- BBC West Midlands
Infobox BBC Nation or Region
name = BBC West Midlands
The Mailbox, Birmingham
area = West Midlands,
Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Shropshire, Herefordshire, Staffordshire,
BBC English Regions
tvtransmitters = Sutton Coldfield
BBC Coventry & Warwickshire
BBC Hereford and Worcester BBC Radio Stoke BBC Radio Shropshire
keypeople = David Holdsworth
(Head of Regional
& Local Programmes)
launched = 1927
BBC West Midlands is the BBC English Region producing local
television, radio, web and teletextcontent for the former West Midlands County, Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Herefordshire, Shropshire, and Staffordshire.
Its television output is largely broadcast on
BBC Oneand includes regular regional news bulletins, the daily " Midlands Today" news programme, the weekly regional magazine programme "Inside Out" and the weekly " Politics Show".
The region is the controlling centre for
BBC WM, BBC Coventry and Warwickshire, BBC Hereford and Worcester, BBC Radio Stokeand BBC Radio Shropshire, as well as producing the local editions of the BBC's "Where I Live" websites and the regional news pages on Ceefax.
The regional headquarters and television centre for BBC West Midlands is at
The Mailboxin Birmingham, which is also home to the overall headquarters for BBC English Regionsand the BBC Birminghamnational network production centre.
Although the region has been officially called BBC West Midlands since
BBC East Midlandsbecame a separate region in 1991, it retains the BBC Midlands name and brand, with its history dating from 1927, for public use.
BBC Midlands is the oldest of the BBC Regions, having been formed in 1927 when the new
Borough Hillhigh-powered radio transmitter at Daventrybecame the first to replace the earlier lower-powered city-based radio stations, such as Birmingham's 5IT, and make regional and national broadcasting a technical possibility.
The Daventry transmitter broadcast two channels and as further regional transmission stations followed (starting with
London's Brookmans Park in 1929), this quickly established the pattern for pre-war broadcasting. 5XX from Daventry carried the BBC National Programmefrom London, while 5GB broadcast the BBC Regional Programme, where the regional controller was free to schedule programming from London, programming produced from the region's own Birmingham base or programming sourced from other regions as he saw fit.
The first director of the new Midlands regional service was Percy Edgar, who had been the announcer and Head of Programming for 5IT on its opening night in 1922 and was to be the dominant figure in Midlands broadcasting from its birth until 1945. Edgar was a strong believer in the value of local production and fought to establish the Midlands Region as an independent source of programming, pioneering community-focussed initiatives such as the "Midlands Parliament" programme, where members of the public debated controversial issues on air with major public figures.
By 1935 the Midlands Region covered an area from
The Potteriesto Norfolkand was producing 40% of its broadcast output itself - a greater proportion even than the national region BBC Scotland. With 14 producers it was largest BBC department outside London.
The television era
Regional radio was suspended during
World War II, but in July 1945 the BBC Home Servicewas launched on a similar regional basis to the pre-war Regional Programme. The Midlands Region continued under new director Dennis Morris in the independent and innovative vein established by Edgar - pioneering on-air listener feedback with "Listeners Answer Back" in 1946 and launching the longest-running and most popular programme in the history of radio - " The Archers" - in 1948.
Despite these successes, two technological developments gradually started make the old regional system untenable. The development of
FM Radiomade it possible to fit a far greater number of channels into the spectrum without conflict and interference, which opened the possibility of more towns and cities having their own radio stations. The Midlands Region opened the BBC's first local radio station, BBC Radio Leicesterin 1967 and, with many more of these planned, the relevance of the regional radio channel broadcasting from the Welsh border to the North Sea was immediately cast into doubt.
Television was also presenting more of a threat than an opportunity. Although the Midlands had been the first area outside London to receive television coverage with the opening of the
Sutton Coldfield transmitting stationin 1949, the greater cost of television production compared to radio meant that it was always going to be a more centralised service.
A television studio was opened in Birmingham in 1950 and early successes included "
Come Dancing" in 1949 - the first regionally produced television programme to establish itself as a regular in the national network schedule - and " Midlands Today" in 1964, the UK's first daily regional news magazine. Although it fared better than the struggling BBC Northor BBC West(which was threatened for a while with being absorbed by the Midlands Region), it was clear that if the Midlands Region was too large to be truly local in the radio market, it was equally too small to be as self sufficient across the full range of television programming as it had been in radio.
"Broadcasting in the Seventies"
The result was the radical shakeup that took place following the publication of the "Broadcasting in the Seventies" report in 1969. The eastern part of the region was reborn as the
Norwich-based BBC East, with both it and the smaller remaining BBC Midlands focussing entirely on regional television (primarily regional news) and local radio. Regional radio ceased entirely, and all television and radio production for national networks was transferred to the separate BBC Birminghamnetwork production centre.
The era also saw the region move to new premises. The BBC in Birmingham had long outgrown its original Broad Street headquarters, opening new studios in a former cinema in
Gosta Greenand in a regency mansion in Carpenter Road, Edgbaston. In 1971 all of its operations were combined in the new Pebble Mill studios, which also became the new headquarters for BBC Birminghamand the overall BBC English Regionsdepartment.
Local becomes more local
A more radical move in this direction took place in 2006 when the West Midlands Region piloted the BBC's "Local TV" initiative, with television news programmes produced for six local areas, all much smaller than the traditional television regions and in the case of
Birminghamand the Black Countryeven smaller than those covered by local radio stations. This programming was broadcast on digital televisionand over the internetonly. The experiment came to an end as planned in September 2006, and the future of the initiative is currently undecided.
Advances in technology also made
outside broadcasts cheaper and much more common, while also increasing the scope for independent and outsourced television production. In combination these meant that much television programming could increasingly be produced without the need for the sort of large integrated studio complexes represented by Pebble Mill. After several years of cost-cutting and closures, the departments based at Pebble Mill including the West Midlands Region moved to their current Mailbox home in Birmingham City Centre in 2004.
BBC English Regions
References and further reading
last = Briggs
first = Asa
authorlink = Asa Briggs
title = The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom (Volumes I-V)
publisher = Oxford University Press
date = 1961-1995
*bbc.co.uk|id=whereilive|title=Where I Live
*bbc.co.uk|id=midlandstoday|title=BBC "Midlands Today"
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