BBC Radio 4

BBC Radio 4

British national radio station

BBC Radio 4 is a British national radio station owned and operated by the BBC.[1] The station replaced the BBC Home Service on 30 September 1967 and broadcasts a wide variety of spoken-word programmes from the BBC's headquarters at Broadcasting House, London. Since 2019, the station controller has been Mohit Bakaya.[2] He replaced Gwyneth Williams, who had been the station controller since 2010.[2][3]

Quick Facts Broadcast area, Frequencies ...

Broadcasting throughout the United Kingdom, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands on FM, LW and DAB, and on BBC Sounds,[4] it can be received in the eastern counties of Ireland, northern France and Northern Europe. It is available on Freeview, Sky, and Virgin Media. Radio 4 currently reaches over 10 million listeners, making it the UK's second most-popular radio station after Radio 2.[5]

BBC Radio 4 broadcasts news programmes such as Today and The World at One, heralded on air by the Greenwich Time Signal pips or the chimes of Big Ben. The pips are only accurate on FM, and LW; there is a delay on digital radio of three to five seconds and online up to twenty-three seconds. Radio 4 broadcasts the Shipping Forecast which, in August 2017, was 150 years old.[6]

According to RAJAR, the station broadcasts to a weekly audience of 9.1 million with a listening share of 11% as of December 2023.[7]


BBC Radio 4 is the second-most-popular British domestic radio station by total hours,[8] after Radio 2. It recorded its highest audience, of 11 million listeners, in May 2011,[9] and was "UK Radio Station of the Year" at the 2003, 2004, 2008 and 2023 Radio Academy Awards.[10][11] It also won a Peabody Award in 2002 for File on 4: Export Controls.[12] Costing £71.4 million (2005/6),[13] it is the BBC's most expensive national radio network and is considered by many to be its flagship. There is no comparable British commercial network: Channel 4 abandoned plans to launch its own speech-based digital radio station in October 2008 as part of a £100m cost cutting review.[14]

The station is available on FM in most of Great Britain, parts of Ireland and the north of France; LW throughout the UK and in parts of Northern Europe, and the Atlantic north of the Azores to about 20 degrees west; DAB; Digital TV including Freeview, Freesat, Sky and Virgin Media, and on the Internet. Freesat, Sky and Virgin have a separate channel for Radio 4 LW output in mono, in addition to the FM output.

The longwave signal is part of the Royal Navy's system of letters of last resort. In the event of a suspected catastrophic attack on Britain, submarine captains, in addition to other checks, check for a broadcast signal from Radio 4 on 198 longwave to verify the annihilation of organised society in Great Britain.[15][16][17]

BBC Radio 4 broadcasts a wide variety of speech-related programming, including news, drama, comedy, science and history. Music is broadcast as in documentaries relating to various forms of both popular and classical music, and the long-running music-based Desert Island Discs. Sport is also not part of the station's output, apart from during news bulletins, although between 1994 and 2023, the station's long wave frequency was used to broadcast ball-by-ball commentaries of most Test cricket matches played by England. Consequently, for around 70 days a year, listeners had to rely on FM broadcasts or DAB for mainstream Radio 4 broadcasts – the number relying solely on long wave was now a small minority. The cricket broadcasts took precedence over on-the-hour news bulletins, but not the Shipping Forecast, carried since Radio 4's move to long wave in 1978 because long wave can be received clearly at sea.[18]


Logo of Radio 4 until 2007
Logo of Radio 4 used from 2007 until 2022

Initially the power was 100 watts on 350 metres (857 kHz). 2LO was allowed to transmit for seven minutes, after which the "operator" had to listen on the wavelength for three minutes for possible instructions to close down. On 14 November 1922 the station was transferred to the new British Broadcasting Company which in 1923 took up the nearby Savoy Hill for its broadcasting studios. At midnight on New Year's Eve 1923, the twelve chimes of Big Ben were broadcast for the first time to mark the new year.[19]

In 1927 the company became the British Broadcasting Corporation. On 9 March 1930 2LO was replaced by the BBC Regional Programme and the BBC National Programme. The letters LO continued to be used internally as a designation in the BBC for technical operations in the London area (for example, the numbering of all recordings made in London contained LO). The code LO was changed to LN in the early 1970s.

When the British Broadcasting Company first began transmissions on 14 November 1922 from station 2LO in the Strand, which it had inherited from the Marconi Company (one of six commercial companies which created), but technology did not yet exist either for national coverage or joint programming between transmitters. Whilst it was possible to combine large numbers of trunk telephone lines to link transmitters for individual programmes, the process was expensive and not encouraged by the General Post Office as it tied up large parts of the telephone network. The stations that followed the establishment of 2LO in London were therefore autonomously programmed using local talent and facilities.

By May 1923, simultaneous broadcasting was technically possible at least between main transmitters and relay stations, the quality was not felt to be high enough to provide a national service or regular simultaneous broadcasts. In 1924, it was felt that technical standards had improved enough for London to start to provide the majority of the output, cutting the local stations back to providing items of local interest.

Main stations

Each of these main stations were broadcast at approximately 1 kilowatt (kW):

More information Airdate, Station ID ...

Relay stations

Each of these relay stations were broadcast at approximately 120 watts (W):

More information Airdate, Station ID ...

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. Radio 4 replaced it on 30 September 1967, when the BBC restructured and renamed its domestic radio stations,[1] in response to the challenge of offshore radio. It moved to long wave in November 1978, taking over the 200 kHz frequency (1,500 metres) previously held by Radio 2 - later moved to 198 kHz as a result of international agreements aimed at avoiding interference (all ITU Region 1 MW/LW broadcast frequencies are divisible by 9). At this point, Radio 4 became available across all of the UK for the first time and the station officially became known as Radio 4 UK, a title that remained until 29 September 1984.

For a time during the 1970s Radio 4 carried regional news bulletins Monday to Saturday. These were broadcast twice at breakfast, at lunchtime and at 17:55. There were also programme variations for the 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 from 6.45 a.m. to 8.45 a.m.[20] Roundabout East Anglia came to an end in August 1980, ahead of the launch of BBC Radio Norfolk.[20]

All regional news bulletins broadcast from BBC regional news bases around England ended in August 1980, apart from in the southwest as until January 1983 there was no BBC Local Radio in the southwest so these news bulletins and its weekday morning regional programme, Morning Sou'West, continued to be broadcast from the BBC studios in Plymouth on VHF and on the Radio 4 medium wave Plymouth relay until 31 December 1982.

The launch of Radio 5 on 27 August 1990 saw the removal of Open University, schools programming, children's programmes and the Study on 4/Options adult education slot from Radio 4's FM frequencies. Consequently, the full Radio 4 schedule became available on FM for the first time. However, adult educational and Open University programming returned to Radio 4 in 1994 when Radio 5 was closed to make way for the launch of BBC Radio 5 Live and were broadcast until the end of the 1990s on Sunday evenings on longwave only.

Between 17 January 1991 and 2 March 1991 FM broadcasts were replaced by a continuous news service devoted to the Gulf War, Radio 4 News FM, with the main Radio 4 service transferring to long wave. Before this, Radio 4's FM frequencies had occasionally been used for additional news coverage, generally for live coverage of statements and debates in Parliament.

By the start of the 1990s, Radio 4 had become available on FM in most of the UK - previously FM coverage had been restricted mainly to England and south Wales. This meant that it was possible for the main Radio 4 service to be transferred from LW to FM, and this took place on 16 September 1991 with opt-outs - extra shipping forecasts, Daily Service and Yesterday in Parliament, joined in 1994 by Test Match Special. Longwave also occasionally opted out at other times, such as to broadcast special services, the most recent being when Pope Benedict XVI visited Britain in 2010.

On 30 May 2023, the BBC announced that Radio 4 will stop broadcasting opt-outs on long wave[21] with the last opt-outs airing on 31 March 2024.[22] The two displaced programmes, Daily Service and Yesterday in Parliament move to BBC Radio 4 Extra. These end ahead of a planned switch-off of long wave transmissions by 2025.[23]

BBC Radio 4's mediumwave frequencies were switched off on 15 April 2024. Most were turned off at 12:27 PM BST, following an endless loop informing listeners to retune to other methods of reception.[24][25] These relays were used in areas with a weak LW signal to provide reception of BBC Radio 4 LW, such as Northern Ireland and south west England. The final transmitter to be switched off was the transmitter in Plymouth on 774 kHz which fell silent at 4:59 PM BST.[26]

Programmes and schedules

Daily schedule

An online schedule page lists the running order of programmes.[27]


The station broadcasts a mix of live and pre-recorded programmes. Live programming includes 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 managed from Broadcasting House with 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.[28] The news returning to Broadcasting House has also meant that newsreaders can provide cover for continuity, which regularly occurs at 23:00 each night and 16:00 on a Sunday. This has reduced the total number of continuity announcers required each day down from four to three.

The Greenwich Time Signal, popularly known as "the pips", is broadcast every hour to herald the news bulletin, except at midnight and 18:00, and 22:00 on Sunday, when the chimes of Big Ben are played. There is no Greenwich Time Signal at 15:00 on Saturday or 11:00 and 12:00 on Sunday due to the Saturday Afternoon drama and the omnibus edition of The Archers respectively. Only pips broadcast on FM and LW are accurate. On digital platforms there is a delay of between three and five seconds, and up to 23 seconds online.


Radio 4 programmes cover a wide variety of genre including news and current affairs, history, culture, science, religion, arts, drama and light entertainment. A number of the programmes on Radio 4 take the form of a "magazine" show, featuring numerous small contributions over the course of the programme—Woman's Hour, From Our Own Correspondent, You and Yours. The rise of these magazine shows is primarily due to the work of Tony Whitby, controller of Radio 4 from 1970 to 1975.[29] The station hosts a number of long-running programmes, many of which have been broadcast for over 40 years.

Most programmes are available for four weeks after broadcast as streaming audio from Radio 4's listen again page[30] and via BBC Sounds. A selection of programmes is also available as podcasts or downloadable audio files.[31] Many comedy and drama programmes from the Radio 4 archives are broadcast on BBC Radio 4 Extra. Due to the capacity limitations of DAB and increasing sport broadcasts on BBC Radio 5 Sports Extra, BBC Radio 4 DAB has to reduce its bit rate most evenings, such that after 7 p.m. its DAB output is usually in mono, even though many of its programmes are made in stereo (including its flagship drama "The Archers"), these can be heard in stereo only on FM, Digital TV on Freeview & Freesat (Ch. 704), Sky, Virgin and on line via BBC Sounds. BBC World Service, which uses BBC Radio 4 FM & DAB frequencies between 01:00 and 05:20, is in stereo, but only on Radio 4 FM & DAB and not on its own dedicated DAB channel. BBC Radio 4 Extra broadcasts in mono on DAB, but has always been in stereo on Digital TV (Freeview / Freesat Ch 708), Sky, Virgin and online.

Notable continuity announcers and newsreaders

Announcers carry out the following duties from Broadcasting House:

  • Provide links (or junctions) between programmes
  • Read trails for programmes
  • Provide reassurance to listeners during a programme breakdown
  • Read the Shipping Forecast (except the 05:20 broadcast, which is covered by BBC Weather)
  • Read the BBC Radio 3 news summaries at 13:00, 17:00 and 18:00 on weekdays

Newsreaders read hourly summaries and longer bulletins from New Broadcasting House.[32][33] In 2012 the BBC announced that it would be reducing its main presentation team from 12 to ten.[34]




Frequencies and other means of reception

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Former frequencies

More information Broadcast type, Recent frequencies ...


Criticism voiced by centre-right newspapers in recent years have a perceived left political bias across a range of issues,[39][40][41] as well as sycophancy in interviews, particularly on the popular morning news magazine Today[42] 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.[43]

There has been criticism of Today in particular for a lack of female broadcasters.[44] In September 1972, Radio 4 employed the first female continuity announcers—Hylda Bamber and Barbara Edwards. For quite some time, the introduction of female newsreaders led to complaints from listeners; women discussing topics of feminist interest led to similar complaints.[45] In addition, there has been long-running criticism by atheist and humanist groups of Thought for the Day, a slot dedicated exclusively to religious discussion during Radio 4's flagship morning news programme.[46][47][48]

Radio 4 has been criticised for being "too middle class" and of "little interest" to non-white listeners.[49][50]

See also


  1. "History of the BBC: 1960s" (PDF).
  2. "RAJAR". Retrieved 6 July 2022.
  3. "Radio 4's Shipping Forecast reaches 150-years-old". BBC News. Retrieved 24 August 2017.
  4. Guardian 12 May 2011 Retrieved 16 May 2011]
  5. "The Sony Radio Academy Awards: Winners 2004". Archived from the original on 6 October 2007. Retrieved 13 May 2004.
  6. "Sony Radio Academy Awards — Winners 2008". Archived from the original on 9 January 2009. Retrieved 19 March 2010.
  7. John Plunkett (10 October 2008). "Channel 4 has abandoned its entire radio project, as it seeks to make £100m in savings". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 19 March 2010.
  8. Rosenbaum, Ron (9 January 2009). "Nuclear apocalypse and the Letter of Last Resort". Slate Magazine. Retrieved 19 March 2010.
  9. BBC Press Office. "The Today Programme". BBC. Archived from the original on 25 May 2006. Retrieved 27 July 2010.
  10. "Met Office Shipping Forecast key". 11 February 2018. Retrieved 11 February 2018.
  11. Macdonald, Peter (2004). Big Ben : the bell, the clock and the tower. Stroud: Sutton. ISBN 0-7509-3827-7. OCLC 56657409. A few days earlier a microphone had been set up on the roof of a nearby building, No. 1 Bridge Street, just opposite the Houses of Parliament. As the time approached midnight the chimes of the Great Clock ringing out the old year were followed on the hour by the twelve deep strokes of Big Ben ringing in the new, and broadcast, by means of a temporary line running to the control room at Savoy Hill, to listeners tuned to 2LO, the BBC's first radio transmitter, then barely a year old.
  12. "BBC Radio Norfolk's 25th anniversary". BBC. 9 September 2005. Retrieved 10 February 2012.
  13. BBC Radio 4 ‘AM retune loop’ - 15/04/2024. Retrieved 15 April 2024 via
  14. "Date set for the closure of BBC Radio 4 medium wave frequencies". RadioToday. 21 March 2024. Retrieved 21 March 2024.
  15. "Radio 4 Daily Schedule page". BBC. 8 February 2010. Retrieved 19 March 2010.
  16. "New era for Broadcasting House". BBC News. London. 31 October 2000. Retrieved 19 March 2010.
  17. Hendy, David (2007). Life on Air: A History of Radio Four. Oxford University Press. pp. 78–79. ISBN 9780199248810.
  18. "Radio 4: Listen Again". BBC. Archived from the original on 21 August 2019. Retrieved 19 March 2010.
  19. "Radio 4 – Downloading and Podcasting". BBC. Retrieved 19 March 2010.
  20. "Being a newsreader by Harriet Cass". BBC. 30 April 2008. Archived from the original on 28 June 2008. Retrieved 19 March 2010.
  21. "List of BBC Radio newsreaders". BBC News. London. 11 July 2007. Retrieved 19 March 2010.
  22. "Cass and Green to leave Radio 4". BBC News. 5 September 2012.
  23. "How to Listen". BBC. 11 February 2018. Retrieved 11 February 2018.
  24. "Radio transmitters Scotland FM transmitters" (PDF). BBC. Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 March 2016. Retrieved 11 January 2018.
  25. "Get Freeview Play".
  26. "Free Channels on the Sky Digital Satellite Platform". Archived from the original on 5 April 2010. Retrieved 19 March 2010.
  27. Fisk, Tracy (6 February 2007). "Is Radio 4 alienating its core audience?". The Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 12 January 2022. Retrieved 11 February 2018.
  28. Leonard, Tom (27 October 2006). "The BBC's commitment to bias is no laughing matter". The Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 12 January 2022. Retrieved 11 February 2018.
  29. "Stephen Pollard: I don't want bias with my cornflakes — Commentators, Opinion". The Independent. London. 20 October 2003. Retrieved 11 February 2018.
  30. Hasan, Mehdi (27 August 2009). "Bias and the Beeb". New Statesman. Retrieved 5 November 2009.
  31. Barnett, Emma (16 July 2013). "Another woman on Radio 4's Today programme? The BBC ain't joking". The Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 12 January 2022. Retrieved 4 January 2014.
  32. Hendy, David (2007). Life on Air: A History of Radio Four. Oxford University Press. pp. 99–100. ISBN 9780199248810.
  33. Sherwood, Harriet (13 November 2018). "BBC faces renewed calls to open Thought for the Day to atheists". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 October 2020.
  34. Davies, Gareth (2 October 2019). "Radio 4's Thought for the Day should be scrapped because it is discriminatory, says John Humphrys". The Telegraph. Archived from the original on 12 January 2022. Retrieved 31 October 2020.
  35. "BBC once more rejects non-religious voices on Thought for the Day". National Secular Society. 3 July 2013. Retrieved 31 October 2020.
  36. Midgley, Neil (8 February 2011). "BBC Radio 4 'too middle class and London-centric'". The Telegraph. Archived from the original on 12 January 2022. Retrieved 4 January 2014.
  37. Mair, John (22 February 2008). "Am I bovvered that Radio 4 is too middle class? No!". The Guardian Organ Grinder Blog. Retrieved 4 January 2014.

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