Why The Shipping Forecast is a radio institution

It’s 12:45 in the morning. The day that has ended was either wonderful or excruciating. Your mind wonders towards what you must do the following day—you are excited or you are worried.

It’s 12:45 in the morning. The day that has ended was either wonderful or excruciating. Your mind wonders towards what you must do the following day—you are excited or you are worried. You are hopeful for the best, and would like to avoid the worst.

You want a sign that all is right with the world, and so you turn on your radio and you scroll the dial, until you reach a frequency which transmits sounds of strings and flutes in harmony, an orchestral sound.

Upon hearing this, you remember the good moments of your day—whether it was meeting that friend for coffee, getting that promotion at work or securing the completion of your degree. You also forget your troubles, whether it’s the exam you might have failed or the relationship that perhaps went sour, or how you’re going to get through that last bit of revision alive.

A peaceful institution

Then, the music comes to an end, and on the other end through the microphone, you hear: “And now the Shipping Forecast, issued by the Met Office on behalf of the Maritime and Coast Guard Agency,” as the dulcet tones of the person sitting at that microphone fill the room, naming locations across the English Channel, including Lundy, Viking, North Utsire, South Utsire, Dogger and Tyne.

For the next twelve minutes, it is you and your radio—an unbreakable bond. You are at peace with the world. You know everything will be all right, whatever happens. It is something that can’t be achieved with that new Twitter trend, that text message from your mate, or that Facebook status you wanted to share. It can only come through your radio, through the last Shipping Forecast before BBC Radio 4 ends its day.

This, one of Radio 4’s flagship programmes, has become a favourite of the British public. Though Radio 4 broadcasts four editions of the Shipping Forecast a day (two of them are heard on FM whilst four are heard on long wave), this is the broadcast that is most acclaimed, which makes it an institution in British radio.

A spokesperson for Radio 4 declined Kettle’s request for an interview.

In a piece in the Radio Times in 2012, Peter Jefferson, who read the Forecast until 2009, says there are two audiences, one audience that relies on it for its vital maritime information, the other for the audience who listen as they prepare to drift off to sleep.

Poetic heritage

“People from all over the UK and beyond have written to me saying they felt I was reading it just to them,” Jefferson said. “It had a soothing effect after a long day. Just when sleep beckons but the mind won’t quite let you slip into its silken craw, the sound of another human voice, familiar yet not intrusive, reciting this mantra can be quite relaxing.”

In an interview for the BBC News magazine in 2012, regular announcer Kathy Clugston said it was similar to a lullaby.

“There’s something about the sound of it and the rhythm – it’s so repetitive – that is so soothing,” Clugston said.

Zeb Soanes, another announcer, adds in that interview it has a remarkable link to the UK’s heritage and culture.

“It’s part of the fabric of this intangible thing called Britishness,” Soanes said. “Just like red telephone boxes, Wimbledon, the chimes of Big Ben, the smell of cut grass, scones and jam.”

However, this broadcast that shares its poetic verse does not last long. By the time 12:58 comes rolling in, the Forecast is over, and it is time to say goodnight. God Save The Queen plays, and then come the pips to signal the top of the hour.

It’s 1am. While it is time now to sleep and move onto the next day, still the calm sounds of the Channel remain through the graceful sounds of that very poetic forecast.

Sleep well, good night.

The Shipping Forecast airs at 0048 (though this writer recommends you tune in for Sailing By at 0045) nightly on BBC Radio 4. Have your say on the Forecast in the comments section below.

Image: Benjamin Dobson / Flickr