This is the lesser known, but much more influential external radio broadcasting side of the BBC. The World Service is the poor relation to the fat TV cats over at Broadcasting House. The World Service, based in Bush House on the Aldwych in London serves the world with a diet of hard, impartial news, lessons in British culture, and the English language, news and information about British and European sport, business, science and technology. Arts, music and entertainment, beliefs and religious systems, and much, much more. Cultural imperialism? Certainly, but done in the best possible taste.
It broadcasts in 43 languages (see below) including English, and prior to the internet, was regarded by almost everyone in countries where the news media was less than free, as the most trustworthy source of news and world events. Dictators and governments actively blocked the broadcasts. Today, that reputation remains intact, with market research confirming that most regular listeners agree with the statement “The BBC is a news source I trust”.
The organisation boasts around 150 million listeners, more than any other radio broadcaster in the world. For those with a web connection, the company streams its broadcasts from the website (above), however this has experienced problems with excessive bandwidth demand, resulting in frequent server crashes since its re-launch early in November 2001.
The organisation receives around £181 million ($280m) in grants from the UK government and a further £23 million in other incomemostly from subscriptions to the World Service monitoring serviceto run each year. It is not enough. The journalists and researchers work in cramped offices, multi-tasking as they interview people, edit the tapes and operate their own desks.
The service itself struggles to deliver the best news in the world and to maintain its network of transmitters and linguists. A recent increase in funding has allowed the organisation to refurbish its transmitters and to increase its coverage on FM frequencies, and to expand its internet-based broadcasts. Nevertheless, the organisation withdrew its shortwave service from North America and parts of the Asia/Pacific region in July 2001.
The origins of the World Service are well documented. The first broadcast of the Empire Service was at 0930 GMT on 19 December, 1930, with a 2-hour shortwave broadcast to Australia and New Zealand.
See this item for the full, fascinating story
The technical problems of broadcasting on the shortwave bands were only just solved, and the issue of bouncing radio waves from the ionosphere were –and remain—the main strength and the main limitation of short-wave broadcast technology.
After that, the BBC used the Christmas Day speech by King George V as the first showpiece event of the new medium, and his message was heard around the world. That tradition is maintained to this day.
Languages offered by the BBC World Service
French for Africa
Portuguese for Africa