BBC Radio 4 198 LW off air - Digital services as normal

  last update: 12/05/2012 21:00

BBC Radio 4's Long Wave transmission on 198 kHz from Droitwich was unexpectedly off the air for much of Saturday daytime, knocking out reception of BBC Radio 4 LW in most of the UK and the near continent.

Services from the Scottish transmitters at Burghead and Westerglan were unaffected with listeners particularly in northern parts of England still able to receive weak reception on 198 LW from north of the border.


The fault did not appear on the BBC Reception website's reception diagnostics tool during Saturday, which usually shows if there are any known problems with BBC TV and radio transmitters across the UK, and to date there have not been any official statements from the BBC about the loss of service, which was first reported around 9am.

It appears the long wave transmitter at Droitwich came back on air around 4:30pm. Radio 4 on digital platforms as well as on FM continued as normal through Saturday.

Future prospects for the service
Last year, it had been revealed that BBC Radio 4 LW would be closed in the long term, with Test Match Special becoming exclusive to digital radio station BBC Radio 5 live Sports Extra. 

Reportedly, the main reason for the long term end of BBC Radio 4 LW is that the main transmitter at Droitwich relies on ageing transmitter equipment that uses a pair of valves – no longer manufactured – to function.

Last year, following the BBC's Delivering Quality First announcement, the Guardian reported that the valves are so rare that engineers say there are fewer than 10 in the world, and the BBC has been forced to buy up the entire global supply. Each lasts anywhere between one and 10 years, and when one of the last two blows the service will go quiet.

Around 90,000 households are said to still rely on the long wave transmission, where FM and digital radio is not available. However, with the digital switchover, only homes without any form of post-switchover television would not be able to receive Radio 4, as it is carried on all digital platforms, albeit restricted in the evenings in Scotland on Freeview.

The overnight long wave service on 198 kHz remains the only analogue radio outlet of the BBC World Service in Western Europe, following the closure of shortwave transmissions to Europe and the ceasation of services on 648 kHz medium wave last year.

Listener reaction?
Although it seems unlikely that the loss of service would have anything to do with measuring listener feedback, it will still be interesting to see if there were many complaints from 'non-anorak' radio listeners during today's loss of service, which would help identify how many people actually do listen to the LW version only and were left completly without access to Radio 4 for over six hours today.
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  1. It's fine here in Andover, Hampshire, so I assume it's back up now. It might just be atmospheric effects (or lack thereof), but it sounds much better than usual too, on my crappy little loop antenna nowhere near a window.

  2. We wondered if the lack of 198 transmission yesterday was the blowing of those precious valves, as indicated in the Radio Listeners Guide. We normally use the LW frequency on portables as there is less battery drain than on FM and significantly less than on DAB. Interference however, is an ever growing problem.

    198 LW is a must for live cricket; the power of the transmission in silent moments is truly atmospheric, by appearing to compensate for lack of sound commentary. The powerful transmissions of Radio Caroline had fared the same in the sixties. Whenever nothing is fed into the transmitter the roar of the carrier signal increases.

    It's always a pleasure to return to cricket on R4 long wave after finding a digital source during Daily Service, Shipping Forecast and Yesterday in Parliament. Bizarrely, the analogue transmission is of course live! Freeview, Freesat and DAB can be a second or two behind; Internet streams can be half a minute behind.

    Today it was a delight to find 198 LW restored.


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