An introduction to radio in the UK
Half our stations are commercial-free? It's highly unusual, and typically British...
The BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) is perhaps the most famous radio broadcaster in the world. Its five national networks (Radio 1,2,3,4 and 5 Live), five digital national networks (1Xtra, 6 music, 4 Extra, Asian Network and 5 Live Sports Extra), combined with its five 'nations' services (Radio Scotland, nan Gaidheal, Ulster, Cymru and Wales) and 43 local radio stations in England, make up over 50% of all radio listening. The BBC's domestic radio services are funded by the television licence, which is (2012) charged at £145.50 (€180, $227) per year. The BBC does not broadcast advertisements.
The BBC World Service is available throughout the UK on DAB Digital Radio and television networks, and also broadcasts via satellite, FM and short-wave in many parts of the world. It is currently funded by the British Government, but retains editorial impartiality. In 2014 it will receive funding from the domestic BBC licence fee.
Commercial radio stations, as the name suggests, are funded by commercials, promotions and sponsorship. There are three national analogue services - (Classic FM, Absolute Radio and Talk Sport), around ten 'regional' services (generally covering three major cities) and around 170 local services. In general, most cities have one FM service and one AM service, although major cities (London, Manchester, Birmingham, and Glasgow) have a wider choice of commercial listening. Independent local radio usually serves a smaller area than BBC local radio. Licences are normally renewed every seven years, with existing stations having to bid for their licence (in terms of programme quality, content, and a full business plan) against new competitors. Nearly all commercial radio stations are regulated by Ofcom.
Community radio stations, often covering smaller areas, are also licenced and regulated by Ofcom. These are mainly run by volunteers and are operated on a not-for-profit basis.
Finally, there are over 100 temporary radio stations per year. Temporary radio stations (called 'restricted service licences' by Ofcom) are used for three main reasons -special events (the Glastonbury Festival), football clubs (Radio Latics) and monthly stations (either used by licence-wannabies or student stations). An RSL station can usually only broadcast for 28 days every six months.
Differences between the UK and USA
Geographical closeness of cities in the UK mean that the amount of choice, in terms of sheer number of radio stations, is limited on analogue when compared to the US. However, obligations placed on Ofcom and its predecessors of 'increasing listener choice' has resulted in a wider variety of radio genres and formats than is available in much of the US.
Europe uses different AM frequencies - there are no stereo broadcasts on AM, so stations are 9kHz apart, instead of the US's 10.
The Ibiquity 'HD Radio' standard is not used within the UK, and digital broadcasting occurs on separate frequencies using the Eureka 147 standard (known as DAB Digital Radio).
There is an AM stereo station in Europe: France Bleu 864KHz. It can be received during night hours in some parts of the UK. But you do need a C-QUAM receiver to get the audio in stereo.