Radio 4 News FM

Radio 4 News FM was the BBC radio rolling news service that was on air during the first Gulf War from 16 January until 2 March 1991. It used BBC Radio 4's FM frequencies, whilst their regular scheduled service continued on longwave.[1][2] This service was also broadcast on BBC World Service. Some journalists gave it the nickname Scud FM from the Scud missiles used by Iraqi forces in the war.[3]

Radio 4 News FM
Broadcast areaUK – National FM
FrequencyFM – 92 MHz – 95 MHz
First air date17 January 1991
Last air date2 March 1991
FormatRolling news

The long-term impact of Radio 4 News FM was that the popularity of the station was taken as evidence that a rolling news service was required. In response, BBC Radio 5 Live was launched in 1994.[4]


When coalition forces began military operations against Iraq following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait the previous year, the BBC discontinued broadcasting the usual mixed schedule on BBC Radio 4's FM frequency and replaced it with a rolling news service, known by the emergency staff as "Scud FM",[5] named after "Saddam Hussein's most notorious weapon,"[6] the Russian-made Scud missile which Iraq was firing at Tel Aviv.

BBC staff had managed to launch a 17-hours-a-day rolling news channel (without time to concoct an official name) with less than 24 hours' notice and provided the listener with "access to the raw material, the events as they unfolded, from the daily military press conferences, the Presidential briefings to what it was like living in Baghdad, in Tel Aviv, with the troops in Saudi Arabia".[7]

The service was run by Jenny Abramsky and produced by volunteers, working on their days off: Brian Redhead, John Humphrys, Nick Clarke, Robin Lustig, Nicholas Witchell, Bob Simpson and Nick Ross.[7][8]

Journalist Georgina Henry wrote at the time:

The continuation of Radio 4's rolling news service on the FM frequency has created friction at the BBC. Radio news and current affairs have the backing of the deputy director-general John Birt to keep it running for the duration of the war. But others see it as another example of empire-building by the expanding news and current affairs directorate. And there is concern about other Radio 4 programmes which are now only being heard on poorer-quality longwave. Michael Green, controller of Radio, is resigned to being unable to reclaim FM until September (unless war ends sooner) when it becomes Radio 4's dominant frequency. But, to reinforce the point that FM is not superseding his main service, most Radio 4 news and current affairs programs are banned from the FM schedule.[9]

However, many BBC radio executives and Radio 4 listeners were unhappy about the loss of the FM stereo service, so when the conflict ended on 2 March 1991 the rolling news service stopped. A later Henry article reported:

Internal BBC politics lies behind the decision to abruptly close Radio 4's FM news service last Saturday with so much still to report in the aftermath of the war. It appears that a move by the top brass John Birt and Michael Checkland to appease senior radio executives, less than happy with the rolling news services that took away their Radio 4 FM frequency for the duration of the war. If the frequency immediately reverted to the regular Radio 4 service, it was argued, tempers would be calmed and the way smoothed to more reasoned discussions about whether the BBC should have a permanent radio news service. Those who have become addicted hope that it will: audience research shows that it has attracted new listeners to Radio 4, although the BBC has a problem over what frequency it could allocated in the long term. It can't be FM, due to become Radio 4's main frequency in September, but long-wave listening is diminishing among the BBC's target audience for such a service.[10]

Despite this, 29% of all radio listeners and 68% of Radio 4 listeners heard it and an extra 1.5 million people listened to Radio 4 on both longwave and FM frequencies.[7]

Impact on the BBC's radio structure

Listeners wrote in "saying the new service was a lifeline".[7] The success of Radio 4 News FM convinced the BBC that a national radio rolling news network was required. However, Radio 4 listeners marched on Broadcasting House to preserve their FM and AM frequencies when it was suggested that the new service might launch on Radio 4's long wave frequency.

In The Daily Telegraph, Gillian Reynolds suggested: "Now that the BBC has created, instantly and effectively, an all-news network, would it not be a tremendous waste to un-invent it? The answer is obvious... the bold plan would be to collapse Radio 5, put its schools programmes onto a subscriber cassette service, and bring news and sport together in a new service".[7]

The corporation replaced the "improvised and disjointed" BBC Radio 5, which had been launched in 1990, with BBC Radio 5 Live, "a coherent and cohesive... service of intelligent news and sport for a younger audience".[4] The new station launched on 28 March 1994.


  1. "Dictionary definition of 'stunt up'". Retrieved 2007-01-14. refers Sheena McDonald, "Scud-FM goes critical—BBC gears up for round-the-clock news service", page 25, The Guardian 17 August 1992
  2. Franklin, Bob (31 March 2005). Key Concepts in Journalism Studies. Sage. ISBN 0-7619-4482-6.
  3. Elmes, Simon (2007). And Now On Radio 4. Random House. p. 117. ISBN 978-1-905211-53-1.
  4. "Radio 5 launches non-stop news". BBC 'Newswatch'. Retrieved 2007-01-20.
  5. David Hendy (October 11, 2007). Life on air: a history of Radio Four. Oxford University Press. pp. 344–349. ISBN 978-0-19-924881-0.
  6. Starkey, Guy (2004). "Extending Choice: BBC Radio Five Live". In Crisell, Andrew (ed.). More Than A Music Box: Radio In A Multi-media World. Berghahn Books. p. 26. ISBN 1-57181-473-6.
  7. Abramsky, Jenny (31 January 2002). Sound Matters - Five Live - the War of Broadcasting House - a morality story (Speech). Exeter College, University of Oxford. Retrieved 2007-01-14.
  8. The Daily Telegraph (28 July 2006). "Bob Simpson". Retrieved 2007-01-17.
  9. Henry, Georgina (18 January 1991). "Mediafile". The Guardian. p. 27.
  10. Henry, Georgina (4 March 1991). "Mediafile". The Guardian. p. 29.

Further reading

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