The new look in radio 

13 March 2017

From the Radio Times published 27 August 1964


About this feature

Before the Second World War, the BBC’s two radio networks – the National Programme and the Regional Programme – were designed to offer individual listeners alternative programmes rather than an actual choice. When the National had a weighty talk, the Regional might have a programme of gramophone records… or a less weighty, comedic talk. Likewise, if the Regional was playing choral music from a cathedral, the National’s alternative might be a comedy… or it might be baroque classical from the Queen’s Hall.

Listeners were expected to hop between the two networks to find a programme of interest. Each had a varied schedule with something for everybody: nobody spent the day tuned to just one of the two services.

When peacetime broadcasting returned to the UK at the end of the war, the BBC decided to boldly experiment by “streaming” its output across three networks. No longer would the listener jump from network to network to hear alternative programmes. Instead, one network would provide a very heavyweight service, for the university educated and the upper classes. One programme would serve the secondary-educated broad middle of the country a provide something for everybody. And one programme would serve those who wanted light entertainment and amusement, the factory workers and childminders and people who left school at 14 or before.

It was hoped that listeners would continue to skip between the three networks, with dons enjoying popular music on the Light and workers bettering themselves with a lecture on Shakespeare on the Third. This didn’t particularly happen, with people choosing the network they liked most and sticking with it, in a 60-30-10 split between the Light, the Home and the Third.

The result of this was that the networks began to drift from their planned pattern as each tried to grab a bit of the audience the others had. Serious talks appeared on the Home Service and were joined by classical music. Jazz and light opera appeared on the Third, taking listeners from both the Home and the Light. Speech programming began to dominate the Light, taking listeners away from the Home Service. By 1957, the stations were in an audible muddle.

At that point, the BBC relaunched all three networks, shifting programmes and styles around to try to bring the stations back into the pattern set for them. Immediately the drift set in again.

A further relaunch happened in 1964 – this article by Frank Gillard attempts to sum up the plan. Of course, the networks drifted again, with a further relaunch required in 1967 (forced by the splitting of the Light Programme into two networks). Such realignments have remained a feature of BBC radio about once a decade ever since.

Russ J Graham



Developments of major importance are impending in Sound Broadcasting. This weekend the BBC is introducing the first step in the most ambitious programme of expansion to be undertaken since domestic radio began in Britain forty-two years ago. In four stages, spread over a period of six months or so, the output of the Light Programme and the Third Network will be increased by as much as ninety-four hours a week, and the variety of choice offered in radio, particularly in the daytime, will be immensely extended.

The Light Programme, which already finds a welcome from almost a million and a half listeners when it comes on the air at 6.30 a.m., is to start an hour earlier to serve the large numbers of people who have to get up extremely early in the mornings. At the other end of the day it is to remain on the air for two hours after midnight to provide for night-shift and other workers, late-night motorists and lorry drivers, and people generally who are up in the small hours and who until now have been obliged to turn to foreign stations for a little broadcast entertainment.

The Third Network has for too long been silent during the daytime hours — the hours in which radio enjoys its peak audiences. Under the new plan the Network will fill this valuable airspace with a service of good music in which symphonic music, chamber music, recitals, choral music, ballet music, opera, operetta, and the best of orthodox light music (and my list of categories is still far from complete) will all find a place. Radio services of this kind are already well established in a number of other countries. We believe that this daily festival of broadcast music will be warmly received in Britain.

BBC Handbook 1964

An extension of these dimensions, a one-third increase in output from 280 hours to 374 hours each week, calls for a gigantic effort from planners, producers, studio and administrative staffs and engineers alike, as well as from performers and broadcasters. That is why the extension is being introduced in stages. Stage one, from this weekend, will see the new music service offered in the Third Network every Sunday, and the Light Programme starting earlier in the morning every day. In stage two, from September 26, the Light Programme will be extended at the other end, from midnight to 2 a.m. Stage three will be introduced on December 12, when the Third Network will provide its music on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. The final stage, in March, will complete the operation by filling in the remaining hours of the Third Network.

Fifteen hours or so of the Light Programme’s 20½-hour broadcasting day will be of gay and cheerful music, suited to the general character of the Programme. About 4½ hours of this music will come from gramophone records. The BBC’s quota of needle-time allows only this relatively small ration of records for the Light Programme, and this fact will perhaps reassure those who fear that the Light is going all-pop. Current popular numbers will of course be much heard, but they will not predominate.

Alongside this copious output of musical entertainment the Light Programme will retain its popular radio plays and serials, its comedy shows, Woman’s Hour, Radio Newsreel, and other established features. But the Home Service, which will be transferring some of its daytime music to the Third Network, will be taking over a few regular items from the Light, ranging from Down Your Way and Chapel in the Valley (a new series) to the Sunday morning Archers Omnibus and, from next week, Listen with Mother. We hope listeners will soon find their way about in this minor reshuffle.

The Home Service, too, will be introducing new projects of its own. Flanked by the Light and its constant flow of easy entertainment, and by the Third Network consistently offering more serious music, the Home in the daytime will mainly become the channel for those listeners who seek something other than music. Its assembly of topical magazines, talks, news and current affairs programmes, sport, plays, features, school and further education broadcasts and regional items will provide the solid central core of a total three-network programme service which in range, balance, and quality will, we believe, be incomparable in the world.

Frank Gillard, BBC Director of Sound Broadcasting



Highlights of the New Service

Today sees the start of the Music Programme in the Third Network which by next Spring will be broadcasting serious music daily from early morning until early evening. Initially the programme will be confined to Sundays, but by Christmas it will be on the air on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. with many programmes which, we trust, will prove both exciting and popular.

Meanwhile, what are the immediate highlights? One new programme is Music Diary. Each Sunday it will draw attention to interesting forthcoming musical occasions throughout the country, and many leading composers and performers will be talking in this programme. Music Diary will not be about broadcast events; it is intended to provide a widespread weekly survey of music-making in Britain and may, of course, be of particular interest to listeners living near the scenes of these events.

Apart from new features such as Music Diary and an important chamber music broadcast in the early afternoon, listeners to the Music Programme on Sundays will find many of their favourite programmes hitherto broadcast in the Home Service or Third Network such as Your Concert Choice, Talking about Music and the Sunday Symphony Concert. Music Magazine — taking its usual summer holiday — is temporarily absent.

Two of today’s highlights are undoubtedly the lunchtime orchestral concert of music by Bach and Mozart and the broadcast from the Edinburgh International Festival of the Schubert and Beethoven recital being given by the distinguished Austrian pianist, Rudolf Serkin. During the interval of this recital The Earl of Harewood will be talking about his plans for the future of the Edinburgh Festival.

Next Sunday we shall be ranging even further afield to Ottobeuren in the heart of Bavaria to relay what promises to he a notable performance of Britten’s War Requiem.

John Manduell


You Say

1 response to this article

Paul Mason 20 March 2017 at 3:19 pm

There are tensions building up by 1964. By this time the Beatles and the British beat boom was in full swing but had to share the Light Programme with other quaintnesses such as Mrs Dales Diary, Housewives Choice and Two-Way Family Favourites
1964 was when the pirate stations took off but the BBC had needle-time restrictions to understandably protect BBC musicians’ jobs.
The 1964 settlement couldn’t last hence the 1967 changes which brought the numbered networks familiar today.
Slightly later than this a typical example of a BBC orchestra making a botch job of a Beatles tune was the Northern Dance Orchestras psrudo-Scottish interpretation of A Day In The Life. It was awful, but a regular on Night Ride.

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