in November 1978.

Strangely reception from the Radio 3 transmitter at Daventry wasn't too bad, even during daylight hours.

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PJH's 240 posts GB flag
john martin

9:35 AM

michael: Trouble is once sales of something dry up
The makers of this equipment will always come out with something new and advertise as something we cannot do with out. Not something we always need but if we package it right the young especially must have it.

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john martin's 103 posts GB flag
john's: mapJ's Freeview map terrainJ's terrain plot wavesJ's frequency data J's Freeview Detailed Coverage

3:02 PM

john martin: The reality is that there are still lots of analouge radios available for sale, and every DAB radio I've ever seen has FM as well. If manufacturers really wanted to sell us something new, their best plan would be to kill off FM radios totally, thus forcing us to buy DAB radios.

Yet that has not happened, and in fact there are surprising amounts of SW/MW/AM radios still being made.

Packaging has nothing to do with it - you get more channels with DAB, and other features, and if you want FM, its there.

Increasingly, we use mobiles (3/4G), internet, etc to listen, not just FM/DAB - my own main radio in the kitchen has internet, DAB and FM, and can stream from my own network, or I can use my Ipod. None of these is because of trying to flog me something new, its just features which are useful.

FM has life in it while enough people use it, and its the market which will ultimately decide.

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MikeB's 2,579 posts GB flag
Friday, 30 August 2013

1:09 AM

DAB or no DAB, there's a certain magic in receiving a distant AM station for the first time that you've never heard before. .

Listening in digital quality on an internet radio is great, but it's just not the same.

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PJH's 240 posts GB flag
Sunday, 1 September 2013
MJ Ray

1:41 AM

Nicholas Willmott: I'm another like Michael. I'm in what should be an easy area to cover, yet I only get local BBC radio clearly on MW from West Lynn. The FM transmitter at Great Massingham only offers "fringe" reception to the West of the county and even when the local DAB Mux is rolled out here, there's going to be gaps including the main towns, as the main concern seems to be "don't interfere with Leicestershire" rather than "cover West Norfolk"!

I expect we'll be part of the 2% not covered at switchover, same as we have patchy TV and FM coverage too. Less than 100 miles from London, but a big broadcast notspot. Quite a lot of satellite dishes around here!

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MJ Ray's 44 posts GB flag
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