Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Eric McFadden (WD8RIF), who notes that one of my favorite podcasts, 99% Invisible, has featured The Shipping Forecast in their latest episode:
Four times every day, on radios all across the British Isles, a BBC announcer begins reading from a seemingly indecipherable script. “And now the Shipping Forecast issued by the Met Office on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency,” says the voice over the wire. “Viking, North Utsire; southwesterly five to seven; occasionally gale eight; rain or showers; moderate or good, occasionally poor.” Cryptic and mesmerizing, this is the UK’s nautical weather report.
The story of this radio program starts (well before the BBC itself) in the 1850s with a man named Admiral Robert FitzRoy. He was the captain of the Beagle, the ship that brought Charles Darwin to the Galapagos.
FitzRoy had a long, sometimes controversial career, but later in his life he became fascinated with the study of weather prediction.[…]
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Eric McFadden (WD8RIF), who notes that the excellent website, Atlas Obscura, recently featured The Shipping Forecast:
Why a Maritime Forecast Is So Beloved in the United Kingdom
For the penultimate song on their 1994 album Parklife, Blur chose the swirling, meditative epic, “This Is a Low.” The song envisions a five-minute trip around the British Isles as an area of low pressure hits.
“Up the Tyne, Forth, and Cromarty,” sings the lead singer Damon Albarn, “there’s a low in the high Forties.” The song’s litany of playful-sounding place names, including the improbable “Biscay” and “Dogger,” may seem obscure to listeners abroad, but to a British audience, they resonate.
The song’s lyrics were inspired by the Shipping Forecast, a weather report that is broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. Sailors working around the coasts of Britain and Ireland, recipients of the wrath of the North Atlantic and North Sea, are the ostensible beneficiaries of the forecast.
But, for listeners who tune in while tucked in bed rather than sailing the high seas, the reassuring sound—a simple, steady listing of conditions in the seas around the British Isles, broken down into 31 “sea areas,” most of which are named after nearby geographical features—is something more akin to the beating pulse of the United Kingdom, as familiar as the national anthem or the solemn chimes of Big Ben.[…]
When I lived in the UK, I would often fall asleep and/or wake up to the Shipping Forecast. Here in the States, I can listen to the forecast live via the U Twente WebSDR, but I rarely remember to do so.
And, of course, I can navigate to the Radio 4 website and stream current and past forecasts on demand, but I find the audio a little too clean and full fidelity. I prefer listening to my maritime poetry via Amplitude Modulation (AM)!
Consternation, mourning and national soul-searching greeted the temporary silencing of Big Ben last week, but at least another favourite fixture of the nightly and early morning radio is to continue. The hymnal cadences of Viking, North Utsire, South Utsire, through Shannon, Rockall, Malin all the way to south-east Iceland, will be heard as usual on Thursday, as the shipping forecast celebrates 150 years of uninterrupted service.
The shipping forecast, the longest continuous weather forecast ever made, has been a public service since 1867 when it was used to warn of storms. The warnings were first issued using the electric telegraph until radio became available. Storm warnings were sent over the telegraph wires to harbours, where signals were hoisted to warn ships at sea.
When the BBC was formed in the 1920s, the maritime forecast became a fixture of the daily wireless programme where it would remain with occasional modifications and a break during the war when the broadcast was discontinued for fear it would help the enemy. The forecast was still made, however, and disseminated to the Royal Navy.
Though today’s seafarers have access to many more sources of meteorological data, and many radio listeners famously use the late-night incantatory broadcast – never more than 380 words, and always following the same strict format – for soporific rather than navigational purposes, the broadcasts still fulfil a vital safety role.[…]
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