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Radio recordings: news, politics and current affairs

The British Library has the UK's most extensive and diverse publicly accessible radio collections of news media and commentary.

The Library's radio news, political commentary and event actuality extends back to King George V's opening of the British Empire Exhibition in 1924, much of it among a vast collection of BBC Archive discs, with additional BBC Sound Archive material available on request.

British independent radio news, features and documentaries (1973-1990s) from BUFVC digitised collections of LBC/IRN (Independent Radio News) and ILR (Independent Local Radio) Programme Sharing Scheme (1983-1990) collections can be accessed via the British Library's onsite Soundserver. Additional British ILR current affairs programming is to be found within the Capital Radio (catalogue no: C628) collection.

The British Library is currently extracting and digitising radio bulletins from its off-air recording collections to create an additional resource which will eventually extend and simplify access to news content across the second half of the 20th century.

Internationally, an important collection of pre-1946 German Radio Recordings, removed to Britain for preservation with the agreement of the German government following World War 2, documents rare actuality, news and speech shedding light on the historical and political developments leading up to and through the Second World War. Across the Atlantic, selected 1950s U.S. news bulletins can be found among our Voice of America Tapes (catalogue no: C50), while the BBC's New York Office Collection (catalogue no: C199) compiles 1970s CBS bulletins documenting (mostly) political matters of the Nixon-Ford presidencies, including the unfolding Watergate scandal.

An array of feature and magazine programming examines political issues and current affairs in more depth, among them thousands of interviews from Radio 4's enduring politics and current affairs programme Today (1957-). Presenting the government and civil service perspective, an unusual collection of Central Office of Information recordings (G4) collects hundreds of public information programmes on subjects ranging from what to do in the event of a nuclear war, to environmental issues, ministerial press conferences and matters of foreign policy.

Accessing the collection

To access sound and moving image material:

  • Use the online Sound and Moving Image Catalogue to search for recordings.
  • The Listening and Viewing Service provides free public access to the Sound Archive's collections of recorded sound and video in St Pancras. Sound recordings can be accessed in Boston Spa also.
  • The Sound Archive Information Service is based in Humanities - floor 2 in St Pancras where books, discographies, periodicals and magazines are available on open access.
  • Many sound recordings have been digitised and are presented on the British Library Sounds website. A large number of the recordings are freely available for listening online though some are restricted to users in accredited Higher Education establishments.
  • The Transcription Service can provide copies of recordings once the appropriate copyright has been cleared.

Further information

Paul Wilson
Curator, Radio
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7446
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7441