Since the UK Parliament’s Culture Media and Sport Committee about to start another round of oral evidence session in their Future of the BBC Inquiry next week, for this Friday we feature a very old media policy meme that is still with us today.

The BBC Pips

The pips first rung out across the airwaves on 5 February 1924. Designed as a collaborative project between Frank Watson Dyson, the astronomer royal and John Reith, then head of the BBC, the pips were originally controlled at The Royal Greenwich Observatory by two mechanical clocks.

The pips are a series of six short tones broadcast at one-second intervals and come in at the 5 seconds leading up to the hour. The last of the six is slightly extended to mark the hour change. They look like this:

BBC Pips

These sounds have come to indicate the start of the news for listeners around the globe as they have been used for decades not just on BBC’s domestic stations, but also by the BBC’s World Service. The BBC’s Charter is up for re-negotiation in early 2016 and the long process of the Charter Review is essentially underway, including debates about the license fee and its overall mandate and scope. Parliament’s Culture Media and Sport Committee is currently hearing evidence on the Future of the BBC, with the next oral sessions taking place on 17 June.

The BBC takes its pips quite seriously and controls their use, but they have nevertheless been shared by many, such as the nostalgic person who posted the above clip on YouTube.  With the broadcaster’s blessing, for the 2005 Comic Relief Red Nose Day a pip ring tone was developed, and to celebrate their 90th birthday earlier this year, a The BBC radio 4 released a “Happy Birthday” pip recording, which was also shared widely.

Thanks to Batsheva Lazarus for the research on the Pips. This article gives the views of the authors and does not represent the position of the LSE Media Policy Project blog, nor of the London School of Economics.

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