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Radio 4 accidently skips Shipping Forecast leading to mild confusion, apocalypse fears

"No shipping forecast? If UK submarinies [sic] don't get shipping forecast, don't they launch nuclear attack? #worried"
  • @jjvincent

The 150 year legacy of Radio 4’s Shipping Forecast was briefly derailed this morning as the shipping forecast failed to air.

Disappointed listeners awaiting the 5.20am broadcast (one of four reports and forecasts issued daily) were instead greeted by the News Briefing from the BBC’s World Service.

A Radio 4 spokesperson said "Unfortunately our usual switch from BBC World Service, which is broadcast on Radio 4 overnight, didn't go as planned and was delayed by around 20 minutes.

“The Radio 4 announcer explained the situation on air to listeners and the Today programme pointed out that the Shipping Forecast was broadcast on Radio 4 LW at 6.40am. We apologise for the inconvenience."

Listeners took to Twitter to complain in a fittingly ordered and polite fashion:

Although others had significantly more worried reactions:

This latter tweet is most likely a reference to the long-running urban legend that commanders of the Royal Navy's nuclear submarines are required to listen out for Radio 4 on longwave if they suspect that Britain has been hit by a nuclear attack.

A Navy source assured the Independent that this was not the case, adding “UK Submarines have a number of ways to gather meteorological data and they are certainly not dependent on the shipping forecast for their information.”

The spokesperson from Radio 4 was not able to confirm whether this was the first instance that the Shipping Forecast had failed to air at its expected time due to “the long history of the programme and the perils of live broadcasting.”

The service was introduced following a disaster at sea in October 1859 in which a steam clipper was wrecked and 450 lives lost. A prototype warning system was introduced in February 1861 using telegraph and switched to radio transmission in 1911, with the first official BBC Shipping Forecast airing in 1924.

The broadcast is no longer of central importance to ships (most of which have other means to receive the data but still use the radio transmission to check their facts) but has gathered an avid, amateur following and is often lauded as quintessentially British, especially the 00.48am broadcast.

Fans often note that the combination of forecast’s theme (a slow waltz named ‘Sailing By’ and composed especially for the service by Ronald Binge in 1963) and the repetitive script combine to create a soothing, lullaby effect.

The arcane-sounding areas covered by the forecast (including the likes of Viking, Cromarty, Lundy, Dogger, Fastnet, FitzRoy and Rockall) have varied origins and are named after towns, sandbanks, estuaries and islands.