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.[…]
Not the only time the Shipping Forecast has had to be repeated for ‘Operational Error’
I hold my hand up for having had a broadcast repeated.
One morning, whilst still under the duvet, I found myself still listening to the overnight simulcast of BBC World Service on the BBC Radio 4 outlets. The simulcast of World Service is scheduled from 0100 local, just after the 0048 Shipping Forecast, till 0520 when it is followed by the Shipping Forecast. That wasn’t right, it now being around 0540. A quick check on the LF output, I was listening on my VHF-FM alarm radio, again it’s World Service. Something not quite right..!
Having the internal extension number of LCR (London Control Room) at BH (Broadcasting House) I made a quick call. A voice I recognised answered and after a short conversation was assured it would be remedied.
It was a few minutes later the Shipping Forecast was going out on 198 kHz and other R4 frequencies, followed by a short apology ” for technical reasons”.
A later phone call and heard, the overnight software update had managed to have done an update where it shouldn’t have.! I think a few red faces all round in the IT department.
So Dave the transmitters were OK it was the feed this time.
73 de Kris (G8AUU)
Thank you so much for sharing your story, Kris!
I mean, what are the odds that two people in our Post community have forced a re-broadcast of the Shipping Forecast??? Anyone else want to make a confession? 🙂
I worked at the Droitwich Transmitting Station through 1972-1974, the home of the BBC UK Long Wave 1500 m/200 kHz service as it was then.
In the summer of 1973 I was junior member of the engineering team, a 21 year-old Technical Assistant, and manned the control room for the four services from the site, Radio One, 1214 kHz, Radio Two, 200 kHz and Radio Four, 1052 kHz.
It was customary to check the two 200 kW transmitters, T7A and T7B for power balance prior to the Shipping Forecast and I duly went out in the transmitter hall just before the start at 1355.
I noted one was a little down and the other a little high so I pressed what I thought was the raise / lower buttons on the control desk. Unfortunately I had pressed the main on/off buttons instead.
The pair of transmitters came instantly off the air. I could hear on the audio monitoring the announcer starting the broadcast… it takes a while to reinstate the mercury arc rectifiers as the regulators had to run all the way down to zero and then back up to 14 kV.
By the time I had got it back on the air he was just finishing so we had to contact London and arrange a repeat after the 1400 news bulletin… Ooops!
I was much more careful after that when adjusting the transmitters.
The Senior Maintenance Engineer was not best pleased, as he had to write up the shutdown report for London citing “Operational Error” as the cause.
That’s a brilliant story, Dave! Thank you so much for sharing. Oh…I’m sure it’s a lot easier to laugh about it now than it was when it happened! 🙂
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