Radio 1 listeners wake up to Dvorak and Mozart 

10 December 2023


“Radio 1 listeners wake up to Dvorak and Mozart…”

Forget the 2012 digital switchover and the subsequent Freeview retune, upheaval upset thousands of radio listeners 45 years ago in 1978, when on Thursday 23rd November listeners to the four national BBC networks had to retune.

Overnight the BBC had switched the wavelengths and frequencies of their services on the long and medium wavebands (now collectively referred to as ‘AM’.

Radio 4 listeners who had failed to make the changes were now hearing breakfast shows from either Dave Lee Travis on Radio 1 or Terry Wogan on Radio 2. The old Radio 1 wavelength of 247 metres was now broadcasting Radio 3 while Radio 2’s old longwave slot was given over to Radio 4, now re-branded Radio 4 UK.

The changes were heralded weeks in advance with a massive publicity campaign on both TV and radio, along with leaflets sent to every household and stickers which could be fixed to radio dials as a short term visual aid. Tuning then being done manually, turning the dial until the number matched what you were expecting to hear.


Birmingham Post listings for 22 and 23 November 1978

Birmingham Post radio listings for (top) 22 November 1978 and (bottom) 23 November 1978


In 1978 the Medium Wave was a crowded place with many stations coming in from the continent after dark. It was a busy time for the BBC engineers who had spent the night of the 22nd-23rd attending most transmitter sites to physically change the network feeds, an operation that had taken longer than anticipated and left some areas without any service at all for the first few hours of the next morning.

The reason for the changes was the outcome of international agreement and the BBC wanting to take an opportunity to maximise coverage of the most listened to networks.

Radio 4 had muddled through on several medium wavelengths with regional opt-outs. Now occupying the 1500 metre wavelength on Ling Wave it could provide a truly national service from the powerful mast at Droitwich.

Similarly Radio 1 which had always suffered from poor reception and interference on its old 247 metres/1214am slot (until recently occupied by Absolute Radio and sounding just as appalling) now had the luxury of two frequencies and could at last be heard clearly across more of the UK. This was bad news for Radio 3 who were forced to move into that unsatisfactory slot, with persistent interference after dark from Tirana, Albania!



The changes did not affect the FM services (back then referred to as VHF) but this was of little consequence as there was still a large number of people listening on AM. Many portable and car radios being equipped for long and medium wave only.

VHF/FM had previously been loved by HiFi enthusiasts or those willing to spend the extra dosh on a radiogram or music centre.

Change was in the air again twelve years later when Radio 2 handed over its AM frequencies to a new station which would be Radio 5, making Radio 2 the first national “only FM“ station. The others would quickly follow and of course, by this time radios were learning the ability to tune themselves.

Geoff Nash is a Staff Editor at Transdiffusion


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