BBC Radio 2

In this section we track the history of BBC Radio. On this page we look at Radio 2 and its predecessors. On other pages: Radio 1, Radio 3, Radio 4, Radio 5/5 Live, digital radio, local radio and nations radio. We also have old schedules for a number of BBC radio stations.


The BBC's network for popular music and entertainment can trace its lineage back to the early years of World War II, and the start of the Forces Programme in January 1940. Aimed primarily at those in the Armed Forces, it also picked up a large civilian audience, providing a lighter alternative to the Home Service.

In 1944 the Forces Programme merged with the General Overseas Service (previously the BBC Overseas Forces Programme) to become the General Forces Programme. On 29 July 1945 the General Forces Programme was succeeded in the UK by the Light Programme, which continued its diet of light entertainment, comedy and music into peacetime. It used the reactivated 1500 metres long wave frequency that had transmitted the BBC National Programme until 1939.

Well-remembered comedies were heard in the Light Programme, such as Hancock's Half Hour, Educating Archie, The Navy Lark and Round the Horne amongst many others. Drama serials included Journey into Space and Dick Barton - Special Agent, and there were also daily soaps with The Archers and Mrs Dales's Diary. Music programmes included Music While You Work, Housewives' Choice and Children's Favourites.

In 1958, the early evening magazine show Roundabout launched, which could be described as the first 'sequence programme' in something resembling the form we know it today. However, like most of the Light Programme's sequence programming, it did not have a fixed presenter in the way we would expect today, instead it had a team of presenters that would host on a rotating basis.

By the mid-1960s, the Light Programme was appearing increasingly out-of-touch with popular culture, only offering a few concessions to the pop music of the day, such as Pick of the Pops and Saturday Club. Younger listeners were increasingly turning to pirate radio for their fix of pop.

The BBC's response was to split the Light in two, and on 30 September 1967, announcer Paul Hollingdale welcomed early morning listeners for the very first time to Radios 1 and 2. Radio 1 took over the Light's 247 metres frequency for a service of pop music for young people, while the existing Light Programme became Radio 2, but otherwise remained largely as it was, on 1500 metres and VHF.

In 1969 Radio 2's daily soap The Dales (a revamped Mrs Dale's Diary) was replaced by Waggoners' Walk, which would run until 1980.

In April 1970 the BBC's Broadcasting in the Seventies report led to a 'tidying up' of output across the BBC's four national networks, and saw some programming transfer between stations. In the case of Radio 2, this meant most talk shows such as Any Questions? moving to Radio 4, though Woman's Hour would remain incongruously on Radio 2 for another three years. At the same time Radio 2 became the BBC's sports network, taking over Radio 3's Saturday afternoon sports output, and other coverage throughout the week. This would generally be heard only on AM, with regular programming on VHF.

In April 1972 Terry Wogan moved from Radio 1 to present Radio 2's first personality-based breakfast show, replacing Breakfast Special. The following year Jimmy Young also hopped across the networks - he would remain a fixture of Radio 2 until 2002.

Frequency changes in November 1978 saw Radio 2 hand over its 1500 long wave frequency to Radio 4 (and with it the shipping forecast), and move to two medium wave frequencies. The intention was that 24 hour broadcasting would start at the same time, but this was delayed until January 1979 due to industrial action.

The long-running Family Favourites on a Sunday lunchtime ended in 1980, to be replaced by a new Pete Murray weekend show. By 1984, he found himself ditched from the network for being 'out of date'.

Following Terry Wogan's departure at the end of 1984 to present his thrice-weekly BBC1 chat show, the virtually unknown Ken Bruce was brought in to succeed him. Although he presented the breakfast show for little over a year, he has remained a daily presence on Radio 2 ever since.

A major revamp in April 1986 saw head of music Frances Line refocusing the network's music policy towards an older audience, using the watchwords 'melody, familiarity, excellence and breadth'. As a result afternoon presenter David Hamilton would soon leave the station, claiming the music policy had become 'geriatric'. Veteran BBC broadcaster David Jacobs gained a daily lunchtime show at this time, and former newspaper editor Derek Jameson took over the breakfast show.

More changes were afoot in 1990 when Frances Line took over as controller, moving Brian Matthew from weeknights to Saturdays and Sounds of the 60s, which he presented until shortly before his death in 2018. Later in 1990, Radio 2 lost its medium wave frequencies, and along with it its sports coverage, to a new BBC network, Radio 5. Go to the bottom of this page to hear clips of the information loop broadcast on AM in August 1990 advising listeners how to retune to FM.

Schedule changes in January 1992 saw the abrasive phone-in host Brian Hayes take over the breakfast show from Derek Jameson. Clearly a square peg in a round hole, Hayes's tenure lasted just one year. He was replaced by a more familiar voice - that of Terry Wogan, returning to present a second, and even longer, stint on the breakfast show.

Had more joined-up thinking occured across the BBC's music radio networks, Radio 2 could have started to aim younger after 1993, to pick up listeners disaffected by Radio 1's shift towards a younger, trendier audience. Indeed, following his sudden depature from Radio 1, Dave Lee Travis approached Frances Line about joining the station. However she made it clear she was not interested in having ex-Radio 1 DJs on her station. And so millions of listeners who fell into the increasing chasm between Radios 1 and 2 turned towards commercial radio, notably the newly launched Virgin Radio.

In 1995 Jim Moir took control of Radio 2, and his tenure would see the network at last begin to shed its fuddy duddy image. Unlike Radio 1's painful changes of a few years earlier, the changes at Radio 2 were made through evolution, not revolution. The music policy was gently modernised, and the likes of Johnnie Walker, Bob Harris, Alan Freeman, Mark Lamarr and Jonathan Ross were introduced. Steve Wright also joined, initially at the weekend, and then in 1999 returning to his traditional berth in the afternoons where he has remained ever since. To accompany the changes, a new, more modern jingle package was introduced in February 1998, which would continue in use until 2012.

The changes struck a chord with the listening public - audience figures grew, and in 2001 Radio 2 overtook Radio 1 for the first time. To this day it remains the nation's favourite by some considerable distance.

Lesley Douglas replaced Moir as controller in 2004, but it was one of her appointments that would lead to what is probably Radio 2's greatest ever controversy, which took place in October 2008, involving Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross, an incident notorious enough not to need recounting here. The broadcast went largely unnoticed for over a week, before being picked up by the tabloid press, leading to the resignations of both Brand and Douglas. It also ultimately led to the departure of Jonathan Ross - though he has since made low key returns to the network.

At the end of 2009, Terry Wogan finally stood down from the breakfast show, after clocking up a total of nearly 30 years of early mornings in two stints. He was replaced by Chris Evans who, despite his chequered BBC Radio career, defied expectations by increasing Wogan's already massive audience.

Since 2014 Radio 2 has run various pop-up DAB stations allowing events such as the Eurovision Song Contest and the Country to Country festival to be covered in greater depth, along with a station to accompany the BBC's 50s season.

Radio 2 has continued to move with the times, with more programmes catering for the younger end of the audience being introduced, such as Sounds of the 80s and Dance Devotion, while increasingly, the station's more specialist output has been sidelined. By 2018, much of Radio 2's non-music output, such as scripted comedy (apart from in short special seasons), had been phased out, and with the loss of Brian Matthew and the ending of programmes such as Sunday Half Hour and Listen to the Band, only Friday Night is Music Night still remains to link Radio 2 back to the days of the Light Programme.

Radio 2 ends 2018 facing changes to both of its most important weekday shows, with Chris Evans departing the breakfast show to join Virgin Radio, and Simon Mayo, who, in an unpopular move had been sharing his drivetime slot with Jo Whiley since the previous May, leaving to devote more time to other projects. Following criticism that Radio 2's daytime line-up had been an all-male affair for many years, the station took the opportunity to appoint its first female breakfast and (solo) drivetime presenters, Zoe Ball and Sara Cox respectively.


Schedules

Click here to view the evolution of the Radio 2 schedule in grid form (opens in new window). Note that the dates across the top are not necessarily when the schedule shown came into effect; rather it is a 'snapshot' of the schedule at that time. In the interests of clarity, programmes shorter than 30 minutes, such as Waggoners' Walk, are not shown. It also means that there is some simplification in early schedules, where some programmes would start and end at quarter past or quarter to the hour. To investigate past Radio 2 schedules in greater detail, please visit the BBC Genome project (for years up to 2009) and BBC Schedules (covering 2007 onwards).


Audio

From our YouTube channel, the information service broadcast on Radio 2's medium wave frequencies in August 1990, in advance of the network's move to FM only.



Links

BBC Radio 2 official site
BBC Radio 2 schedules at BBC Genome
BBC Light Programme schedules at BBC Genome
BBC Radio 2 Wikipedia entry
Radio Rewind
Random Radio Jottings


Text copyright © Robert Williams, images and audio copyright © British Broadcasting Corporation