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Searching the catalogues for radio recordings

The British Library provides access to a number of catalogues and research resources relating to radio.

The British Library's radio collections were assembled over several decades from a wide range of sources. While many of these sub-collections can be explored through the Sound Archive's online catalogue, others currently require the use of separate finding aids. Recently acquired material will be undergoing preservation work or processing and may only be accessed with the assistance of Library staff. If in doubt, please contact the Sound Archive Information Service or Radio Curator for advice.

A wide range of published book and periodical literature, theses, handbooks and studies of broadcasting history are available in the British Library's Humanities - floor 2 reading room, with much more available on request via the Integrated Catalogue.

Sound and Moving Image catalogue

The online catalogue details a significant proportion of the Library's radio holdings and, whatever your sphere of interest, we suggest that you begin your search here. Users should note that whilst programming has often been catalogued by programme name and transmission date, in other cases a programme's key content may have been catalogued separately.  

In Advanced Search mode try combining the programme title [e.g. 'Sounds of Jazz' or 'The Anathemata'] or the number of a particular collection [e.g. C134] in Any Words and Numbers with the name of a key contributor/performer [e.g. Stan Tracey, Wole Soyinka]. If this is not successful or produces too many hits, instead try combining the contributor name alone with the year of transmission (or a range of years) using the convention '<1986' for programmes before the indicated date, or '>1986' for programmes after the indicated date. We do not recommend restricting your search using the Collection or Broad Classn term 'Radio' at the present time.

Alternatively, if these and similar search strategies fail, please contact the British Library's Radio curator for advice.

BBC Sound Archive catalogue

The British Library's Listening and Viewing Service also provides listening access to the collections of the BBC Sound Archive. The BBC Sound Archive Catalogue can currently only be accessed in the British Library's Humanities - floor 2 reading room, where printed catalogues or microfiche (shelfmark HUS025.348209421) detailing pre-1992 holdings can be browsed. Alternatively, users may ask Reference Enquiry Service staff to search the electronic version of the catalogue on their behalf.

In many cases, particularly prior to the early-1950s when most programming was transmitted live, only pre-recorded inserts or excerpts from a programme may survive, in which case you should try searching for particular contributors or subjects rather than by the original programme title.

Archived post-1992 material which is not yet detailed in the catalogue may still be available on request if you can provide the correct programme title, channel and transmission date/time. A complete set of Radio Times and other library materials are available in the Humanities - floor 2 reading room to assist such research.

BBC Radio International catalogues

The British Library also holds an extensive collection of BBC Radio International (formerly BBC Transcription Service) recordings, 1940s-present. These programmes, derived from national programming or specially recorded for the purpose, were pressed on disc or CD for issue to BBC Transcription Service subscribers – typically other radio stations around the world. Issues from the 1950s onwards are documented in a set of approximately fifty lever-arch files which are available on request from the Humanities - floor 2 Reference Enquiries desk. The catalogues are organised according to subject content or genre:     

  • Children (q.v. Education)
  • Drama (initially Features & Drama; with sub-series Sixty Minute Theatre, World Theatre, etc)
  • Education (many also issued as Talks, Magazine Units)
  • Features (initially Features & Drama)
  • Light Entertainment / Comedy (initially Variety)
  • Light Music (including jazz, folk music, and pre-1971 rock)
  • Magazine Units / The Magazine (including sub-series The Arts Worldwide)
  • Popular Music / Pop and Rock / Pop Documentaries / In Concert / On Stage (q.v. Light Music for pre-1971 popular music)
  • Readings (including sub-series: Book Club, Short Stories, Story Time)
  • Religion (many also issued as Serious Music and Features)
  • Serious Music / Classical Music (including series Talking About Music)
  • Talks (including sub-series: Arts & Entertainment, Magazine Units, Mainly for Women, Science, Short Stories)

Further information

Sound & Vision Reference Service
The British Library
96 Euston Road
London
NW1 2DB
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7831
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7691

E-mail: Ask the Reference Team