Capt Leonard Plugge was the driving force behind Radio Normandy in the early 1930s. He created the International Broadcasting Company in 1931 as a commercial rival to the British Broadcasting Corporation by buying airtime from radio stations such as Normandy, Toulouse, Ljubljana, Juan les Pins, Paris, Poste Parisien, Athlone, Barcelona, Madrid and Rome. IBC worked indirectly with Radio Luxembourg until 1936. World War II silenced most of Plugge’s stations between 1939 and 1945.
Today is the 70th anniversary of D-Day: the WWII Normandy invasion.
In honor, the BBC has been broadcasting the original radio news scripts throughout the day, at the same time of day they would have been originally broadcast. The news scripts are being read by Benedict Cumberbatch, Patrick Stewart and Toby Jones; the complete set of recordings is available online. You can follow along by reading scans of the original scripts.
Since the dawn of time, there is, there was, and there always has been…the Shipping Forecast. We set our clocks by it. Despite the complexities of our planet–war, famine, daytime television–the Shipping Forecast has been there for us. Our steady friend amid the choppy seas of life. Our rock of Gibraltar…our security blanket.
Regardless of our diverse beliefs (or unbeliefs), it seems we all believe in the Forecast. We somehow find ourselves regularly returning to its altar, taking comfort in its soothing ministry. And why should we not? It’s been there, without fail, for ninety years.
That is…until this morning.
This morning, BBC Radio 4, who produces the Shipping Forecast experienced some technical difficulties. These, alas, led to a failure to broadcast the Forecast for the first time in, yes, ninety years. Andy Sennit shares this article from The Guardian:
It was early-morning chaos and warnings of impending armageddon when BBC Radio 4 failed to broadcast the Shipping Forecast for the first time in more than 90 years.
The BBC radio service is something of an institution, metronomically broadcasting four forecasts a day since 1924, a routine which failed for the first time at 5.20am on Friday.
A technical glitch meant the BBC’s World Service was played in its place, a gaffe that prompted listeners to take to Twitter to voice their bewilderment.
Kirsty Connell said: “Eep. The shipping forecast didn’t get broadcast on @BBCRadio4 this morning. Isn’t that the sign of impending nuclear armageddon?”
Jordan Rowland added: “No shipping forecast? If UK submarines don’t get shipping forecast, don’t they launch nuclear attack?”
The BBC was only able to resolve the issue at 5.40am when it cut back to the Radio 4 programme. Friday morning’s Shipping Forecast eventually aired 6.40am.
When I lived in the UK, I would often fall asleep and/or wake up to the Shipping Forecast: a BBC Radio broadcast of weather reports and forecasts for the seas around the coasts of the British Isles.
Though I had, of course, no real need of the Forecast, on many occasions it lured me like the voice of a hypnotic siren (especially, I must admit, when read by a woman). When I moved back to the US in 2003, I missed hearing the Forecast on the radio, but thankfully one can listen to it at Radio 4 online. Although the online stream lacks the delectable sonic texture of long wave radio, the Forecast still has the power can still reel in its listeners.
Last December, I followed a brilliant series on NPR which highlighted the BBC Shipping Forecast. I intended to publish it here on the SWLing Post at the time, but somehow lost it in the shuffle of a busy travel season. Fortunately, NPR has archived audio from the series online. I love their introduction:
“It is a bizarre nightly ritual that is deeply embedded in the British way of life.
You switch off the TV, lock up the house, slip into bed, turn on your radio, and begin to listen to a mantra, delivered by a soothing, soporific voice.
“Viking, North Utsire, South Utsire, Forties, Cromarty, Forth, Tyne, Dogger ….” says the voice.
You are aware — vaguely — that these delicious words are names, and that those names refer to big blocks of sea around your island nation, stretching all the way up to Iceland and down to North Africa.
The BBC’s beloved Shipping Forecast bulletin covers 31 sea areas, the names of which have inspired poets, artists and singers and become embedded into the national psyche.
Your mind begins to swoop across the landscape, sleepily checking the shorelines, from the gray waters of the English Channel to the steely turbulence of the Atlantic.
Somewhere, deep in your memory, stir echoes of British history — of invasions from across the sea by Vikings, Romans and Normans; of battles with Napoleon’s galleons and Hitler’s U-boats.
Finally, as the BBC’s Shipping Forecast bulletin draws to a close, you nod off, complacent in the knowledge that whatever storms are blasting away on the oceans out there, you’re in your pajamas, sensibly tucked up at home”
You can listen to the series on NPR, or via the embedded player below:
Tuning In, a history of early radio in Britain, will be broadcast November 3rd on BBC Radio 4. If you don’t live in the UK, you can listen live on the Radio 4 website where they will also post an archive of the show. (Note that some archived shows are only available for a limited time.)
The press fulminated, the enthusiasts were frustrated, and the radio manufacturers fumed. Despite the fact that Marconi had invented radio before Queen Victoria had celebrated her Diamond Jubilee in 1897, radio in Britain took another 25 years to begin an official service to listeners. But when, on November 14th 1922 the British Broadcasting Company’s station at Marconi House radiated to an awaiting nation “This is 2LO calling” for the first time under the company’s name, it marked the start of the first and most distinguished public-service radio station in the world.
As part of the celebrations to mark nine decades of the BBC, historian Dominic Sandbrook explores the long and involved pre-BBC history of radio in Britain, how Britain’s broadcaster got going and developed into an institution dedicated to entertainment, education and information, discovers why Australian diva Dame Nellie Melba was involved, and how the improbably-named Captain Plugge made his first British commercial broadcast from the roof of Selfridges department store in London. From Marconi to Savoy Hill via an old army hut in Essex, the story of the early radio in Britain.
This is a fascinating Radio 4 documentary about a BBC service that typically had a target audience of one individual. Before the proliferation of telecommunications in the 1990’s, the BBC’s SOS message service acted as a communications link of last resort for people who needed to be urgently connected with loved ones.
This radio documentary reminded me of the fact that, even in our information age, radio can interact with a large audience of listeners who are doing everything from working to driving in a uniquely efficient manor.
Radio 4 used to broadcast SOS messages – “could Mr and Mrs Snodgrass, believed to be travelling in the Cotswolds please ring this hospital where their auntie is dangerously ill”.
Eddie Mair wants to know more about them. He hears from listeners whose lives were dramatically changed through the SOS service. These short messages were transmitted regularly on The Home Service, and later Radio 4, for much of the 20th century. They appealed for relatives of dying people, often on holiday and thus, before mobile phones and internet cafes, uncontactable, to return home before it was too late.
Eddie invited readers of his Radio Times column to send in their recollections of the SOS Message Service, and little did the PM Presenter expect such a rich response of vivid memories, first person experiences and in one case, unexpected consequences as a result of the broadcast.
Some of these remarkable testimonies are told, in understated, haunting and even cheery ways in this narrative tribute to radio, and a nation, – “as it was”. Best summed up by the tale of a six year old girl in the North East who while staying with a relation in 1958, was hospitalised with a very serious illness. She survived and tells Eddie her story. In the days of very few domestic telephones, the BBC’s SOS message brought her parents to her bedside from London courtesy of an observant member of the public who heard the message and recognised the car number plate that had been announced.
The SOS Service, was the vision of John Reith, the first General Manager, and later Director General of the BBC. But its heart was the listener, as Eddie reveals.