The BBC Home Service was a British national radio station that broadcast from 1939 until 1967, when it became the current BBC Radio 4.
Between the 1920s and the outbreak of the Second World War, the BBC developed two nationwide radio services, the BBC National Programme and the BBC Regional Programme. As well as a basic service programmed from London, the Regional Programme included programming originating in six regions:
- Northern Ireland (part of North until January 7, 1963)
Although the programme items attracting the greatest number of listeners tended to appear on the National, the two services were not streamed: they were each designed to appeal “across the board” to a single, but variegated, audience by offering between them and at most times of the day a choice of programme type, rather than simply catering, each of them exclusively, to two distinct audiences.
On September 1, 1939, the BBC merged the two programmes into one national service from London. The reasons given included the need to prevent enemy aircraft from using differentiated output from the Regional Programme’s transmitters as navigational beacons. To this end, the former regional transmitters were synchronised in chains on (initially) two frequencies, 668 (South) and 767 kHz (North), with an additional chain of low-powered transmitters (known as “Group H”) on 1474 kHz appearing later. Under this arrangement regional broadcasting in its pre-war form was no longer feasible, but much of the programming was gradually decentralised to the former regional studios because of the risks from enemy attack/bombing/invasion in London, and broadcast nationally.
The new service was named the Home Service, which was also the internal designation at the BBC for domestic radio broadcasting (the organisation had also had Television Service and Overseas Service departments).
On July 29, 1945, the BBC resumed its previous regional structure, though true regional radio stations would not return till the 1970s, and began “streaming” its radio services. Following the wartime success of the Forces and General Forces Programmes, light entertainment was transferred to the new BBC Light Programme, whilst “heavier” programming – news, drama, discussion, etc – remained on the regionalised Home Service.
Popular light programming, such as ITMA, remained on the Home Service, and some speech programming of the type pioneered by the Forces Programmes – the newly launched Woman’s Hour being very much in this mould – was on the Light Programme.
The Service provided between five and seven national news bulletins a day from London, and drama, talks and informational programmes. Non-topical talk programmes and heavier drama output were transferred to the BBC Third Programme when it began broadcasting on 29 September 1946.
On September 30, 1967, the BBC split the Light Programme into a pop music service and an entertainment network. The Light Programme became BBC Radio 1 and BBC Radio 2. The BBC Third Programme became BBC Radio 3. The Home Service was renamed BBC Radio 4.