The Future of Sound Broadcasting 

15 April 2024


Cover of Ariel for April 1957

From Ariel, the house magazine of the BBC, for April 1957

On 8 April, the Corporation made known its plans for the future of Sound broadcasting.

Many of the more inventive forecasts in the Press were disproved, but I would like to tell Ariel readers about the changes to be made.

The existing pattern of Sound broadcasting was laid down shortly after the last war, when Television was still in its infancy as a public service. In the years that have passed, the size of the Television audience has grown steadily until today nearly half the population have television sets. The appearance of this great audience was the most important factor calling for the review of the Sound services. It is not that these people have turned their backs on Sound radio. At certain times of the day, listening is preferable to viewing and many kinds of radio programme will retain their interest. In addition, there are eighteen million listeners who rely exclusively on Sound and for some years their numbers will remain very large. Therefore, despite the growth of Television, there continues to be an important national audience for Sound broadcasting to which, as a public corporation, the BBC owes a duty.

Alternative Services

For these reasons the Corporation decided to retain its present system of alternative services. It would be impossible otherwise to offer a comprehensive range of programmes. But there will be a change in emphasis. Much more time will be devoted to programmes designed for entertainment and relaxation. There will be less talk. The Home Service and Light Programme will now be planned together so as to ensure the widest possible choice of programmes for the listener. The Light Programme is going to open earlier in order to provide an alternative service between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. There will be some sharing of programmes during the day, but an alternative will be provided whenever some specialized kind of programme, such as school broadcasting, is taking place.

The Light Programme will have as its mainstay popular music in all its forms. Its object will be to cater for those in search of relaxation and distraction presented lightly and undemandingly. The majority of variety programmes will be broadcast on the Light Programme, but only the lightest forms of drama will continue to find a place there. Much of the Light Programme’s present output of drama will find its way to the Home Service, which will be designed for those who wish to listen more attentively, whether for entertainment or information. The music broadcast in the Home Service will cover the traditional wide range, from the best light music to symphony concerts. Plays and features will be broadcast as they are at present. With its news and information services, the Home Service will represent the wide, central stream of broadcasting.


Radio Times cover

Cover of the Radio Times for 29 September 1957 announcing the changes to listeners


The Third Programme

It was gratifying to see the warmth of public support for the Third Programme when rumours of its disbandment spread. The essential characteristics of the Third Programme and its flexibility will be unchanged. The decision to cut its normal duration to three hours should improve it, and I feel confident that no item worth including will be squeezed out. The extension of VHF will bring the Third to many more people than before.

The Regions will contribute more programmes than before to the networks, and a good deal of the present duplication of effort will be brought to an end. But the Regions will still mount programmes on their own Home Services, and the responsibilities of the National Broadcasting Councils for Scotland and Wales are, of course, unaffected.

‘Network Three’

I come now to the new venture called ‘Network Three’. It will come into operation in October. Making use of the wavelengths occupied later by the Third Programme, ‘Network Three’ will be used in the early evening for programmes which, though valued highly by small audiences, would not justify their place in the Home Service and Light Programme.

Future of Staff

I must now deal with the effect of these changes on staff whose future is linked with the services they have built up. The income of Sound (the £1 licence [£20 in today’s money, allowing for inflation – Ed] or £1 of the £4 licence [£80]) has now virtually reached its ceiling, but costs still rise. Consequently, we must look for savings, which will come about through the elimination of some programmes and the simplification of others, and through integration and lower administrative costs. Every effort will be made to relieve hardship if these changes cause casualties among the staff. The Corporation accepts the modern concept of employment which goes to extreme lengths in the interests of its staff, but it must not shirk its duty to the public in order to keep its own staff intact. I want the Corporation’s attitude in the face of this difficult situation to be made known now, so that there may be no misunderstanding later. The changes which have been announced will come about gradually, but they must be made.

The future of this great medium is in our hands, and it is more important than ever that the public should feel the BBC is producing the goods they want, whether they listen for entertainment or intellectual stimulus. The situation calls for confidence, imagination, and hard work. As Sound radio has responded to all its challenges in the past, so I am confident it can meet this latest challenge.


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Liverpool, Monday 8 July 2024