16 January 2017

The Most Beloved Weather Forecast You’ve Never Heard About

Posted by Dan Satterfield

It's more than a weather forecast. It's been broadcast for over 90 years and has it's own Twitter account. and it's been broadcast for 90 years.

It’s more than a weather forecast, it’s an institution. The Shipping Forecast has been broadcast for over 90 years, and has it’s own Twitter account, but just why it’s so loved, is hard to explain. Image from the BBC.

If you are reading this from the UK, you know already know what this post is about, but to those outside the UK, the “Shipping Forecast” is mostly unknown.  It’s far more than a weather forecast, it’s an institution, with many more listeners on dry land than at sea! The Shipping Forecast is issued by the UK Met Office and broadcast on BBC Radio 4 around daybreak, and after midnight at 00:48, just before the end of the broadcast day on Radio 4. The North Atlantic has some of the wildest weather anywhere, and I’ve heard some downright scary forecasts over the years.

What is it about this 12 minutes of radio that so many (I included) love?

Its constancy is certainly a part of its appeal, having been broadcast each night for around 90 years. That’s not a typo by the way, but it was stopped during World War II to avoid giving the Nazi’s vital information. Maybe the other reason it is so loved is that is always done exactly the same way. It begins with the music of “Sailing By”, a tune that’s as familiar to anyone in the UK as the tune to Gilligan’s Island is in America. After the intro music is 12 minutes of the forecast for the different zones around the Britiish Isles. These zones have such names as Rockhall, Shannon, Fastnet, Tyne and Dogger. The current weather reports along the coast follow and it ends with a wish good night from the announcer and the National Anthem.The report is transmitted on the FM frequency and simultaneously on BBC Radio 4’s “long-wave” frequency at 198 kHz. (The AM radio band stops at 570 kHz in the U.S. but UK radios have a third band called long-wave which has a long reach of several hundred miles both day and night)

The report is transmitted on the FM frequency and simultaneously on BBC Radio 4’s “long-wave” frequency at 198 kHz. You may not be familiar with long-wave since in America the AM radio band stops at 570 kHz, but UK radios have a third band called long-wave which has a long reach of several hundred miles both day and night.

Click image for a BBC explainer of the Shipping Bulletin.

Click image for a BBC explainer of the Shipping Forecast.

Even in this day of satellites and instant world-wide communication, it’s still a valuable service, and the format has changed little down through the decades. Originally it was transmitted on the BBC Home Service, but in the 1960’s (as the rock and roll era exploded) the BBC added BBC Radio 1 and eventually BBC Radio 2 and 3. Finally, the “Home Service” became Radio 4, and the shipping forecast has had its home there for several decades now.

There have been attempts over the years to modify the schedule, and this not only led to a public outcry but became an issue raised on the floor of Parliament! You simply do not fool with the shipping forecast. The public will not have it, and that goes from the Queen at Windsor Castle to the poor pensioner living in a cottage, on the windswept Orkney Islands. I’m a regular listener and I cannot put the appeal of this 12 minutes of radio in words either, there is just something relaxing about hearing it, while your mind sees the dark bridge of vessels in the stormy Atlantic, or crossing the Channel while riding the waves of an angry sea.

I’m a regular listener and I must tell you that I cannot put the appeal of this 12 minutes of radio in words. There is just something relaxing about hearing it, while your mind sees the dark bridge of vessels in the stormy Atlantic, or crossing the Channel while riding the waves of an angry sea. I took a walk on Christmas Eve and was listening on my iPhone when the shipping bulletin came on, and as always I ended my walk as the announcer wished me a Happy Christmas and the last strains of God Save The Queen were played.

All I can say is wait until bedtime, turn down the lights, get in bed and listen for yourself here 

You may not “get it”, but if you listen regularly, it will grow on you. Trust me.
Note: BBC Radio 4 recently did a nice piece about their most beloved weather report, just click the image above, to watch and hear it.

Note if you are reading this well after I wrote it and the link to the forecast does not work, go HERE.

** I rewrote the original post and added a bit on Jan 17, 2017