The British Forces Broadcasting Service (BFBS) provides radio and television programmes for Her Majesty's Armed Forces, and their dependents worldwide. Editorial control is independent of the Ministry of Defence and the armed forces themselves.
Originally known as the Forces Broadcasting Service (FBS), it was initially under the control of the British Army Welfare Service, with its first effort, the Middle East Broadcasting Unit, with its headquarters in Cairo.
Before and after end of the Second World War, various radio stations were set up, some using the FBS name, others using the name British Forces Network (BFN), but by the early 1960s, these had all adopted the BFBS name.
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. BFBS does not carry commercial advertising.
BFBS Radio's three stations broadcast on a combination of local FM and AM analogue frequencies, via live streaming at bfbs.com/listen, on Sky Channel 0211, Freesat Channel 786, and since April 2009 on DAB Digital Radio in the UK.
- 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 and their families and friends worldwide with local radio studios in Brunei, Canada, Cyprus, Germany, Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands, and Northern Ireland and operational areas from the studio in Afghanistan. In addition, BFBS radio is heard by troops in Ascension Island, Belgium, the Netherlands, Naples, Italy and Stavanger, Norway as well as onboard Royal Navy ships at sea via live satellite links, online at bfbs.com/radio and on Sky Digital channel 0211, via a Eutelsat 28A transponder.
It broadcast in Malta until 25 March 1979, when British forces left the islands. It ceased broadcasts from Berlin on 15 July 1994, following the end of the Cold War, German reunification, and the withdrawal of British forces from the city, after 33 years. The BFBS Berlin frequency was given up on 12 December 1994.
BFBS also broadcast on FM in Belize, from Airport Camp near Belize City. These broadcasts could also be received in eastern parts of Guatemala. It ceased broadcasting in the country August 2011.
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 around the world.
Bespoke news bulletins are broadcast every hour, 24 hours a day, utilising audio from BBC News, IRN and BFBS's own team of Forces News reporters. The standard bulletin is three minutes long, with extended ten-minute Newsplus programmes on weekdays at 0400, 0700, 1100, 1300 and 1700 UK time. Two-minute-long news and sport headlines are broadcast on the half-hour during breakfast programming. Bulletins are broadcast around the clock on BFBS Radio and BFBS Gurkha Radio, and during BFBS Radio 2's music programming.
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.
On Monday 31 May 2010, BBC Radio 1 teamed up with BFBS to transmit the 10-hour takeover show from Camp Bastion with BFBS presenters and shout outs from the military community. It repeated the link-up in 2011.
In December 2011, Smooth Radio broadcast their national breakfast show, presented by Simon Bates, from the BFBS studios in Camp Bastion. On 8 April 2012, Easter Sunday, BFBS simulcast a two-hour show with Smooth, presented jointly by Simon Bates and BFBS's Rachel Cochrane allowing family and friends of serving troops to connect with their loved ones.
On 1 April 2013 BFBS began a new 10-year contract for to supply all forces broadcasting service to British troops around the world and expanded its service to UK army bases formerly served by Garrison Radio.
BFBS UK Bases stations now serve communities in Aldershot, Aldergrove, Ballykinler, Blandford, Catterick, Colchester, Edinburgh, Fort George, Holywood, Inverness, Lisburn, Penicuik, Salisbury Plain with a station at RAF Brize Norton.
BFBS Television started in Celle, near Hanover in the then West Germany on 18 September 1975 from Trenchard Barracks. This used taped broadcasts from the BBC and ITV, flown to Germany from London, which were then rebroadcast using low-power UHF transmitters. Live broadcasts of news and sport began in 1983, using a microwave link between the UK and West Germany, extending as far east as West Berlin.
It was known as SSVC Television (Services Sound and Vision Corporation) between 1985 and 1997, when it reverted to the BFBS name. Today it now broadcasts live via satellite. DVDs are still sent to forces serving in more remote areas. There was also a service known as Navy TV, which broadcasts time-shifted versions of the channel to Royal Navy vessels around the world via military satellite.
Most programmes came from the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 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 daily news bulletin programme British Forces News and the children's programme Room 785.
BFBS Television was broadcast in some areas as a terrestrial service in the clear using low power transmitters to minimise "overspill" to non-service audiences and protect copyright. The satellite feed was encrypted for copyright reasons, as it is intended solely for HM Forces and their families. Until 1994, it was also carried on cable in West Berlin. However, it was only available in the British Sector.
Until 1997, it was also widely available in Cyprus, but its signal was encrypted or confined to the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia. Following complaints from local broadcasters like Lumiere TV, which had bought local rights to show English football and other programming, the decision was made to encrypt the signal, starting with Nicosia in April 1997 and ending with Larnaca and Limassol in May 1998. The decision was criticised by MPs in an Early Day Motion. BFBS later ended terrestrial transmissions of its TV channel in Cyprus in January 2009.
However, as a result of card sharing by services personnel, BFBS TV (later BFBS 1) was available to unentitled viewers on the island, along with other channels until 2011, when an illegal pay-TV service was closed down in a joint operation by the Cyprus Police and the Audiovisual Anti-Piracy Alliance.
By contrast, BFBS TV was watched by civilians in the Falkland Islands, where for many years, it was the only terrestrial TV service. Initially it consisted of prerecorded programmes brought over on cassette from the UK, meaning that they were shown two weeks after the UK, but was later shown on a timeshifted basis (which means that "live" events were shown between 3 and 5 hours after they had actually happened.) This expanded the civilian terrestrial TV service as part of a digital upgrade, which included BFBS 1 and BFBS 2. BFBS 1 and 2 also became available to civilian audiences in Tristan da Cunha.
British Forces and their families living at BATUS in Canada had access to BFBS 1, a limited amount of BFBS 2 and BFBS 3 and Sky News on a 7-hour timeshift from CET. During the day, the television channel that BFBS 2/3 broadcast on, played BFBS Radio 1.
In 2005, BFBS also began distributing commercial networks Kiss TV (previously 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 saved following the Premier League's decision to waive the £250,000 rights fee.
SSVC was awarded a new ten-year contract by the Ministry of Defence commencing on 1 April 2013. Fewer overseas troop deployments and reduced budgets resulted in a change to the previous TV service. Since 27 March 2013, BFBS has offered timeshifted versions of BBC One, BBC Two, ITV, as well as two channels of its own. BFBS Extra offers entertainment programming from Channel 4 and Channel 5, as well as BBC Three, Watch, and Dave, Sky 1, with programming from National Geographic Channel, ITV2, 3 and 4, the History Channel and Sky Atlantic. BFBS Sport carries sport from ESPN (later replaced by BT Sport), Sky Sports, and Eurosport. BBC Two carries children's programming from CBBC, until the late afternoon, while BFBS Extra carries programming from CBeebies until the evening. Additionally, the BBC One and ITV feeds are timeshifted to hit peak time in local time zones.
On 10 June 2014, SSVC launched Forces TV, a new channel about the British Armed Forces. It is available on BFBS, Sky 264, Virgin 277 and Freesat 652. Its content is a mixture of news reports, documentaries and features produced by BFBS. It is independent from the Ministry of Defence and is funded through advertising and sponsorship. Forces TV (and BFBS radios) on satellite Eutelsat 10A (10°E).
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