BBC Radio four

BBC Radio 4
BBC Radio 4 logo
Broadcast area United Kingdom
Frequency FM: 92.5–96.1 MHz, 103.5–104.9 MHz
LW: 198 kHz
MW: 603 kHz, 720 kHz, 774 kHz, 756 kHz, 1449 kHz, 1485 kHz
DAB: 12B
Freesat: 704 (FM), 710 (LW)
Freeview: 704 (FM)
Sky (UK only): 0104 (FM), 0143 (LW)
Virgin Media: 904 (FM), 911 (LW)
UPC Ireland: 910 (FM)
Various frequencies on analogue cable
First air date 30 September 1967 (1967-09-30)
Format News, talk, and drama
Language(s) English
Audience share 12.1% (June 2013, Quarterly Listening)
Former callsigns BBC Home Service
Owner BBC
Sister stations BBC Radio 4 Extra
Webcast Stream URL (eAAC+) (LW service)

BBC Radio 4 is a British radio station, owned and operated by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), that broadcasts a wide variety of spoken-word programmes, including news, drama, comedy, science and history. It replaced the BBC Home Service in 1967.[1] The station controller is Gwyneth Williams, and the station is part of BBC Radio and the BBC Audio & Music department. The station is broadcast from the BBC's headquarters at Broadcasting House, London.

BBC Radio 4 is the second most popular domestic radio station in the UK, and is broadcast throughout the United Kingdom, Isle of Man and Channel Islands on FM, LW and DAB, and can be received in the north of France and Northern Europe as well. In addition, the station is also available through Freeview, Sky, Virgin Media, and on the Internet. Radio 4's sister station, BBC Radio 4 Extra (formerly known as BBC 7), complements the main channel by broadcasting repeats from the Radio 4 archive, extended versions of Radio 4 programmes and supplements to series such as The Archers and Desert Island Discs.

BBC Radio 4 is notable for its consistent news bulletins and programmes such as Today and The World at One, which are heralded on air by the Greenwich Time Signal "pips" or the chimes of Big Ben.


Radio 4 is the second most popular British domestic radio station by total hours,[2] after Radio 2 – and the most popular in London and the South of England. The station recorded its highest ever audience of 11 million listeners in May 2011[3] and was named "UK Radio Station of the Year" at the 2003, 2004 and 2008 Sony Radio Academy Awards.[4][5] Costing £71.4 million (2005/6),[6] it is the BBC's most expensive national radio network and is considered by many to be the corporation's flagship. There is no comparable British commercial network 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.[7]

In 2010, Gwyneth Williams[8] replaced Mark Damazer as Radio 4 controller. Damazer then became Master of St Peter's College, Oxford.[9]

Music and sport are the only fields that largely fall outside the station's remit. However the channel does broadcast occasional concerts, documentaries related to various forms of both popular and classical music, as well as the long-running music-based programme Desert Island Discs. In addition, prior to the creation of BBC Radio 5, the station broadcast several sports-based features, most notably Sport on Four and since the creation of BBC Radio 5 Live has become the home of ball-by-ball commentaries of most test cricket matches played by England, which are broadcast on long wave. As a result, for around 70 days a year, listeners have to rely on FM broadcasts or increasingly DAB for mainstream Radio 4 broadcasts. 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 Shipping Forecast. Radio 4 has carried these regular weather forecasts for shipping and gale warnings since its move to the Long Wave frequency in 1978 because the long-wave service can be received clearly at sea around the coasts of Britain and Ireland.[10] The station has also been designated as the UK's national broadcaster in times of national emergency such as war due to the wide coverage of the Droitwich signal: if all other radio stations were forced to close, Radio 4 would carry on broadcasting.[7] It has been claimed that Radio 4 had an additional role during the Cold War: the commanders of nuclear-armed submarines believing that Britain had suffered nuclear attack were required to check if they could still receive Radio 4 on 198 longwave, and if they could not they would open sealed orders which may authorise a retaliatory strike.[11][12]

As well as news and drama, and despite a reputation for being middle class and London centric,[13] Radio 4 also has a strong reputation for comedy, including experimental and alternative comedy, many successful comedians and comedy shows first appearing on the station.

The station is available on FM (in most of Great Britain, parts of Ireland and the North of France), LW (throughout the United Kingdom and in parts of Northern Europe, and the Atlantic north of the Azores to about 20 degrees west), 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,[1] 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 in 1978 as a result of international agreements aimed at avoiding interference.

For a time during the 1970s Radio 4 still carried some regional variations for parts of England not served by BBC Local Radio stations. These included Roundabout East Anglia, a VHF opt-out of the Today programme broadcast from BBC East's studios in Norwich each weekday morning from 6.45 am to 8.45 am.[14] Roundabout East Anglia came to an end in 1980, when local radio services were introduced to East Anglia with the launch of BBC Radio Norfolk.[14]

Until 1990 Radio 4's VHF/FM frequencies broadcast Open University, schools programming and the "Study on 4" adult education slot at various times of the day because until the 1990s, Radio 4 was not available on FM in much of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The launch of Radio 5 in September 1990 saw the removal of all three strands to the new station resulting, for the first time, in the full Radio 4 schedule being available on FM. However, 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", again with the main Radio 4 service being exclusively on long wave. In September 1991 bosses decided that the main Radio 4 service would be on FM as FM coverage had by now been extended to cover almost all of the UK. At this point, opt-outs were transferred to long wave, which are currently Test Match Special, extra shipping forecasts, The Daily Service and Yesterday in Parliament. Long wave also very occasionally opts out at other times, such as to broadcast special services, the most recent being when the Pope visited Britain in 2010.

Radio 4's longwave signal is part of the Royal Navy's system of Last Resort Letters. In the event of a suspected catastrophic attack on Britain, submarine commanders, in addition to carrying out other checks, would check for a broadcast signal from Radio 4 on 198 longwave to verify the annihilation of organised society in Great Britain.[15]

Programmes and schedules

Daily schedule

The night-time simulcast from the BBC World Service begins at 01:00 and 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 28 years until April 2006. It was replaced by an extension to the early news bulletin,[16][17] despite some public opposition[18] and a campaign to save it.[19] 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 2:00 pm, followed by the Afternoon Play at 2.15 pm. At 5:00 pm another current affairs programme, PM, is broadcast. At 6:30 pm there is a regular comedy 'slot', followed by The Archers and Front Row . 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 Greenwich Time Signal[20] on the hour (known as 'crashing the pips') is frowned upon.

An online schedule page lists the running order of programmes.[21]


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 Broadcasting House as well as 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, which by early 2013 had returned to Broadcasting House after 15 years at BBC Television Centre in White City.[22]

The Time Signal, known as 'the pips', is broadcast every hour to herald the news bulletin, except at midnight and 6 pm, where the chimes of Big Ben are played instead.


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[23] and via BBC iPlayer. A selection of programmes is also available as podcasts or downloadable audio files.[24] Many comedy and drama programmes from the Radio 4 archives are rebroadcast on BBC Radio 4 Extra (formerly 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.[25][26]

Main newsreaders/continuity announcers

In 2012 the BBC announced that they'd be reducing their main presentation team down from twelve to ten.[27] The following ten are primarily newsreaders (including reading the bulletins on Radio 4's flagship Today programme) but also contribute to much of the station's continuity output:

Newsreaders (non-Today programme)/continuity announcers

Continuity announcers

Former staff

Frequencies and other means of reception

Radio 4 is broadcast on:[28]


There have been criticisms voiced by newspapers in recent years over a perceived liberal bias at Radio 4 across a range of issues such as the EU and the Iraq War,[32][33][34][35] as well as sycophancy in interviews, particularly on the popular morning news magazine Today[36][37] as part of a reported perception of a general "malaise" at the BBC. Conversely, the journalist Mehdi Hasan, has criticised the station for an overtly "socially and culturally conservative" approach.[38]

See also


Further reading

  • (subscription required)

External links

  • BBC Online

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