The BBC Home Service was a British national radio station that broadcast from 1939 until 1967, when it was replaced by BBC Radio 4.
Between the 1920s and the outbreak of the Second World War, the BBC developed two nationwide radio services, the BBC National Programme and the BBC Regional Programme. As well as a basic service programmed from London, the Regional Programme included programming originating in six regions. Although the programme items attracting the greatest number of listeners tended to appear on the National, the two services were not streamed: they were each designed to appeal “across the board” to a single, but variegated, audience by offering between them and at most times of the day a choice of programme type, rather than simply catering, each of them exclusively, to two distinct audiences.
Second World War
On 1 September 1939, the BBC merged the two programmes into one national service from London. The reasons given included the need to prevent enemy aircraft from using differentiated output from the Regional Programme’s transmitters as navigational beacons. To this end, the former regional transmitters were synchronised in chains on (initially) two frequencies, 668 (South) and 767 kHz (North), with an additional chain of low-powered transmitters (known as “Group H”) on 1474 kHz appearing later. Under this arrangement regional broadcasting in its pre-war form was no longer feasible, but much of the programming was gradually decentralised to the former regional studios because of the risks from enemy attack/bombing/invasion in London, and broadcast nationally.
The new service was named the Home Service, which was also the internal designation at the BBC for domestic radio broadcasting (the organisation had also had Television Service and Overseas Service departments).
During the war, the BBC Home Service would air each day from 7.00am in the morning until a quarter past midnight, with main news bulletins airing at 7.00am, 8.00am, 1.00pm, 6.00pm, 9.00pm and Midnight.
On 29 July 1945, the BBC resumed its previous regional structure, though true regional radio stations would not return till the 1970s, and began “streaming”[clarification needed] its radio services. Following the wartime success of the Forces and General Forces Programmes, light entertainment was transferred to the new BBC Light Programme, whilst “heavier” programming – news, drama, discussion, etc – remained on the regionalised Home Service.
Popular light programming, such as ITMA, remained on the Home Service, and some speech programming of the type pioneered by the Forces Programmes – the newly launched Woman’s Hour being very much in this mould – was on the Light Programme.
Once war was over, the BBC Home Service adjusted its broadcasting hours, now commencing at 6.25am each weekday and at 7.50am on Sundays. The broadcasting day would end around 11.10pm each night. By 1964 the Home Service was on the air each day from 6.35am (7.50am on Sundays) and would conclude each night at the precise time of 11.48pm.
The Home Service had seven regions. London and South East England was served by the “basic” Home Service, which was not considered a region by the BBC and acted as the sustaining service for the other regions.
A shortage of frequencies meant that the Northern Ireland Regional Home Service was treated as part of the North Regional Home Service, as the Northern Ireland service used the same frequency as a North service booster. The Northern Ireland service was separated from the North region on 7 January 1963.
During the day, the Service included programmes of classical music. These were reduced in number when government limits on radio broadcasting hours were relaxed in 1964 and the BBC Music Programme began broadcasting during the daytime on the frequencies of the (evening-only) Third Programme. They disappeared when the Music Programme began regular 0700–1830 broadcasting daily on 22 March 1965.
The Service broadcast educational programmes for schools during the day, backed with booklets and support material.
Programmes were reorganised across the three BBC networks on 30 September 1957, with much of the Service’s lighter content transferring to the Light Programme and the establishment of the BBC Third Network, which used the frequencies of the Third Programme to carry the Service’s adult education content (BBC Study Session) and the Home and Light’s sports coverage (BBC Sports Service) as well as the Third Programme itself.
BBC Radio 4
On 30 September 1967, the BBC split the Light Programme into a pop music service and an entertainment network. The Light Programme became BBC Radio 1 and BBC Radio 2. The BBC Third Programme became BBC Radio 3, with the Music Programme losing its separate identity (the Third Programme, Study Session, and Sports Service retained their identities under the banner of BBC Network Three until 4 April 1970). The Home Service was renamed BBC Radio 4.
Regional radio legacy
Initially, Radio 4 continued to provide for regional programming and scheduling, and the BBC’s programme journal Radio Times listed the channel’s offerings under the heading “BBC Radio Four – Home Service”, with particular reference to the seven broadcasting regions: London, Midland, North, Northern Ireland, Scottish, Welsh, and West.
“Broadcasting in the Seventies”
With the introduction of BBC Local Radio, starting with BBC Radio Leicester on 8 November 1967, it was felt that the future of non-national broadcasting lay in local rather than regional services. The BBC produced a report, “Broadcasting in the Seventies”, on 10 July 1969, proposing the reorganisation of programmes on the national networks and the end of regional broadcasting.
The report began to be implemented on 4 April 1970 and the Home Service regions gradually disappeared, with some of their frequencies reallocated to Independent Local Radio, until 23 November 1978 when Radio 4 was given the national longwave frequency previously used by Radio 2 and was relaunched as Radio 4 UK, with two additional longwave transmitters opened in Scotland.
The “national regions” became BBC Radio Scotland, BBC Radio Wales / BBC Radio Cymru and BBC Radio Ulster, at first relaying the majority of Radio 4 programming but later becoming completely independent.
East Anglia region
During the 1970s Radio 4 FM in the East of England (Tacolneston, Peterborough and relays) carried a breakfast magazine programme, Roundabout East Anglia, the region lacking any BBC Local Radio. The service closed in mid 1980, ahead of the opening of BBC Radio Norfolk.
South West region
The last Regional Home Service was an FM opt-out of Radio 4 for Devon and Cornwall as the “South West Region”. Morning Sou’West was also carried on several low power medium-wave transmitters. The programme ended on 31 December 1982, ahead of the launch of BBC Radio Cornwall and BBC Radio Devon on 17 January 1983.
English regional news bulletins
Radio 4 FM continued to carry four daily five-minute regional news bulletins on Mondays to Saturdays until mid-1980, by which time BBC Local Radio had reached most areas of England. The wide coverage of the Holme Moss transmitter meant that listeners in much of Northern England received combined North and North-West news.