1930-1950 History of Telecoms UK - Radio

BBC in Charge

By the early 1930's the premises at Marconi House at Savoy Hill were becoming inadequate for the BBC's needs therefore the corporation had to find and establish a new operating centre. In 1932 the BBC moved into purpose built studios at Portland Place in London Broadcasting House.

Throughout the 1930’s the BBC continued to expand both the number of radio services and their scope. They gradually replaced its transmitter network with new high power stations located outside the cities, broadcasting at powers between 40 and 100 kW

During the 1930's short plays, organ music, seaside songs and the news at 6.00pm were introduced on the National Programme. The daily Children's Hour remained at 5.15. The long running Saturday night show In Town Tonight began in 1933. Hundreds of interesting personalities were interviewed in London during the shows 27 year run including actors, stunt men, magicians, detectives, traders and even Princes!

The BBC began to experience competition from both Radio Normandie and Luxembourg.  On Sundays, when the BBC was concentrating on religious output, Radio Normandie was said to command 80% of the British radio audience.

Sir John Reith retired from the BBC in June 1938.  He did not want to leave his post, but had effectively been pushed by a government that no longer wanted such an independent minded man at the helm

During The War Years

When war broke out in 1939 and the nature of programmes provided by the BBC was quickly changed to adapt to the situation.  On September 1st the BBC quickly closed its television service from Alexandra Palace for fear of the German air force being able to use the television signals for direction finding. The Regional and National radio programmes were also closed and replaced by a single Home Service.

During the war years the BBC's programming necessarily changed. "ITMA" continued alongside other light entertainment and morale boosting programmes such as Vera Lynn's "Sincerely Yours" and "Hi Gang". Meanwhile the BBC also established a war reporting unit to bring accurate news to a worried population.


Before the war, the BBC radio had broadcast no news before 7pm. This was the result of an early agreement with the newspaper industry. However, from 25th August 1939, with war looming, the BBC began broadcasting daily morning and lunchtime news bulletins.

Post War

Once the war was over the BBC was able to re-organise broadcasting schedules.   The General Forces Programme had proved to be very popular with audiences and when the service was closed in July 1945 the BBC decided to replace it with a similarly entertaining service, naming it The Light Programme which commenced using longwave on July 29th 1945.  At this point the number of radio receiving licences had reached over 10 ½ million at a cost of £1 per licence.  The combined television and radio receiving licence was £2 at this time.

The Third Programme

In September 1946 the BBC launched a cultural radio service named the Third Programme.

The Third Programme aired concerts of classical music together with serious talks and discussions.