Read the Radio Times issue published on the outbreak of World War II

As BBC2 air their BBC at War documentary, read how Radio Times looked ahead to broadcasting from the fight

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4th September 1939 – The Supplementary Issue

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“Broadcasting Carries On” – the declaration of war on 3 September forced the BBC to revise its schedules and issue a supplementary edition of Radio Times, but the Corporation was not caught entirely unprepared. The issue’s editorial (reproduced below) made clear it had been planning for the outbreak of war for a year and laid out its plans to serve up a daily schedule of programmes from 7.00am to midnight comprising plays, music, features, talks, religious services and comedy – with news on the hour, every hour.

It was just as well Radio Times was prepared, too – this was the second of three issues that staff had to produce in just one week, a phenomenal effort. The editorial also stressed that Radio Times would soldier on, albeit in reduced form whenever paper supplies were short.

BROADCASTING carries on !

That is the slogan of the BBC in this hour of national endeavour, when the British nation is nerving itself for the greatest effort it has ever made. In every department of life the British people are steeling themselves for their great task. Broadcasting intends to help in the work, whatever the difficulties may be. 

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For nearly a year now the BBC has been making its plans. Recognising the part that broadcasting would play in the struggle, it could not afford to leave anything to chance. First of all, of course, radio will be one of the chief means of communication during the war. That has already been proved. The Government can speak to the people – news can reach the remotest village – instructions can be issued by the Ministries – warnings can be given of approaching attacks.

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These are obvious functions of radio during a war, and their vital importance is recognised by everyone. But there is another function that is nearly as important, and that is entertainment. Broadcasting can help to take our minds off the horrors of war as nothing else can. That is why the BBC has not been content to plan programmes consisting merely of gramophone records alternating with news. Even in the dislocation of the first few days, some of your favourite talkers have been coming to the microphone, the BBC Theatre Organist has been at his post to entertain you, and the hope and comfort of religious services have not been withheld from the listener, at whatever cost to those taking part. But from next Wednesday, if all goes well, all-day ‘live’ programmes will begin. Broadcasting will still run from seven o’clock in the morning till after midnight (with news broadcasts in the intervening hours whenever there is any important news), but the programmes broadcast will be real, presented entertainment, studded with plays musical comedies, features, talks; in fact ordinary broadcast programmes – only probably of a rather higher standard than those we know in times of peace! There will even be a Children’s Hour, and regular broadcasts to schools. 

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We said ‘if all goes well’. Every listener will realise that there will be times when these programmes cannot be carried out. There are endless possibilities of hitches, no matter how carefully plans may have been laid in advance. If the announcer has to say that a programe that has been published in the RADIO TIMES cannot be broadcast, listeners will understand. 

On the other hand, there may easily be occasions when programmes are changed only to be improved. In these early stages, when so many things have still to be learnt from experience, it may be found when the time comes that a better programme than the one published can be given. Listeners will understand if that happens, too. 

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Writing as we are doing at the very moment of decision, it is hard to foresee what conditions will be, even by the time this extra number of the RADIO TIMES appears. But the difficulties of keeping broadcasting going in time of war can hardly be over-estimated. Many a broadcaster may have to risk his life to supply you with your entertainment and your news. But broadcasting is going on.

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London, the most obviously vulnerable centre in the British Isles, has ceased to be the centre of British broadcasting. Far away in other parts of the country, in new premises specially reserved for this time of need, are the centres from which your programmes come. At one centre is a team of Variety favourites and of expert producers ; you will find them described on pages 6 and 7. At another centre, far removed from the first, is another ‘Radio City’, whose inhabitants are a team of actors and producers capable of putting over any number of plays and features (See pp. 8 and 9). A third team will include the leading members of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, plus an assemblage of star players of light music ; plus the Theatre Orchestra, the Variety Orchestra – in fact a total force of musicians capable of filling the ether with music for days on end.

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Just as broadcasting will go on, so will the RADIO TIMES. Our plans, too, were laid long ago, and here again the difficulties, though formidable, can –we hope– be overcome. The number of the RADIO TIMES that was published only last Friday [pictured above] has become out of date. This number is published to correct it. As we have explained, the programmes printed in the subsequent pages may have to be altered, but they will not be altered radically. The general framework of the day’s broadcasting will be as it is given here. You can expect to get your news at every hour ‘on the hour’, as the Americans say; in other words, every time the hands of the clock reach the hour, between 7 a.m. and midnight, there will be a news broadcast, besides the regular news broadcasts shown in the programme pages if there is any important news, and the same will apply at one, three, and five o’clock in the morning. You will hear such favourite talkers as Howard Marshall, John Hilton, Lord Elton, C. H. Middleton, and W. P. Matthew. A most useful series of practical talks on First Aid, by a doctor, will be given on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday – and diagrams that will help you to follow them will be found on page 5.

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One innovation in this war-time RADIO TIMES is the ‘Stop Press’ page. [Pictured right] This will appear every week, whether there is any late news or not ; but there will be occasions when it will enable us to give you information about late changes in programmes plans, after the paper has actually gone to press. You will find it on page 39 – the inside page of the back cover. 

As for wavelengths, every listener will have got used to the changes by now. The point to remember is that even if you have never listened to Scotland, you may find that 391.1 metres is the wavelength that gives you the best reception, and in the same way, even if you do not live in the North you may get the best results from 449.1 metres. You will have found out which suits you best by now, if you think of the two wavelengths simply as wavelengths, and forget all about the stations’ names that you may have marked on your set.

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Like broadcasting itself, the RADIO TIMES will be coming out under difficulties during these dark times – difficulties of editing, of collecting programme information, of production and (most of all) of distribution. It is probable that paper will be hard to get and we may have to reduce the size of the paper. In fact, it is hard to tell now what unexpected difficulties may arise. All we can say is that we shall do our best to bring you full and correct information about all the doings and plans of the BBC, and that, like other departments of the BBC, the RADIO TIMES ­– incorporating World-Radio– is carrying on.

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Don’t miss The BBC at War on Sunday at 9pm on BBC2