Radio 4’s 198LW in danger – a nation must mourn

Longwave's days are numbered and one radio fan sees the end of the world coming

Nobody remembers frequencies any more. Radio stations are listed by names on DAB or by URLs online. They’re a tap of your finger away if you’re listening over an iPhone app. And if you choose to burn up electricity by listening to radio on your TV set, then stations are arranged by spurious, unfeeling channel numbers.

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But back in the old days, frequencies mattered. Frequencies were your home. Now it’s like when your parents start talking about selling the family house and downsizing: we’re going to lose BBC Radio 4 on 198 longwave. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow. But sometime – and the BBC isn’t quite sure when, because it depends when the equipment next breaks down. There’s something so very British about that.

The BBC say: “Radio 4 longwave transmissions will continue for many years to come – and beyond the current Charter period”.

But longwave Radio 4 hangs on in there using glass valve-based technology of the kind that must’ve been patented by Heath Robinson or Professor Branestawm. Nobody makes these things any more but the BBC has been round all the supermarkets buying up what it can – but those supplies can’t last forever.

Yes, of course there’s FM and that’s a gorgeous thing, right up there with bread that comes in slices and wheels that go round and round. Midlanders, for instance, know that BBC Radio 4 just does not sound the same if you aren’t listening to it on 92.7 FM. Londoners have their fancy 93.5 FM and Glasgow has taken a liking to 95.8 FM, but it takes all sorts and that’s fine.

We could still bond together over 198 longwave. All of us. Everywhere.

Everywhere. Forget your online rubbish, I’ve sat in the centre of Paris listening to BBC Radio 4 longwave, amazed that the signal could reach that far and distraught only because I wanted Woman’s Hour and it was the cricket instead.

Then, you know this is true: one day you’ll be out there on the seas in the gales – “becoming fine later…” – of Viking, North Utsire, or Cromarty, and how will you cope without 198 longwave’s shipping forecast?

FM is great but short range: you need to be near a transmitter. DAB can be great but you’re nowhere near anyone who’s bought one.

Ask a DAB manufacturer when FM switchover is and they’ll probably say Tuesday. In truth, nobody really knows, but it’s unlikely to be before 2015 and not very likely to be before 2020.

It’s coming, though, and it will be the end of days. Frequencies are going and they won’t come back.

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First it was the BBC World Service losing frequencies around the world. Next it’s our very own Radio 4 longwave. One day it will be all of them and it will be too late to mourn…