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Forty Years of BBC Radio News

From the Swinging Sixties to the Turbulent Noughties

Anya Luscombe

In this case study of BBC Radio News, that shows how radio journalism has changed since the 1960s, the author paints a picture of the changing nature of the profession and the style of writing. She draws on interviews with practitioners, BBC official documents, style guides and output. Whilst the BBC Radio newsroom itself has changed a great deal between 1966 and 2008, the main aim of informing the public about what has happened has stayed the same. Many of the news writers are concerned about increased workloads and competition from 24-hour news outlets and its impact on the accuracy (of content and language) of BBC radio bulletins. The BBC News Style Guide charts the changes in the language since the 1960s.


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Chapter 1 Tuning in


It always begins with an almost silence, world-wide potential held in the fingers, remembering the stately warming-up of the valves, an anticipation lost to transistors. Sean Street, “Tuning in”, Radio and Other Poems Radio News is dead. Long live Radio News! The death of radio has been predicted many times since its invention, but a hun- dred years on it perseveres, reinventing itself -- some would argue growing in strength -- perhaps the only medium able to survive into the future. True, the media landscape has changed dramatically, through technological advances and changes in media consumption patterns, but still the essence of radio – communication to the masses through sound and the spoken word – has endured, even if those masses are increasingly dis- persed. Whereas once radio was only heard through the “wire- less” set, now it is available through digital platforms, internet, mobile phone and podcast too. Whilst in western countries ra- dio has to compete for its share of the audience with a variety of media and other activities, in the UK and the Netherlands at least radio maintains its reach: each week 89% of the UK (RA- JAR 2012) and 92% of the Dutch population (Rab FM 2008) spends at least some time listening to the radio. Figures from Latin America (Soong 2002) and South Africa (Omar 2008) show similar percentages. The internet and its option to listen to items again or those missed during their scheduled broad- cast is gaining in popularity. In the UK in December...

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