5PY - the original call sign of the British Broadcasting Company station in Plymouth

In March 1924, the British
Broadcasting Company began its transmissions from Plymouth. It meant that for
the first time, national radio was within easy reach of the Southwest and that
for the first time Plymouth could make programmes of its own. 

Of course, the paraphernalia that traps and packages the modern multimedia show is a
 world away from the simple wires and whiskers of early radio.

But perhaps the people are the same people who believe that the
Southwest must have a voice in the wind.
It's a wind that carries the salt of the sea and the loams of
the land. A voice that bears the home thoughts of a peninsula.

A century ago,  BBC Plymouth gave its
voice to the Southwest and so here we peer into the crystal of our past.

A Century In View

  • 1924

    The story begins...

    In January permission is at last granted for a Plymouth wireless station. Within weeks sites have been acquired and a studio built. After a grand opening ceremony at the guildhall, Station 5PY is on-air at the end of March with Clarence Goode leading a team of 4 staff.

  • 1934

    The first chapter ends...

    5PY productions cease for local audiences. A Childrens Hour drama is the last programme made. The Plymouth studio and transmitter continue as a base for regional and national contributions.

  • 1937 - 1940

    BBC West Region and a new high power transmitter 

    Plymouth became the control centre for a new transmitter at Start Point using  a newly acquired site at Mannamead, Plymouth. It also became a production base for a new west region managed from Whiteladies Road in Bristol. 

  • 1940-1955

    Wartime and expansion

    The Plymouth blitz destroys the old 5PY city centre base.  Start Point became arguably the most important transmitter in the UK by providing key programmes and messages to the Allied Expeditionary Forces. Expansion brings a new drama suite for the Plymouth studios. Television transmissions begin for Devon, Cornwall and the Channel islands.

  • 1956-1957

    Local Journalism arrives

    On the 1st October 1956 the first area radio news bulletin is produced, this is hosted from Bristol. The region's first journalist/ reporter is recruited and begins work in the summer of 1957. At the end of September a Plymouth News Desk is opened and a West Region television news bulletin is produced from Bristol.

  • 1958 - 1961

    Television on the horizon

     The go-ahead is given for a new independent television regional station. The BBC quickly plans new television facilities for the Plymouth base in order to compete. Westward TV is appointed as the new contractor and the BBC facilities are installed in time to beat ITV to air. 

  • 1963-1969

    Spotlight Southwest and Westward establish a rapport with local audiences. Radio is expanded on the VHF bands.

    Television and extended radio bulletins on the new VHF frequencies become established. Westward TV achieves  country leading audience appreciation figures. The BBC begin local TV bulletins at lunchtime,  local feature programmes and continuity in order to compete with ITV.

  • 1969 - 1974

    Television in Colour 

     The BBC announce "Broadcasting In The Seventies" which establishes Plymouth as its own managed area region - BBC Southwest. Both ITV and BBC introduce colour transmissions. The BBC build new studios and offices. A new opt-out radio service starts initially at lunchtime, moving to early mornings later. 

  • 1975

    Commercial radio at last

    Plymouth Sound radio launches in spring 1975 and quickly becomes very popular. Unusually for commercial radio it has a high percentage of speech based content. A high 63% audience reach is achieved the best in the UK.

  • 1976 - 1986

    Franchise change spans a golden age of regional TV  

     TSW is awarded the franchise in December 1980 and takes over Westward the following year. Both the commercial and local BBC produce a wide range of programme genres reflecting the cultural identity of the southwest - " a golden age" - it was not sustained for long.

  • 1986

    Politics, Hostility & Cutbacks

    The Peacock report heralds a new commercial age which eventually leads to the dismantling of the ITV regional structure. The Thatcher government moves to challenge the BBC funding model. Austerity and 50% cutbacks in the BBC regional budgets.

  • 1992

    The Cult of Birtism

    The era of central control, management consultants, bureaucracy and division. Web based services begin. Satellite newsgathering liberates news production.

  • The 2000's

    ITV loses its regional identity 

    ITV closes its Plymouth base and the BBC evolves with a weaker regional base