A Century of Listening

One hundred years ago today at 6pm, BBC radio officially broadcast for the first time; a news bulletin read twice, the second time slowly in case listeners wished to take notes. The BBC is celebrating its centenary all year and of course including television. But today radio deserves the limelight.

Neither television nor the internet has left radio in the shadows. We got our first television when I was four, so I can safely say only radio has been with me all my life.

‘Lord Reith, first director general of the BBC summarised the BBC’s purpose in three words: inform, educate, entertain; this remains part of the organisation’s mission statement to this day. It has also been adopted by broadcasters throughout the world, notably the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in the United States.’

Whether you turn on the radio for news the moment you return home or don’t even own a radio, BBC radio has almost certainly been part of your life. My son tells me about various interesting podcasts he has listened to, which turn out to be programmes I heard on the radio in the kitchen. My daughter could listen with ear phones on her smart phone to Woman’s Hour in the middle of the night while feeding babies. Surely all of us have been informed, educated or entertained at some time by BBC radio. Even if you have never set foot on these sceptred isles you may have listened all your life to BBC World Service.

It is not an exaggeration to say I probably could not survive without BBC Radio, yes of course we have commercial radio stations and for a while I was a fan of Classic FM, but we were driven apart by advertisements! Radio has been a great companion whilst at home with babies, housework, ironing, cooking, insomnia through to my recent widowhood.

For most of us radio was our first introduction to music, from Faure’s Dolly Suite, signature tune for Listen with Mother to British light music such as Eric Coates’ Sleepy Lagoon, still the signature tune for Desert Island Discs which has been going for one hundred years, or feels like it. It was first broadcast in the 1940’s long before my parents even met, but it was one of the backgrounds to my childhood. If you want something a bit more lively Calling All Workers, also composed by Eric Coates was the signature tune for Workers’ Playtime, broadcast as a morale booster for factory workers in World War 2.  

Now we listen to every kind of music on all the various BBC stations, from your favourite pop song as you drive to work to Radio 3 broadcasting every single concert in the long Proms season.

Radio is above all the spoken word with no need for pictures; our own home theatre, story teller and entertainer. Afternoon plays, half hour comedies and specials such as real time reading all day of the complete Ulysses by James Joyce.

Do you listen to the radio, what music evokes memories? If you do tune in are you listening for news, music, drama or comedy?

24 thoughts on “A Century of Listening

  1. I grew up without a television, so listening to the radio was a big part of my family’s life. My dad favored CBC radio from Canada, while my brother and me preferred CHOM FM from Montreal. (We were ten miles from the Canadian border.)

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  2. I’ve spent many hours with the radio, either listening to music, late-night talk shows when I can’t sleep, or attending sporting events. I thought about becoming a sportscaster, so this medium has always interested me.

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  3. LOVE the radio. Suddenly, at the age of around 30, I found could no longer bear to listen to Radio 1 and switched to Radio 4. I love that they can make a half hour programme about Lycra interesting. For me, it’s one of the best things on the airwaves and accompanied me on many long drives as a Ronnie Rep as I schlepped the length and breadth of the country from one customer to another.
    Now, as a perpetual nomad, the radio is a comforting reminder of home. I remember reading in Andy McNab’s rufty tufty books that many members of the SAS tune into The Archers for the same reason. I love comedy – with the state of the world, I find satire such as The News Quiz, Dead Ringers, or The Now Show the most palatable way to consume the news, although I do appreciate the discussions on The World At One or PM.
    Comedy-wise, I also enjoy the rather off the wall I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue and the more erudite Infinite Monkey Cage, which features my favourite pin up Professor, Brian Cox, or The Unbelievable Truth with egg head David Mitchell.
    Then as a lover of words, what about Word of Mouth which delves into our spoken language and idioms?
    I think you get the picture. I love radio!

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      1. So long as we have internet, we can access radio via BBC Sounds, so we’ve had radio pretty much all the time.
        I agree on the diversity. I occasionally tune in to the plays and have had some great reading recommendations from Book Of The Week (With books, I prefer reading to listening.)

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  4. We had a TV when I was one, (BBC only) but we also had a large valve radio, which we called ‘The Wireless’. (We never ever said ‘Radio’) I loved some of the classic radio shows, especially these.
    The Navy Lark.
    Round The Horne.
    Hancock’s Half Hour.
    The Goon Show.
    Family Favourites.
    Educating Archie.
    Later on, I was given a transistor radio, and listened to Radio Luxembourg on that in my bedroom.
    We also listened to the football results to check the football pools every week.
    Now I have a DAB radio in my car, and a digitial radio/CD player in the house. But I rarely listen to it these days, to be honest.
    Best wishes, Pete.

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  5. I listen to the radio but as podcasts like your son. I do check the schedules most weeks for a programme that is new or a one-off and listen to it on catch up. I really appreciate it being free and without ads.

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