Friday, 28 January 2011

From the North

The early history of the BBC synonymous with the development of regional radio broadcasting. The first broadcasts came from stations in London (with the call sign 2LO), Manchester (2ZY), Birmingham (5IT), Glasgow (5SC), Cardiff (5WA), and Newcastle (5NO).
In the early 20s each station would broadcast it’s own programmes and news bulletins and share others, thus forming an early national network.

Writing in the first issue of the Radio Times (“The Official Organ of the BBC”) in September 1923 Arthur Burrows, Director of Programmes, explained how this “simultaneous broadcasting” would work:

By such a process, it could easily be arranged for London alone to provide all the wireless entertainment for Great Britain, but such a scheme would meet with early disaster. These islands of ours contain…various well-defined areas in which the majority of the people have distinct tastes in music and other forms of entertainment. It was in recognition of this fact that certain provincial stations were opened, and for the maintenance of programmes catering for local tastes they will continue to be employed. In the future their supporters will have this local fare garnished with the tit-bits from other centres of art and music.

This patchwork continued until just before the outbreak of World War II when the BBC merged the National and Regional Programmes into one ‘Home Service’. After the war the new regionalised Home Service continued alongside the Light Programme, which started in July 1945.

The regional centres continued to provide some of their own opt-out programmes as well as commissioning what would become long-running series for the national service. The best known of these is, of course The Archers from the Midland Service.

This pattern of having different Home Services depending where you lived continued in the 1960s though by then most of the differences where in news and sports programmes and the odd musical interlude. Listeners in Scotland would hear the Scottish Variety Orchestra whilst those in the North would hear the Northern Dance Orchestra for example.

When the Home Service became Radio 4 in September 1967 it continued to refer to itself both on-air and in the Radio Times as “Radio 4 – The Home Service”. In part this was also for technical reasons; Radio 4 was broadcast on the medium wave through a series of transmitters each with a limited footprint. For this reason the BBC regions tended to follow the reach of the transmitters rather then any geographical or political boundaries.  

Following the reshuffle of wavelengths in November 1978 Radio 4 was now on 1500m long wave and was able to call itself Radio 4 UK. The first round of BBC local radio stations had now all opened (from Radio Leicester in 1967 to Radio Carlisle in 1973) so the need for regional news opt-outs was increasingly unnecessary. By the mid 70s only the South West (Morning Sou’West) and East Anglia (This is East Anglia) regions carried alternatives to the ‘Today’ programme as local radio had been yet reached those areas. By now the BBC studios in Birmingham, Manchester and Bristol had become Network Production Centres rather than regional HQ.

With a tight licence fee settlement the BBC was forced to make cutbacks in 1980 and this included the remaining regional news bulletins. Which brings me, after all this historic preamble, to the audio offering for this post.

This is the last ever regional news bulletin from Manchester as read by Dorina Brown on Friday 12 September. Broadcast from the same studio in Piccadilly that Ray Moore had started his BBC career it brought the curtain down on the regional Home Service from “the North” and the studios themselves closed the following year.

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