Radio Times 90th Anniversary
The Radio Times has been the BBC’s official listings magazine since the first edition was published on 28 September 1923. The decision to launch the weekly publication – which originally only carried radio listings – was taken by the BBC’s founder and first Director General John Reith, after the Newspaper Publishers Association (NPA) set out proposals to charge the Corporation an annual fee to have its programme listings printed in the national press.
The magazine was later expanded to accommodate listings for the newly launched BBC Television Service in November 1936. However, the original ‘Radio Times’ title was retained, having already become a well established and recognised brand.
New Kid on the Block
The arrival of ITV in September 1955 saw the BBC’s commercial rival begin the process of introducing a weekly listings magazine for its own programmes. While many of the early franchise holders adopted ‘TV Times’ as the name for their individual publications, the title was not adopted across the entire ITV network until 1968, and the formation of Independent Television Publications.
Despite the introduction of competition within the television industry (which the creation of ITV was specifically designed to achieve), the publication of programme listings effectively became a closed shop. Weekly BBC and ITV schedules were confined to the broadcaster’s own individual publications, with the national and regional press now restricted to printing on-the-day and weekend listings only. It also meant households wanting to plan their weekly viewing in advance, had little choice but to purchase both listings magazines every week.
As part of major reforms contained within the Broadcasting Act (1990), all UK public service broadcasters (including the BBC and ITV) became legally bound to supply 7-day programme information 14 days in advance of broadcast, to any publisher requesting it, subject to payment of a quarterly royalty. The fee was determined by the Copyright Tribunal, using a forumla that included reference to newspaper cover prices and audited circulation or verified distribution figures.
Deregulation came into effect on 1 March 1991, and was quickly followed by the emergence of several new TV magazines and 7-day supplements in the national press. The original magazines also took full advantage of the new regulatory framework, with the Radio Times and TV Times now carrying combined BBC and ITV listings.
The Time Traveller
The long-running sci-fi series has secured more Radio Times covers than any other programme or person, including even the Queen. However, the programme has not always enjoyed such good relations with the BBC’s listings magazine.
In July 2013, as the publication was preparing to mark its 90th anniversary, an internal memo from 1963 was uncovered in the BBC archives. Written shortly before the very first episode of Dr Who was to be screened, the Head of BBC Drama Serials (Douglas Williams) urges the Radio Times Editor (Donald Wilson) to show more support for the programme, and reconsider his decision to drop Doctor Who from the front over. Despite the intervention, the popular Time Lord would have to wait until the following year before receiving that honour.
However, in May 2005, the magazine cover featured a chilling photograph of the Daleks crossing Westminster Bridge, with the Houses of Parliament lit up against the night sky behind them. Timed to coincide with the General Election, the cover carried the strapline ‘Vote Dalek’ and was later voted the most iconic British magazine cover of all time by the Periodical Publishers Association.
Until 2011 the title was published by BBC Magazines – a division of the Corporation’s commercial arm, BBC Worldwide. However, following approval by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), BBC Magazines, including the Radio Times, was sold to venture capitalist firm Exponent Private Equity for £121m before being merged with a number of other publishing houses to form Immediate Media, which continues to publish the magazine today.