The New Pattern of Sound Broadcasting 

30 September 2022


This week the BBC’s programme services for listeners assume a new shape. LINDSAY WELLINGTON, Director of Sound Broadcasting, tells you about the changes and explains the reasons for making them


Radio Times cover

From the Radio Times for 29 September 1957

IN the spring of this year the BBC announced that some changes would be made in the autumn in the pattern of sound broadcasting, I should like to tell you, as simply as I can, about the changes that are being made, and the reasons for them.

The Home Service retains its general characteristics but it will become more consistent in character. It loses some of its Variety programmes — and it will carry more serious music. Over and above its full-length News bulletins and its talks and discussions on what is going on in the world it will have more good and popular programmes in what might be called the middle range of interest.

The Light Programme is also to be more consistent in providing the lighter fare that is wanted by so many, including the background music that is needed by so many housewives and manual workers and by the increasing number of motorists using car radios.

The Third Programme has been shortened, but it will still broadcast for about twenty-four hours a week.

It will have during the most convenient listening period from 8-11 p.m. about ten per cent, of the total transmission time for an audience which is about one per cent, of the average audience for sound radio. It will have freedom to extend whenever necessary so as to be able to broadcast full-length plays or operas. The Home Service, too, will still be broadcasting many programmes which are of cultural value and of equal interest to the serious minded.

The time between 6 and 8 p.m. on what is to be known as Network Three, to mark the fact that it uses Third Programme wavelengths when they are not being used for the Third Programme itself, will be used for programmes which we believe will be of interest to many other minorities which have a place in the total community. Some of these are programmes which have already been broadcast in other services but will now have greater freedom to develop; others will be quite new.

Catering for the Radio Public

Now for the reasons underlying these changes. Our new plans are based on a very careful study of listeners’ tastes and preferences. Programme planning is a complicated operation, and every change of programme sets up a chain of consequences and reactions on other programmes, so that it would not really be possible to have a kind of public referendum on it. But we do, indeed, consult our listeners — more than a million of them every year. Through our Audience Research organisation, which has been operating now for twenty-one years, we have been able to build up very detailed information about changing tastes and habits.

Although perhaps the most obvious, television has not been the only factor affecting the radio audience; there have been many other changes in social habits going on since the war which have combined to change both people’s attitude to radio and the use they make of it. If the BBC is to live and thrive as a healthy organisation we have to be adaptable, and ready to meet new challenges and to seize new opportunities. We shall certainly make some mistakes in doing this, but the one thing we must not do is to put our heads in the sand and pretend that nothing is changing.

In addition to the changes in listening habits there is the factor of money. It has been necessary to decide how best to allocate resources at a time when costs steadily rise and economy in sound radio becomes a necessity.

Changes can rarely be made without some losses, but it is important not to exaggerate them, and, because there have been some misunderstandings about what the BBC is trying to do, I would like to correct them. We are not in any way lowering our standards. The BBC standards are based upon integrity, impartiality, and, above ail, on a sense of responsibility for the well-being of the community. In this lies the true value of public-service broadcasting, and it will not be changed.

We are not ‘fighting for the mass audience’, but we do not forget that it is our responsibility to entertain as well as to inform and educate. We have been asked if we have abandoned our mission to educate and improve public taste. We see our task rather as to provide the opportunity for people to widen their experience and to extend the range of their enjoyment. A glance at the programmes will show that minorities and serious cultural interests of all kinds are cared for in the whole of the Third Programme, in Network Three, and in a great part of the Home Service, out of all proportion to box-office considerations, but we do not think that it is either right or practical to dragoon people’s tastes by depriving them, on at least one wavelength, of the entertainment which the majority probably want at any given moment. We want, instead, to offer the best programmes of every kind in the belief that the listeners are capable of choosing what they want.

We are certainly not striving by desperate expedients to ‘keep the listening figures up’ in competition with television. Television is here to stay, and, indeed, has only grown to about half its full size, and it is only sensible to suppose that when television is on the air those with television sets will spend more of their time viewing than listening. But quite apart from the many millions who do not now, and will not for a long time, have access to television we know that people who acquire television do not give up radio; they listen less and they listen differently, but they still need it. We know this from our Audience Research, and further proof is given by the sale of radio sets which, so far from declining in the television age, is constantly increasing—and, indeed, considerably exceeds the sale of television sets.

We shall not count it a failure if people choose television rather than radio, any more than if they choose one of our sound programmes rather than another. We should only feel that we had failed if we did not give the public the service on sound radio which they want from us and which they are entitled to expect.

Essential Unity of Output

I want, finally, to stress the essential unity of the BBC’s sound radio output. There are not three separate programme services for different groups of people, but one service using three different channels to serve the whole community. For example, the new service of hourly news summaries is not designed to make easy listening for an imaginary group of Light Programme listeners. It is intended for everyone who wants to know at any hour of the day what the latest news is.

Programmes that have been moved from one wavelength to another have not disappeared. No type of programme that was previously there has disappeared, though it may be found in different placings. We refuse to accept the idea of people as listening automatons with sets tuned to only one wavelength without the will or intelligence to select what they want. But sensible planning must assume sensible use by the listener of Radio Times, and some attention to the many announcements that will be made to signpost the different kinds of programmes.

I know that any changes or breaks in settled habits are apt to cause annoyance, but if you are inconvenienced by the moving of one particular programme remember that there may be many others who find it more convenient. It is because we believe this to be so, on the evidence we have, that we have made the change. If you look at the programmes displayed in Radio Times this week and in the weeks to come I hope you will agree that the BBC is offering a richness and variety of sound radio programmes that are the equal of any in the world.


Home Service


SOONER or later the archaeologists will excavate Savoy Hill, and when they do so they will surely find the roots of the Home Service buried there. This will be no surprise to the social historian. Very many of the listening habits of the British people established by Sound Broadcasting in its progress from those early days of the crystal set to the modern miracle of VHF were formed by programmes which, since the war, have been heard and will continue to be heard on the Home Service wavelength.

The main news bulletins, the main services of religion, the reporting of Parliament’s proceedings. School broadcasting. Children’s Hour, the Monday and Saturday play, the Proms and other symphony concerts and recitals, the Outside Broadcasts from national ceremonies of every kind arc items which the most revolutionary planner of the Home Service would displace at his peril. Many of them were once pioneer ventures. They are still not outmoded, even though their replicas are to be found in broadcasting services all over the world.

But though the essentials remain, some changes are called for. From Savoy Hill to VHF, the Home Service in its various manifestations has never stood still for long, and now it is again being adjusted in ways which should make it more attractive to all those who would not wish to see its essential character altered.

Any doubts about the amount of serious music to be broadcast should be dispelled by the schedules for the next three months. It will be abundantly available -orchestral concerts often twice a day, operas, a weekly chamber concert, recitals, and firm favourites like Music Magazine and Talking about Music. Dramatic broadcasts are extended by the addition of a Thursday play. The coverage of current events will now be varied by a weekly Radio Newsreel at 6.15 p.m. on Sundays, transferred from the Light Programme.

A number of other transfers are to be made from Light to Home — for example, Grand Hotel on Sundays (with a new second edition on Thursday afternoons). From time to time Home and Light will come together for such popular programmes as Those Were the Days and the Saturday Show, and there will be regular joint broadcasts of Music While You Work in the morning and afternoon as well as of early morning music. But at the end of October the Home Service will also offer, at 7.15 and 8.15 a.m., an entirely new morning miscellany, Today, a programme of views and news planned at the last minute to be up-to-the-minute.


Network Three


NETWORK THREE is a challenge issued by Sound Broadcasting – a challenge to all those who are sufficiently keen about their private interests to be prepared to turn a knob and find the programme that caters for them.

I want to know a butcher paints,
A baker rhymes for his pursuits,
Candlestick-maker much acquaints
His soul with song, or, haply mute,
Blows out his brains upon the flute!

In Network Three we have taken a larger view than Browning did in his poem ‘Shop’ about the possible interests of the butcher, the baker and the candlestick-maker. And we have good reason for this. For years past the Home Service and the Light Programme have regularly stepped aside from their main task of broadcasting to the general listener and addressed themselves to minorities who are enthusiastically devoted to some form of self-expression.

Sound Broadcasting is acquiring a new look. This period of improving our service to every kind of listener has made it possible to offer on Network Three a larger variety of broadcasts designed for minorities. They may number millions. Because of the very nature of their interest or because it is only beginning to be popular, they may still be, as they would no doubt like to think themselves, a limited elite. For example, gardeners grow like blackberries, but the number of climbers in Great Britain is still relatively small, though their increasing total inches its way up the statistical Everest each year. For both gardeners and climbers, as for other ‘interested bodies’ large and small, there will be something worth listening to on Network Three.

Six evenings a week, on the Third Programme wavelength before the Third Programme is on the air, the jazz-fancier or the pigeon-fancier, the man or woman who wants to learn, say, Spanish from scratch, the fisherman or cyclist or collector of L.P. records (perhaps the same person), the bridge player or the naturalist, the more sophisticated film-goer, the ardent motorist or the enthusiast for amateur dramatics will be able to find a programme, broadcast either weekly or monthly, with their special interests in mind. There will be regular periods, too, which will reflect the wide interests and many problems of parents and of the younger generation.


Third Programme


THE Third Programme will in future be broadcast normally from 8.0 p.m. to 11.0 p.m. on weekdays and from 5.0 p.m. to 11.0 p.m. on Sundays. The programme will begin earlier when ever necessary in order to relay public performances of operas and concerts. There are two such occasions this week, on Tuesday and Friday, when Wagner’s Siegfried and Götterdämmerung will be broadcast from the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

In the newly-planned programme the proportion of time allotted to music in relation to speech will be roughly the same as it has been in the past, that is a little over half. There will be a regular Saturday-night concert by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and among important series of music programmes to be heard during the coming quarter are Don Quixote in Music, five programmes of music inspired by the ingenious Knight of La Mancha; weekly recitals of French Song from Berlioz to the present day; six programmes devoted to music by Stravinsky; Bach’s The Art of Fugue played by Pietro Scarpini in three piano recitals; five programmes by the Amadeus String Quartet (each of which will contain a quartet by Mozart and a quartet by a contemporary British composer); and three programmes to mark the Quatercentenary of Gabrieli. At least one opera will be broadcast each week, including recordings of Tristan und Isolde and Die Meistersinger from this year’s Bayreuth Festival, and studio performances of Busoni’s Arlecchino, sung in English, Bizet’s Djamileh and Lennox Berkeley’s Ruth.

There will continue to be an average of one play and one feature every week and each of these will be broadcast twice. Subsequent repeats of long productions will necessarily be fewer as a result of the reduction in hours, but it is not intended to strike a balance between originations and repeats until experience shows what listeners prefer, and the planning of the Third Programme should be regarded as experimental in this respect during the next few months. It is thought preferable to reduce the repeats of talks rather than drama and other productions which cannot, by their nature, be printed in The Listener, and the intention at present is to repeat only one or two of the eight new talks given each week. Among these the series The World of Industry, Law in Action, and Research will continue at monthly intervals, and others which will be heard at irregular intervals are Soviet Affairs, Letter from Paris, Prospect, and Education.


Light Programme


WHAT’s new on the Light? Is it the same old mixture or an entirely new deal? The answer is that the new Light will try even more than before to provide entertainment and relaxation, and at appropriate times to cater for the listener in a hurry who cannot pay close attention for any length of time. One example is the introduction of brief news summaries it half past every hour, except for Saturday afternoons and Sundays. Another example is the music in the early morning period, where listening is increasing. A month ago the Light began to come on the air at 7.0 a.m. with a varied Morning Music programme until 9.0 a.m., interrupted only by time checks and two two-minute news summaries. On Sunday mornings, when there is less early morning listening, the Light will begin at 9.0 a.m.

The lunch-time pattern on weekdays is now entirely different: Workers’ Playtime and Midday Music-Hall have been taken over from the Home Service, and from 12.0 to 1.45 p.m. there will be programmes of varied music, Variety and dance music.

The dance music output has been reshaped. From Mondays to Fridays, not only at 1.0 p.m. but again at 6.0 and 10.40 p.m., the Light will feature the most popular bands of the day.

Music of every kind plays a large part in the new schedule. Old favourites such as Our Kind of Music, Tuesday Tunetime and Friday Night is Music Night are being reinforced by many new productions in a variety of styles.

This rich schedule of music does not mean that there will be fewer Light Entertainment programmes and dramatic series and serials; these will in fact be more numerous than ever. There will be many new programmes as well as new series of established successes. An example is Does the Team Think? — a new comedy panel show with Jimmy Edwards, David Nixon, David Tomlinson, and Jimmy Wheeler, under the chairmanship of Peter Haigh.

Among well-established programmes which remain are Listen with Mother, Woman’s Hour, Mrs. Dale’s Diary, The Archers (the weekend Omnibus edition goes to the Home Service), Radio Newsreel (except on Sundays), and Any Questions?

A new Saturday-evening venture begins at the end of October, and will provide three hours of continuous entertainment with music, light and popular; interviews; short stories; and many other features.


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