The British Forces Broadcasting Service was established by the British War Office (now the Ministry of Defence) in 1943. Today it provides radio and television programmes for HM Forces, and their dependents, in Afghanistan, Belize, Bosnia, Brunei, Canada, Cyprus, the Falkland Islands, Germany, Gibraltar, Kosovo, the Middle East, Northern Ireland and Tristan da Cunha as well as a live satellite service to Royal Navy ships at sea. Editorial control is independent of the Ministry of Defence and the armed forces themselves.
Since the 1980s, BFBS has formed part of the Services Sound and Vision Corporation (SSVC), a registered charity, which is also responsible for the British Defence Film Library, SSVC Cinemas, and Combined Services Entertainment, providing entertainment for HM Forces around the world. Neither BFBS Radio nor BFBS Television carry commercial advertising.
BFBS Radio's 3 stations broadcast on a combination of local FM and AM analogue frequencies, via live streaming at bfbs.com/listen, on Sky Guide Number 786, Freesat, and since April 2009 on DAB Digital Radio in the UK. The three BFBS Radio stations can be heard by the entire global Forces Community.
- The Forces Station BFBS - Contemporary music and Forces Community Radio
- BFBS Radio 2 - popular music, news, current affairs and sport
- BFBS Gurkha Radio - programming for Gurkhas
BFBS broadcasts to service personnel, their families and friends all over the world with local radio studios in Afghanistan, Belize, Belgium, Bosnia, Brunei, Canada, Cyprus, Germany, Gibraltar, The Falkland Islands, Kosovo, the Netherlands and Northern Ireland. In addition, BFBS radio is heard by troops in Oman, Iraq and Ascension Island as well as onboard Royal Navy ships at sea via live satellite links, on the World Wide Web at BFBS.com/Radio and on Sky Digital channel 0211, via a Eurobird 1 transponder.
The Forces Station BFBS is a music, news, entertainment and community service providing bespoke content to the global Forces Community with a focus on Forces News and connecting the Forces communities with around the world.
Many of the programmes on BFBS Radio 2 are sourced from BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio Five Live, including the soap opera The Archers, which was popular in Hong Kong until BFBS Radio ceased broadcasting on 30 June, 1997 before the handover to China. BFBS Radio also provides programmes in Gurkhali, for the Gurkha units serving with the British Army.
At midnight on Saturday 12 January 2008, The Forces Station BFBS began a trial period of broadcasting nationwide across the UK on DAB, which ran until 23:59 on 31 March 2008. Audience research carried out during the trial concluded that it was successful, and The Forces Station BFBS now broadcasts nationally on DAB Digital Radio.
In the early 1960s a BFBS Engineer named John Bull promoted the idea that BFBS could have a Television Broadcast service for a relatively low cost and demonstrated this by building his own Television Station broadcasting from his home in Nicosia, Cyprus two nights a week. Despite successfully proving the point he failed to convince the management at the time and so another ten years passed before BFBS eventually had a television service.
BFBS Television started in Germany in 1975, using taped broadcasts from the BBC and ITV, but now broadcasts live via satellite. DVDs are still sent to forces serving in more remote areas. There is also a service known as BFBS Navy TV, which broadcasts time-shifted versions of the channel to Royal Navy vessels around the world via military satellite.
Most programmes come from the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Five and Sky, including news from BBC News, Sky News, ITN, and sport from BBC Sport and Sky Sports. BFBS also has its own programmes, including the magazine programme BFBS Reports and the children's request programme Room 785.
BFBS Television is broadcast in some areas as a terrestrial service, but is encrypted for copyright reasons, as it is intended solely for HM Forces and their families. Until 1997, it was widely available in Cyprus, but its signal is now encrypted or confined to the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia as local broadcasters had bought local rights to show English football.
However, BFBS 1 is watched by civilians in the Falkland Islands, where it is currently the only terrestrial TV service. It is shown on a timeshifted basis (which means that "live" events are shown between 3 and 5 hours after they have actually happened.) There are plans to expand the civilian terrestrial TV service as part of a digital upgrade, which would include BFBS 1, BFBS 2, BFBS 3 and one other channel.
Since 2009 there have been four BFBS Television services:
- BFBS 1 - General entertainment, sport, news, documentary programming - for a more general audience.
- BFBS 2 - General entertainment, sport - the so-called 'lads channel', available in operational areas only.
- BFBS 3 Kids/Documentaries - Children's programming, factual entertainment and documentaries after 1800 CET.
- BFBS 4 - Movie channel.
A combined version of these four called "BFBS Navy TV" is available on some naval vessels.
Since 2005, BFBS has also distributed commercial networks Q, Sky News, Sky Sports 1 and Sky Sports 2 to certain areas. It also started a movie channel on 2 May 2008, using money that it has saved following the Premier League's decision to waive the £250,000 rights fee.
- Alan Grace: This Is the British Forces Network. The Story of Forces Broadcasting in Germany. Stroud (1996) ISBN 0-7509-1105-0
- Alan Grace: The Link With Home. 60 Years of Forces Radio. Chalfont (2003) ISBN 0-9522135-1-6
- Doreen Taylor: A Microphone and a Frequency. Forty Years of Forces Broadcasting. London (1983) ISBN 0-434-75710-1 and ISBN 0-434-75711-X
- Oliver Zöllner: BFBS: 'Freund in der Fremde'. British Forces Broadcasting Service (Germany) - der britische Militärrundfunk in Deutschland. Göttingen (1996) [in German] ISBN 3-89588-632-7.
- Oliver Zöllner: Forces Broadcasting: A 'Friend' Abroad. In: Communications, Vol. 21 (1996), issue 4, pp. 447–466 ISSN 0341-2059
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