Radio Times was born in 1923, after John Reith (the BBC’s first director-general) received an ultimatum from the Newspaper Publishers’ Association: pay up, or NPA publications won’t carry radio listings. Despite the embargo’s short lifespan it was enough for Reith to conceive the idea of the BBC publishing its own magazine solely dedicated to radio listings – hence the first edition of The Radio Times, ‘the official organ of the BBC’, brought to news stands on 28th September 1923.
Radio Times was initially a joint venture between the BBC and publisher George Newnes Ltd, who produced, printed and distributed the magazine. However, in 1925 the BBC assumed editorial control and by 1937 had taken the entire operation in-house, where it has remained ever since. As the magazine grew in popularity, it established a reputation for engaging leading writers and illustrators of the day – the covers from special editions of this early period are recognised as design classics.
It wasn’t just about radio for very long. From 1928, Radio Times announced a regular series of ‘experimental television transmissions by the Baird process’ for half an hour every morning. Finally in November 1936, with the start of the first 405-line high-definition service, Radio Times became the world’s first television listings magazine.
At the end of the 1960s Radio Times had a young new editor in Geoffrey Cannon, who modernised the magazine and gave it the distinctive italic title (variations of which continued to stay on the cover for over 30 years). Radio Times moved confidently through the seventies and introduced local radio listings as the BBC launched these across the country. Special editions were produced to mark events like broadcasting anniversaries, royal celebrations and the starts of high-profile new series.
In the 1980s, new printing methods replacing newsprint and metal meant that Radio Times could be published in more, brighter colours. Its popularity climaxed in 1988 when the Christmas edition sold an astounding 11,220,666 copies – a feat that goes down in history and the Guinness Book of Records as the biggest-selling edition of any British magazine.
By Olivia Thomson
17th July 2013