A dual service provides access to an on-site collection of some 200,000 hours of radio recordings dating back to the first decade of broadcasting, as well as ‘on-demand’ research access to the extensive radio collections of the BBC Sound Archive.
About the collection
The British Library’s core collection of radio recordings, assembled by selective off-air recording since 1963, has been augmented by acquisitions from radio stations, producers, performers, musicians, researchers, radio enthusiasts and collectors. They document key developments in UK radio broadcasting since the 1920s – the BBC’s national network, pre-war commercial radio, pirate radio of the 1960s, independent and commercial radio since 1973 and a decade’s output by London-based arts and community radio station Resonance FM since 2002.
Most broadcast genres are represented, notably music programming of all kinds, features and drama, news and current affairs, talks and experimental arts programmes. A further 300,000 hours of BBC Sound Archive content can be accessed on request via the Library’s Listening and Viewing Service, while current radio news output is made instantly available through the Library’s onsite Broadcast News server.
Collectively the radio collections constitute a sonic record of the United Kingdom’s continuously evolving arts, news, social and political discourse over much of the last century. These sound collections are complemented and contextualised by a broad range of published literature, catalogues and electronic resources.
What is available online?
A selection of digitised recordings is presented on our Sounds website or that of the British Universities Film & Video Council, notably the Derek Collier Collection (classical music, ca.1949-1962), African Writers Club (African arts and literature, 1962-1971), LBC-IRN News (independent local radio news, 1973-1996), ILR Programme Sharing Scheme Collection (independent local radio features, 1983-1990), Touch Radio (sound-art, 2005-present) and The Listening Project (2012-present). Rights issues mean some are restricted to authenticated users in UK Higher/Further Education institutions.
Collections of Pre-war and World War 2-era radio will be available from summer and autumn 2015 respectively.
What is available in our Reading Rooms?
The Listening and Viewing Service, based in the Rare Books & Music Reading Room, provides free public access to the Sound Archive's collections of recorded sound and video in St Pancras. Sound recordings can also be accessed in Boston Spa, Yorkshire. Use the online Sound and Moving Image Catalogue to search for onsite recordings.
BBC Archive content is accessible on request by appointment with the Listening and Viewing Service. Additionally, the Library’s Broadcast News service provides instant streamed access to current radio and television news from BBC Radio 1, Radio 4, Radio 5Live, BBC World Service, LBC and talkSPORT.
The Sound Archive Information Service is based in the Humanities Floor 2 Reading Room at St Pancras. Key monographs, journals and listings magazines such as Radio Times are on Open Access or can be requested via Explore the British Library.
A range of electronic resources include The Listener Historical Archive 1929-1991, while a near-comprehensive collection of BBC Radio and Television News Scripts (1937-1972) is available on microfilm within the Newsroom on the 1st Floor.
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