Elderly Britons will be 'left behind' by BBC going 'digital first'

Millions of elderly Britons will be ‘left behind’ by BBC going ‘digital first’: Age UK warns pensioners will be unable to tune radios to Radio 5 and listen to Test Match Special after scrapping of long and medium wave transmissions

  • Radio 4’s long-wave service set to lose its dedicated programming before being shut down completely
  • BBC Four and CBBC will also end as linear TV channels as part of broadcaster’s plans to go ‘digital-first’
  • Radio 5 Live on medium-wave will close by 2027 and Radio 4 Extra will only be available on BBC Sounds
  • It’s claimed Trident submarines check UK is still functioning by checking Radio 4’s LW output is running

Millions of elderly Britons are at risk of being ‘left behind’ by the BBC’s ‘digital-first’ strategy, age campaigners warned today after it emerged Radio 4 long-wave and 5 Live medium-wave services will both be dropped.

The crackly sounds of Test Match Special and the Shipping Forecast on Radio 4 long-wave have been a comforting voice to many for decades, but the service is set to lose its dedicated programming before being shut altogether.

At present, two of the four Shipping Forecast broadcasts go out on Radio 4 FM and digital radio as well as BBC Sounds online – and these will continue when Radio 4 long-wave ends in the coming years. Test Match Special, which has been on the BBC since 1957, will also still be available online when the long-wave service is pulled.

BBC Four and CBBC will also end as linear TV channels as part of the broadcaster’s plans to become ‘digital-first’, while Radio 5 Live on medium-wave will close by 2027 and Radio 4 Extra will only be available on BBC Sounds.

But Age UK today raised concerns about the phasing out of analogue radio stations, saying many older people are ‘still getting good use’ from older radios and ‘more should be being done to recognise and respect’ their interests.

The charity’s director Caroline Abrahams told MailOnline today: ‘FM/MW radios were generally built to last so many older people are still getting good use from them. It’s a shame if before too long they will no longer be able to tune into Radio 5 Live or Test Match Special through them, forcing them to buy new kit or do without access to programmes they appreciate and, in some cases, are an important part of their lives.

‘This may seem a trivial example but we often hear from older people who feel shut out of things they would enjoy doing and have always done, simply because they do not have the latest technology. As digital increasingly becomes the norm, we should spare a thought for those being left behind. There are millions of them, they have rights and interests too and at Age UK we think more should be being done to recognise and respect that.’

MailOnline asked the BBC to respond to Age UK’s statement, which also comes after the corporation’s director-general Tim Davie told staff yesterday that ‘too many of our resources are focused on broadcast and not online’. 

Radio 4’s long-wave service was marked for closure in 2011 although it never happened, but social media users are now joking that the move to end the service could cause issues for Trident nuclear weapons programme.

It has long been rumoured that the submarines check that the country is still functioning by establishing that Radio 4’s long-wave output is still running, although the Ministry of Defence will not confirm or deny this.

Members of the BBC Radio Test Match Special team in the commentary box at Lord’s Cricket Ground in London in May 2007. Front row, from left, Henry Blofeld, Jonathan Agnew and scorer Bill Frindall. Back row from left, producer Peter Baxter, assistant producer Shilpa Patel, Vic Marks, Mike Selvey, Christopher Martin-Jenkins, Colin Croft and Tony Cozier

As for Test Match Special, tens of thousands of people may now no longer be able to listen if they do not have access to a digital radio or the internet – something that has upset former England captain Sir Geoffrey Boycott.

He told the Telegraph: ‘If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. It’s a dreadful thing. But they have no idea, the people running the Beeb. Lots of good people work for the Beeb. But the bosses? My God. They wouldn’t get a job in the real world.’

What is happening to the BBC’s services – and how will you be able to watch or listen in future?

CBBC: Television channel launched in 2002 will be shut down from 2025 and moved to iPlayer. There are no plans to close CBeebies which is for younger children

BBC Four: TV channel launched in 2002 will be removed from 2025 and moved to iPlayer for on-demand service 

BBC News: The rolling news channel BBC News will be merged with the international channel, BBC World News, with both showing the same content at the same time

BBC Radio 4 Extra: Radio station which replaced BBC Radio 7 in 2011 will also shut down from 2025, with the content moved online to BBC Sounds

BBC Radio 4 long-wave: Dedicated content on the station will be lost before it is shut down completely, signalling the end of Test Match Special and the Shipping Forecast on that format. They will still be available on other Radio 4 formats such as online

Radio 5 Live medium-wave: Service will end in 2027 but programming will all be available online instead

BBC local news: Dedicated TV news bulletins from Oxford and Cambridge will end and merge with the BBC’s Southampton and Norwich operations

We Are England: Local current affairs which replaced Inside Out this year will end after one series

TMS has been broadcasting coverage of cricket since 1957 and it has been part of Radio 4’s schedule since 1994. It has also aired for the last two decades on Radio 5 Sports Extra which is only available on digital radio or online.

And Henry Blofeld, a TMS commentator for 45 years who retired in 2017, also told the Telegraph: ‘Anything that restricts the coverage of TMS and the amount of people who are going to listen to it is extremely sad.

‘It’s always been a little bit surprising that the BBC have such a programme that has been such a winner over such a long time but are still reluctant to showcase it as a winner. If another long-wave home is not found for it, this must be the case again, mustn’t it?’

A BBC source told MailOnline: ‘To be clear, Shipping Forecasts are not coming to an end. Rather, this is about the BBC no longer having a separate Radio 4 schedule running on LW compared to FM.

‘We already broadcast two of the four Shipping Forecasts on Radio 4 FM and DAB and BBC Sounds and will continue to do so. Also, we will be consulting our colleagues at the Maritime and Coastguard Agency about opportunities presented by FM, DAB and BBC Sounds for further broadcasts of the Shipping Forecast.’

Meanwhile the BBC said it would axe CBBC and BBC4 as traditional TV channels as part of a dramatic savings plan announced yesterday.

Corporation chiefs will also merge its BBC News and World News channels into one 24-hour service.

The corporation announced there would be up to 1,000 fewer people working for its public service arm over the next few years, with major job cuts in the pipeline.

Broadcasting of archive station Radio 4 Extra will also be stopped, bosses revealed, as part of wide-ranging cuts in response to a two-year licence fee freeze. 

The BBC said BBC Four, CBBC and Radio 4 Extra would stop broadcasting ‘after the next few years’.

And it signalled the death knell for long-wave radio by saying it will close the platform in the coming years.

The corporation runs one of the main long-wave transmitters in the UK and the signal from it covers most of England and Wales. 

The crew of Britain’s nuclear-armed submarines are said to use Radio 4’s long-wave service – and its famous shipping forecast – as a means of telling if the UK has been destroyed by an attack. Pictured: HMS Victorious on patrol off Scotland in 2013

The BBC has claimed the new licence fee deal, announced in January, will leave it with a £285million annual funding gap by 2027 and that the moves it announced yesterday will contribute £200million to this annually.

Is the shipping forecast crucial to national security… and what happens if the Today Programme is not broadcast for three days? 

It is a scary urban legend that points to the high stakes of the nuclear world that we live in. 

The crew of Britain’s nuclear-armed submarines are said to use Radio 4’s long-wave service – and its famous shipping forecast – as a means of telling if the UK has been destroyed by an attack. If they suspect a nuclear missile has hit Britain, naval commanders allegedly try to verify this by seeing if the daily staple of the shipping forecast on the long-wave service has continued. 

If the forecast is not broadcast, this is said to be a way of knowing that an attack has taken place – meaning that then the submarines’ own missiles may be launched in a last-ditch ‘retaliation’. 

The myth resurfaced in 2014 when Radio 4 failed to broadcast the shipping forecast at 5.20am as normal after a delay in switching from its overnight broadcasting, which is done via BBC World Service. 

A Navy source quickly dispelled the notion that the shipping forecast is crucial to national security by saying: ‘UK Submarines have a number of ways to gather meteorological data and they are certainly not dependent on the shipping forecast for their information.’

However, it is the case that Radio 4’s daily three-hour news show the Today Programme does play an important role. 

Historian Peter Hennessy explained in 2019 that the Today Programme is one of the measures used by the Navy to prove the UK still exists. He said a ‘doomsday protocol’ could be launched if the Today programme was not broadcast for three days in a row. 

Lord Hennessy told Politico at the time: ‘The failure to pick up the BBC Today programme for a few days is regarded as the ultimate test.’ 

If no sign comes through, submarine commanders would open the ‘Letters of Last Resort’ that detail their instructions if the British Government has been destroyed.  Among the options would be to launch a nuclear strike. 

Matthew Seligman, Professor of Naval History at Brunel University, told BBC Newsbeat that there are ‘only so many options available. Do nothing, launch a retaliatory strike, offer yourself to an ally like the USA, or use your own judgment. Essentially, are you going to use the missiles or not?’

It came as Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries issued a ‘legal direction’ to the BBC to ensure at least 25 per cent of staff are from working-class backgrounds as part of its mid-term review.

The BBC said its plans, which include ploughing more money into shows for its iPlayer service, were a ‘blueprint to build a digital-first public service media organisation’.

This includes a potentially controversial commitment to cancel shows popular on traditional TV channels but are ‘not doing enough’ to drive people to its on-demand iPlayer service.

The body also warned it will reduce the volume of programming it commissions for network TV by about 200 hours. There are expected to be significant cuts to drama and entertainment shows and a surge in repeats. 

Director-general Mr Davie yesterday told staff: ‘This is our moment to build a digital-first BBC. Something genuinely new, a Reithian organisation for the digital age, a positive force for the UK and the world.

‘Though broadcast channels will be essential for years to come, we are moving decisively to a largely on-demand world. Too many of our resources are focused on broadcast and not online.’ 

Mr Davie added that if the BBC did not respond faster to technological changes ‘we will cede too much ground to those who are not driven by public service values’.

He said the corporation would be ‘re-allocating’ significant money every year ‘into video that delivers on iPlayer’.

But one BBC News insider said staff were ‘livid’ at the plans. ‘Staff who worked all through the pandemic feel that what they do is misunderstood by managers,’ the said.

‘They feel they have got the worst of all announcements. Cuts are coming but there’s no idea of the scale, in the midst of a cost of living crisis, with people on modest salaries.’

The BBC also said it would be scrapping regional TV news bulletins for Oxford and Cambridge – merging with the BBC’s Southampton and Norwich operations – as well as regional current affairs show We Are England.

As part of plans to close long-wave operations, it will stop scheduling separate Radio 4 content on this platform.

Two of Radio 4’s four daily shipping forecasts are only available on this frequency.

The BBC also said 5 Live on medium-wave will close no later than December 2027. It is understood CBBC will continue on iPlayer with BBC Four expected to be retained for on-demand service. 

Some of the 1,000 public service arm jobs set to be lost will move to its commercial division. Bosses also plan to reduce World Service licence fee spending by around £30million by the start of 2023/24 financial year.

The first phase of savings represents £500 million annual savings and reinvestment.

As part of this, £200 million will contribute to the £285 million annual funding gap by 2027/28 created by the licence fee freeze. The remaining gap will be covered in the final three years of the charter period.

Test Match Special commentators Jonathan Agnew, Sir Alastair Cook and Michael Vaughan at Lord’s Cricket Ground in 2019

The Queen is presented with a Dundee cake by members of Radio Four’s Test Match Special commentary team (from left) Peter Baxter, Henry Blofeld and Christopher Martin-Jenkinsm at Lord’s Cricket Ground in London on July 19, 2001

Legendary BBC Test Match Special commentator John Arlott, who retired in 1980 and died in 1991

The news comes off the back of the BBC needing to save a further £285 million in response to the Culture Secretary’s announcement in January that the licence fee will be frozen at £159 for the next two years.

‘He just couldn’t quite get his leg over!’ The end of Test Match Special on LW

Test Match Special is undoubtedly one of Britain’s national treasures, with many listeners associating the crackly long-wave broadcast with summer afternoons in the garden.

The programme began in 1957 when the BBC became the first broadcaster to cover every ball of a Test match, and the slogan in the Radio Times was: ‘Don’t miss a ball, we broadcast them all.’

It spent 30 years on Radio 3 before moving onto Radio 4 in 1994 on the long-wave frequency 198 where it has remained ever since. However, the programme is soon to depart to the BBC Sounds app and website.

Among its most-loved commentators over the decades have been Jonathan ‘Aggers’ Agnew, John Arlott, Brian ‘Johnners’ Johnston, Henry Blofeld and Sir Geoffrey Boycott.

It was also where the infamous line ‘He just couldn’t quite get his leg over’ was uttered by Aggers in August 1991 when describing Ian Botham’s dismissal by the West Indies at the Oval in 1991, leaving Aggers and Johnners in fits of laughter.

It has already undergone a series of rounds of redundancies and cuts over the past decade prompted by below-inflation increases in the licence fee.

Mr Davie, who took over from Lord Tony Hall as BBC director-general in September 2020, has overseen a slimming down of the corporation since starting in the role, with the BBC losing some 1,200 staff in the last 18 months.

BBC Four, which is home to BBC Proms, BBC Young Dancer and BBC Young Musician, was launched in 2002 and has traditionally shown mainly arts and documentary content, as well as various international dramas.

However, last year the corporation announced it would become the ‘home’ of archived content and that it would broadcast fewer original programmes.

Yesterday the Government agreed with the BBC a ‘legal direction’ that 25 per cent of staff come from low socio-economic backgrounds by 2027.

It also includes ensuring 60 per cent of radio and 50 per cent of TV programme production spend is outside London by the end of 2027. 

Miss Dorries said the mid-term review would ‘build on our recent progress to make the BBC more accountable to those who fund it’.

The BBC had set the same 25 per cent staff target. A spokesman said: ‘For clarity, proposed changes to the framework agreement will reflect commitments we have already made.’

A spokesman for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: ‘We recognise the BBC, just like individual households, businesses and other organisations across the UK, is having to make difficult financial decisions.

‘We agree with the Director-General that the BBC should be leaner but it is required to provide television content for children under its operating licence.

‘It should prioritise using its £3.7 billion annual licence fee income as necessary to deliver that remit.’

The CBBC channel was launched in February 2002 alongside its sister channel CBeebies and has repeatedly been named Channel of the Year at the Children’s BAFTA awards. Pictured: Blue Peter welcomed Prince William and Kate in 2017

Traditional content: BBC Four is the current home of the BBC Proms (pictured), BBC Young Dancer and BBC Young Musician

Pictured: BBC Four, which is moving online, often broadcasts Michael Portillo’s Great Railway Journeys (pictured above)

Philippa Childs, head of broadcasting union Bectu, added: ‘We recognise the need for organisations to change and adapt and welcome the BBC’s commitment to step up to the challenges of a changing media landscape and build a digital-first corporation.

Nick Robinson says sorry for wrongly claiming No 10 cleaner died of Covid 

By Sam Greenhill, Chief Reporter for the Daily Mail

Nick Robinson has apologised after wrongly claiming a government cleaner died of Covid after being surrounded by partying Downing Street staff.

Grilling a minister on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday, Mr Robinson claimed Emanuel Gomes had been ‘instructed to keep coming into work during lockdown, had contracted Covid and had died’.

The presenter said Mr Gomes had been ordered to work in Downing Street, where he was ‘surrounded by people who were routinely breaking the rules’.

But Mr Gomes, who was originally from Guinea, was actually a cleaner at the Ministry of Justice.

And while colleagues had raised concerns that Mr Gomes had been suffering Covid-like symptoms prior to his death in April 2020, an official coroner’s report recorded it as hypertension of the heart.

The experienced journalist has now apologised on Twitter, describing his choice of wording while interviewing Boris Johnson’s chief of staff Steve Barclay as a ‘mistake’.

It comes amid concerns, raised in Sue Gray’s report, about how Downing Street employees treated support staff such as cleaners during the period of Partygate.

A Whitehall source said: ‘It is a total humiliation for Nick and just the sort of cheap and nasty, over-dramatic journalism that has ruined the Today programme.’ 

No 10 said the Today programme would issue an on-air correction. 

‘However, once again we see the impact of poorly judged political decisions on workers as the Government’s decision to freeze the licence fee has instigated these real-term job cuts.

‘This announcement lays bare that below the political shrill about the BBC is the reality – hugely talented and dedicated people who work hard to deliver critical services to the nation and beyond are now facing yet more job losses and continued uncertainty.

‘Bectu will fully engage in every aspect of these proposals and we will be doing everything we can to support our members.

‘ We will be working to ensure that change is not cost cutting for the sake of it, but truly does position the BBC strongly for the future and delivers the best possible outcomes for members.’

The News Media Association (NMA) described the BBC’s proposal to boost its own local news services as ‘misguided’ as it feels it will have a ‘profoundly negative impact’ on independent local news providers.

Owen Meredith, chief executive of the UK’s news media trade group, said: ‘It is disappointing that the BBC has not taken the opportunity presented to it by the licence fee funding settlement to step back from its misguided plans to boost its own local news services, in direct competition with commercial providers.

‘If they go ahead, these proposals would have a profoundly negative impact upon independent local news providers, resulting in a weakening of local news provision in this country.’

Earlier yesterday, the Culture Secretary issued the BBC with a legal direction ordering it to ‘promote equality of opportunity’ for people from working-class backgrounds.

The stipulation came as part of the mid-term review into its royal charter and includes a target for 25 per cent of staff to be from low socio-economic backgrounds and ensuring 50 per cent of radio and 60 per cent of TV programme production spend is outside London by the end of 2027.

The BBC must also deliver 1,000 apprenticeships per year by 2025 and ensure that 30 per cent of those are from low socio-economic groups.

The corporation also faces uncertainty over the future of the licence fee after Nadine Dorries announced a consultation about the future funding of the broadcaster will begin shortly.

The minister has said she wants to find a new funding model before the current deal expires in 2027 as it is ‘completely outdated’.

Horrible Histories, Blue Peter and Newsround: How CBBC grew from a ‘Broom Cupboard’ in the 1980s to its own channel

The CBBC channel was launched in February 2002. It started life as the BBC Broom Cupboard hosted by Philip Schofield before it became its own dedicated channel.

Alongside its sister channel CBeebies and has repeatedly been named Channel of the Year at the Children’s BAFTA awards.

Prior to the channel’s launch, the name CBBC had long been used as a collective term for the corporation’s children’s content.

The BBC has been responsible for a number of iconic children’s programmes which over the years have become household names.

Blue Peter is the longest-lived and best-known, now over 50 years old and going strong.

Among CBBC’s most popular TV shows are The Story of Tracy Beaker, Horrible Histories and the Sarah Jane Adventures. It is also home to children’s current affairs programme Newsround

Pictured: A new series of The Story of Tracy Beaker stars the same actress Dani Harmer from the hit BBC show and is called ‘My Mum Tracy Beaker’

In September 1985, Phillip Schofield presented the first slot for the all-new Children’s BBC, a programming block on the existing BBC channel.

His introductions to the programmes came from a tiny control desk, dubbed the Broom Cupboard.  The tiny continuity announcer’s studio would also later see the likes of Andi Peters, Zoe Ball, Gordon the Gopher and Edd the Duck anchoring the children’s programming. 

A dedicated CBBC channel was launched in 2002 and offers children’s programming from 7am to 7pm.

Among its most popular TV shows are The Story of Tracy Beaker, Horrible Histories and the Sarah Jane Adventures. It is also home to legendary children’s current affairs programme, Newsround.

Programming for Friday May 27 on CBBC

7.00 – Danger Mouse

7.10 – Danger Mouse

7.20 – Dennis & Gnasher Unleashed!

7.35 – Boy Girl Dog Cat Mouse Cheese

7.45 – Newsround

8.00 – Ninja Express

8.10 – Odd Squad

8.25 – Deadly Dinosaurs with Steve Backshall 

8.50 – Hey you what if?

9.00 – Bitesize Daily: 9-11 year olds

9.20 – Bitesize Daily: 9-11 year olds

9.40 – Operation Ouch!

9.55 – Celebrity Supply Teacher

10.05 – Our School

10.25 – DIY Deadly with Steve Backshall

10.40 – Horrible Histories

11.08 – Deadly 60

11.10 – Operation Ouch

11.40 – Class Dismissed

11.55 – Danger Mouse 

12.05 – Danger Mouse 

12.20 – Boy Girl Dog Cat Mouse Cheese

12.30 – Boy Girl Dog Cat Mouse Cheese

12.40 – Dennis & Gnasher Unleashed!

12.55 – Dennis & Gnasher Unleashed!

13.05 – Young Dracula

13.35 – Young Dracula

14.00 – Dodger

14.45 – The Zoo

1500 – Operation Ouch!

1530 – Dennis & Gnasher Unleashed!

15.40 – Danger Mouse

15.55 – Boy Girl Dog Cat Mouse Cheese

1605 – Ninja Express

1620 – Danger Mouse

1630 – Danger Mouse

1645 – Odd Squad

1700 – Blue Peter

1730 – Deadly Predators

18.00 – So Awkward

18.30 – Lifebabble

18.35 – The Next Step 

BBC Four: home of BBC Proms, Scandi-noir hit The Killing and BBC classic Yes, Prime Minister

BBC Four launched in March 2002 at 7pm with slogan ‘everybody needs a place to think’ and began originally as a late schedule to BBC.

According to the corporation, it became the home of ‘intelligent programming’ after initially overcoming concerns about the size of its audience.

The channel is now home to BBC Proms, BBC Young Dancer and BBC Young Musician and has traditionally shown mainly arts and documentary content, as well as various international dramas including the Danish police thriller The Killing.

BBC Four was the home of popular quiz show Only Connect hosted by Victoria Coren Mitchell before it moved to BBC Two

The channel also often has repeats of ‘Yes Prime Minister’. Pictured: Nigel Hawthorne (left, 1929-2001) pictured as Sir Humphrey Appleby, Cabinet Secretary, with Paul Eddington (centre, 1927-1995) as James Hacker, Prime Minister, and Derek Fowlds as Bernard Woolley, the PM’s Personal Secretary

It was also the original home of popular quiz show Only Connect hosted by Victoria Coren Mitchell, which first aired in September 2008 and moved to BBC Two in 2014. 

However, last year the corporation announced it would become the ‘home’ of archived content and that it would broadcast fewer original programmes. 

Programming for Friday May 27 on BBC Four

 19.00 – Tony Bennett – BBC Four Session

20.00 – Top of the Pops

21.00 – Jeff Buckley: Everybody Here Wants You

22.00 – Popular Voices at the BBC

23.00 – Gregory Porter’s Popular Voices 

 00.00 – The Old Grey Whistle Test

00.40 – Top of the Pops

01.40 – Jeff Buckley: Everybody Here Wants You

02.40 – Tony Bennett – BBC Four Session 

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