Radio on the move 

22 November 2021


BBC Handbook 1978 cover

From the BBC Handbook for 1978

The year in Radio has been dominated by the agreements reached at the frequency planning conference held at Geneva in October 1975. This conference was held to bring order to the somewhat chaotic situation existing in the long and medium frequency bands, but due to the large number of stations requiring frequencies in these bands it was not possible to devise a satisfactory plan.

Probably the best that can be said is that the plan will help to regularise the situation and give the BBC some idea of the new and more powerful transmitters that it is likely to have to contend with over the next few years. In the European Broadcasting Area the plan assigns frequencies to no fewer than 2,700 transmitters, with a total power of 214 MW, compared with the present 1,450 transmitters operating with a total power of 82 MW. It is not certain how many of the 2,700 transmitters included in the plan will actually be brought into service, but it seems inevitable that after November 1978, when the plan comes into effect, there will be a gradual increase in the level of interference suffered by the BBC’s lf and mf services, especially after dark, when these frequencies propagate much further than during daylight. The frequencies likely to be worst affected will be 647 kHz, 881 kHz, and 1340 kHz which are at present used for Radio 3, Radio Wales and Radio Ulster respectively; and 1088 kHz used for external broadcasts to Western Europe.

Much thought has been given to the need to make the best use of the available frequencies in the situation which will exist after November 1978. It would be attractive to regard the BBC’s vhf Networks as the prime bearers of the BBC’s domestic programmes, with medium frequencies providing daytime backup and occasional alternatives to the networked programmes. This would not however be acceptable, the two principal reasons being that the majority of car radios (and many portable receivers) do not have vhf bands, and a few areas of the country cannot receive the vhf transmissions. It was decided that the right course of action was to take a fresh look at all the medium and low frequencies available to the BBC and re-arrange the allocations of the networks to make the best use of these. The resulting plan was examined by the Annan Committee, which said it would wish to encourage any such redeployment of frequencies to improve coverage of the national radio services. The plan constitutes, from an engineering point of view, the greatest single change ever made to mf and If broadcasting in the United Kingdom – each of the four national networks has been allocated a different frequency or frequencies, as shown on the diagram which follows.


Medium & long waves


In November 1978 some changes will be made in the arrangements for transmitting the BBC’s national services on medium and long wave.


A diagram showing the change in frequencies


The diagram shows the existing tuning points, compared with those which will apply after November 1978. The medium-wave frequencies will each go up by one kHz, but this change will not be noticeable to most listeners.

Two considerable advantages accruing to the United Kingdom from the Geneva conference were the use of another low frequency – 227 kHz – and the agreement to an additional 200 kHz transmitter at Burghead. By allocating both of these frequencies to Radio 4 it will be possible, for the first time, to achieve almost complete coverage of the United Kingdom for this important network. One disadvantage from one point of view is that after November 1978 some listeners on the Continent may suffer increased interference on 200 kHz during daylight hours due to the fact that a Polish transmitter will be operating on this frequency; this is part of the agreement by which the United Kingdom will be able to use 227 kHz, at present used exclusively by Poland.



The decision to transfer 647 kHz, presently used by Radio 3, to External Services was because this frequency, although likely to be badly affected by interference after dark, has a bigger service area than 1088 kHz during daytime and therefore can reach a larger European audience.

The arrangements mentioned above leave five medium frequencies to be divided between three services. It was decided to allocate two frequencies each to Radio 1 and Radio 2, and one to Radio 3 – research has shown that a substantial proportion of the audience listening to Radio 3 during the evening uses vhf, therefore extensive medium wave coverage is not quite so important as for the other two services.

To be fully effective the new frequency plan requires the provision of a considerable number of new transmitters, and these will have to be manufactured and installed within a very limited period of time.


200 kHz

Name of transmitting station Country symbol Geographical coordinates of transmitting station Necessary bandwidth (kHz) Carrier power (kW) Maximum radiation (dB) Height (m) Ground conductibity (mS/m) Hours of operation (GMT)
1 EL GOLEA ALG 02E52 30N34 C 9 1000 37.0 5 0000-2400
2 EL QUSIYA EGY 30E44 27N29 D 9 500 32.0 4 0400-2400
3 BURGHEAD G 03W28 57N42 C10 50 17.4 152 4 0000-2400
4 DROITWICH G 02W06 52N18 C10 400 26.4 213 3 0000-2400
5 WARSZAWA 3 POL 20E53 52N04 C 9 200 23.4 335 4 0900-1600
6 ETIMEGUT TUR 32E40 39N56 D 9 200 23.4 250 4 0200-2300
7 ACHKHABAD URS 58E23 37N57 C 9 75 19.2 257 4 0000-2400
8 ALEKSANDROV SA URS 142E18 50N58 A18 50 17.4 257 2 0200-2200
9 FRUNZE URS 74E37 42N54 A16 150 22.2 257 4 0000-1000
10 KAZAN URS 49E08 55N47 C 9 50 17.4 257 4 0000-2400
11 KORF URS 165E51 60N19 A18 50 17.4 300 5 0000-2400
12 LENINGRAD URS 30E00 59N44 A16 150 22.2 220 4 0300-1300
13 MOSKVA URS 37E08 55N54 A16 100 20.4 257 4 0300-1300
14 ULAN UDE URS 107E38 51N50 C 9 250 24.4 257 4 0000-2400


227 KHz

Name of transmitting station Country symbol Geographical coordinates of transmitting station Necessary bandwidth (kHz) Carrier power (kW) Maximum radiation (dB) Height (m) Ground conductibity (mS/m) Hours of operation (GMT)
1 BARCELONA E 02E15 41N40 D 9 800 34.0 4 0000-2400
2 BILBAO E 02W45 43N25 D 9 400 30.0 5 0000-2400
3 LINARES E 03W40 38N00 D 9 400 30.0 4 0000-2400
4 LUGO E 07W45 43N02 D 9 200 27.0 5 0000-2400
5 ABIS EGY 30E05 31N10 D 9 200 27.0 4 0400-2400
6 WESTERGLEN G 03W50 55N58 C10 50 17.4 152 4 0000-2400
7 ALTAI MNG 96E10 46N30 A18 150 22.2 257 5 2200-1500
8 ULAN BATOR MNG 107E00 47N55 A18 150 22.2 257 4 2200-1500
9 WARSZAWA 1 POL 19E48 52N22 C 9 2000 33.4 646 4 0000-2400
10 VAN TUR 43E22 38N30 D 9 600 31.0 4 0000-2400
11 LENINABAD URS 69E37 40N16 C 9 50 17.4 257 4 0000-2400
12 NIJNII TAGHIL URS 60E00 57N55 A16 50 17.4 257 4 0000-2400


Very high frequencies

ITU symbol

Although the United Kingdom has been allocated sufficient frequencies in vhf Band II for four national networks – three between 88·0 and 94·6 MHz and one between 97·6 and 100 MHz – only three networks have been brought into operation because the higher group of frequencies is used for other purposes. At the moment many educational and other minority interest programmes are transmitted on Radio 3 or Radio 4 vhf, which means that listeners who wish to listen to the regular programmes must switch to medium frequencies. In some areas this is not easy because of poor reception on mf, especially after dark, and in any case it is discouraging to those who wish to use vhf. The BBC understands that it might be possible to start clearing 97·6 – 100 MHz for broadcasting in 1978: if this were used for a new network to carry all the educational programmes, it could ease the above problem and encourage more listeners to use the vhf services, which normally provide better sound quality and suffer much less interference. Unfortunately the allocation of 97·6 – 100 MHz for a fourth network would not, by itself, solve the problem of completing vhf coverage in the United Kingdom. Although more than 99 per cent of the population now has access to the existing three national vhf services there are still some gaps in the coverage, mainly in sparsely populated areas in Scotland and Wales. The BBC is pressing on hard to fill these gaps, but it may not be possible to do so in some areas and at the same time provide a fourth national network unless additional frequencies can be made available above 100 MHz. This section of the vhf band is not available for broadcasting in the United Kingdom at present, unlike some European countries.


Courtesy of RAX118G


You Say

5 responses to this article

Nigel Stapley 23 November 2021 at 7:41 pm

The King’s Singers’ track was actually released as a single on EMI at the beginning of November 1978, along with an informative picture sleeve:

Paul Mason 25 November 2021 at 3:54 am

There was a further reshuffle in 1990 but this was due to political pressure to release AM frequencies for national commercial stations. BBC Radio 2 s AM frequencies were reallocated to the “hybrid” Radio 5, later 5 Live. Radio 3s MW channel lasted a few more years as did Radio 1s before being vacated for Virgin and Talk Radio UK in 1995.
In the late 1980s the final separation of Radios 1 and 2 occurred with 1 gaining its own FM station with the police,and fire services moving to a higher FM band.
With its mainly older listeners the loss of Radio 2 to FM only was not happily received . The loss of 3 MW upset the fans of Test Match Special as this had to move to 3 FM or Radio 5 where it had to compete with other sports before settling on Radio 4 LW.

The battle for AM seems old fashioned now as on the 1990s horizon was the
coming of DAB.

Paul Mason 25 November 2021 at 4:28 am

There was a further reshuffle of BBC radio services in the late 1980s The 100+ MHZ FM band was released for broadcasting allowing Radio 1 its own FM frequency ending it’s prolonged divorce from Radio 2. However Radio 2 was to give up its AM frequencies to the hybrid Radio 5 with its mixture of sport and educational broadcasts with simulcasts and other oddities before becoming 5 Live with its rolling news and sport function in 1994.
With its older audience the loss of Radio 2 AM was greeted with protest. Even more howls of anguish occurred when Radio 3 AM lost its frequency to make way for national commercial radio (Virgin 1215), upsetting fans of Test Match Special which on dry days requires its own frequency. and didn’t fit in with Radio 5s priorities TMSmoved briefly to 3 FMupsetting music lovers, before settling on Radio 4 LW which is itself under threat Radio 1 quit it’s AM channels for Talk Radio UK, but without much upset as the youth had not time for mushy AM The government queried the AM frequencies allocated to BBC local radio which were out in place before wider acceptance of FM radios And in the 1990s there loomed another revolution in radio…DAB.

Paul Mason 25 November 2021 at 4:39 am

I forgot to add that the BBC Radio 4 AM optouts for Scotland, Wales (Cymru FM)and Ulster became national stations in their own right and Radio 4 became R4 UK as England was covered by BBC local radio in the late 1970s. Some regional news remained on Radio 4 FM into the 1980s.

Nigel Stapley 25 November 2021 at 8:07 pm

I’ve just realised that there was a delicious irony waiting around the corner when – for a few hours, at least – all ‘national’ networks had to broadcast the same programme (dubbed ‘Radio 10′ in some quarters: 1+2+3+4=10) as a result of a technicians’ strike throughout the BBC.

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