BBC Radio

In this section we track the history of BBC Radio. On this page we look at Radio 5. On other pages: Radio 1, Radio 2, Radio 3, Radio 4, digital radio, local radio and nations radio. We also have old schedules for a number of BBC radio stations, and a look at the history of the Radio 1 Top 40 show.

BBC Radio 5/5 Live

The original incarnation of Radio 5 was born not so much out of the desire to launch a new network, but rather out of necessity. Government policy was to end simulcasting, that is the broadcasting of the same output on more than one waveband, and the BBC risked losing frequencies unless it made better use of them. As it was, Radio 1 and Radio 3's AM frequencies would soon be surrendered for use by commercial radio.

And so in August 1990, the BBC opened its first new national network for 23 years, as Radio 5 took over Radio 2's former medium wave frequencies. The station launched with a pre-recorded children's show, Take Five, presented by Bruno Brookes - who happened to be live on air on Radio 1 at the exact same time!

The new network inherited all the sports output that was already broadcast on 693 and 909 AM, with Sport on 2 being renamed Radio 5. Children's, schools, adult education and Open University programming transferred from Radio 4. Evenings, aside from sport, were dedicated to youth programming, with the final show of the day coming from a different region of the UK each night of the week. Notably, Manchester's contribution to this strand, Hit the North, would pair up Mark Radcliffe and Marc Riley for the first time, who later made a name for themselves on Radio 1.

To fill in airtime, programmes from each of the other four networks were simulcast on Radio 5 at various points during the week. There were also programmes taken from the World Service. The rest of the daytime output consisted of magazine shows presented by the likes of Johnnie Walker, Jon Briggs and Martin Kelner.

In short, Radio 5 could be described as a bit of a mish-mash, lurching between wildly differing programme formats throughout the day, with little opportunity for audience inheritance between them. Unsurprisingly, aside from the sport, Radio 5 failed to find much of an audience, and the schedules were revamped a number of times throughout the station's short life.

In 1992 the breakfast news magazine Morning Edition changed format completely when it was taken over by Danny Baker. Liz Kershaw joined the station in 1993 to present a lunchtime phone-in The Crunch, and John Inverdale presented the early evening Drive-In sequence for a while. In August 1992 Radio 5 was taken entirely over by coverage of the Summer Olympics, which marked Terry Wogan's return to radio broadcasting.

The seeds of Radio 5's demise were sown not long after the station even went on air. As detailed on our Radio 4 page, a proposal to launch a rolling news network on Radio 4's long wave frequency was seen off by the station's listenership. With Radio 1 and Radio 3 losing their AM frequencies to commercial radio, attention turned to the under-performing Radio 5.

The plan would see only Radio 5's sports output remain. Everything else would be wiped out, or returned to other networks, and replaced by news programming. However, the rolling news plan never really took hold - instead the news output would take the form of magazine programmes, aimed at a more youthful audience than that catered for by Radio 4.

Radio 5 closed at midnight on 27 March 1994, just as it had opened - in pre-recorded form. The following morning, BBC Radio 5 Live, took to the air, with Jane Garvey the first voice to be heard on Morning Reports. Topical news discussion programmes made up the daytime schedule, with the launch line-up consisting of Peter Allen, Diana Madill, Eddie Mair, Sybil Ruscoe and John Inverdale. Sports coverage would dominate evenings and much of the weekend.

There were also weekly magazines shows on certain topics, such as Dirty Tackle on angling, and Top Gear on motoring.

Despite fears that news and sport would make awkward bedfellows, the new format was a success, quickly attracting a decent-sized audience.

A number of former Radio 1 DJs would make their way to Radio 5 Live over the years, most notably Nicky Campbell who has presented the breakfast show for many years, Simon Mayo who joined to present in the afternoons, and the late Kevin Greening who appeared as a cover presenter on the station.

In 2002, a digital spin-off station, 5 Live Sports Extra, launched, providing extra capacity for sports commentary. It also became the digital home for Test Match Special. A further pop-up station, 5 Live Olympics Extra, opened for the duration of the London 2012 games.

In 2011, 5 Live moved to new premises at MediaCity in Salford. Most of the station's programmes moved up north, with the notable exception of Danny Baker's Saturday morning show. However Simon Mayo chose not to go, opting to join Radio 2 instead, although he continued to present the popular Friday afternoon Film Review with Mark Kermode.

Click here to view the evolution of the Radio 5 and 5 Live 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. To investigate past Radio 5 and 5 Live schedules in greater detail, please visit the BBC Genome project (for years up to 2009) and BBC Schedules (covering 2007 onwards).

From our YouTube channel, a clip from Marc Riley's Cult Radio paying tribute to Radio 5 on its last day.


BBC Radio 5 Live official site
BBC Radio 5/5 Live schedules at BBC Genome
BBC Radio 5 Wikipedia entry
BBC Radio 5 Live Wikipedia entry