History and publication
Cover of the first issue (28 September 1923)
Radio Times was first issued on 28 September 1923 for the price of 2d, carrying details of BBC wireless programmes (newspapers at the time boycotted radio listings, fearing that increased listenership might decrease their sales).
Initially, Radio Times was a combined enterprise between the British Broadcasting Company and the publisher George Newnes, who type-set, printed and distributed the magazine. But in 1925 the BBC assumed full editorial control, and by the publication was fully in-house before printing could begin though the works had to be opened and the occasion marked and this occurred on 21 December 1936. The Radio Times established a reputation for using leading writers and illustrators, and the covers from the special editions are now collectible design classics.
Masthead from the 25 December 1931 edition, including the BBC motto "Nation shall speak unto nation"
In 1928, Radio Times announced a regular series of 'experimental television transmissions by the Baird process' for half an hour every morning. The launch of the first regular 405-line television service by the BBC was reflected with television listings in the Radio Times edition of 23 October 1936. Thus Radio Times became the first television listings magazine in the world. Initially only two pages in each edition were devoted to television. However, on 8 January 1937 the magazine published a lavish photogravure supplement and by September 1939, there were three pages of television listings.
Britain declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939 and television broadcasting ceased. Radio listings continued throughout the war with a reduced service, but by 1944, paper rationing meant editions were only 20 pages of tiny print on thin paper. When television resumed, the Radio Times expanded with regional editions were introduced from 29 July 1945. In 1953 the television listings, which had been in the back of the magazine, were placed alongside the daily radio schedules and on 17 February 1957, television listings were moved to a separate section at the front with radio listings relegated to the back.
By the 1950s Radio Times had grown to be the magazine with the largest circulation in Europe, with an average sales of 8.8 million in 1955. Since its published on Tuesdays (its publication day having gradually moved forward from Fridays over many years) and carries listings for the following Saturday through to Friday (this began in 1960, before which issues ran Sunday to Saturday; the changeover meant that Saturday 8 October 1960 was listed twice).
Radio Times ceased carrying cigarette advertising from 5 September 1969. Since Christmas 1969, a double-sized issue has been published each December containing listings for two weeks of programmes. Originally, this covered Christmas and New Year listings, but in some years these appear in separate editions, with the two-week period ending just before New Year. The cover of the 'Christmas Number' (as this issue came to be called) dating from the time when it contained just a single week's listings, usually features a generic festive artwork, atypical for the magazine, which since the 1970s has almost exclusively used photographic covers for all other issues.
On 1 September 1984, web-offset printing was used for the first time, and the magazine became brighter and more colourful, with newsprint and sheets of gravure replaced by black ink and white paper.
Until the deregulation of television listings on 1 March 1991, the Radio Times carried programme listings for BBC radio and television channels only, while the ITV-published magazine TVTimes, carried television programme listings for ITV, and Channel 4 (including S4C in the Wales edition) from November 1982, and the Murdoch-based publication TV Guide (not to be confused with the American magazine) carrying satellite television listings for Sky Television, MTV, Screensport, The Children's Channel and Lifestyle. Today both publications carry listings for all major terrestrial, cable and satellite television channels in the United Kingdom and following deregulation, new listings magazines such as What's on TV and TV Quick began to be published.
After the deregulation of television listings, there was strong criticism from other listings magazines that Radio Times was advertised on the BBC (as well as on commercial channels), saying that it gave unfair advantage to the publication bearing "If it's on... it's in!" slogan. The case went to court, but the outcome was that as the Radio Times had close connections with the BBC it would be allowed to be advertised by the BBC; however, it must be a static picture of the cover, and that the clear disclaimer "Other television listings magazines are available" be given (leading to the phrase entering common public usage for a time). By the early 2000s, advertisements for the publication had become sparse on the BBC. The Radio Times has not been promoted on BBC television and radio channels since 2005, following complaints by rival publications that the promotions were unfair competition.
Radio Times' design was refreshed on 3 September 1994 as the television listings had the day's name written vertically with "today's choices" replacing "at a glance" on the left of a page, while the major revamp on 25 September 1999, which also changed the "letters" section beginning on the front page and primetime television listings from two narrow columns to one wide column, and lasted until 13 April 2001 (shortly before Easter), which saw the new masthead title and the programme pages with eight pages of television listings reverted to having the day running across the top of the page horizontally.
On 26 November 2002, NTL and BBC Worldwide announced a major new agreement that will offer an exclusive and tailored edition of Radio Times to every customer across the United Kingdom for every week it will be delivered directly to subscribers' homes. The special NTL edition of Radio Times replaces the monthly Cable Guide, which ran from September 1986 to December 2002, will contain programme information for NTL channels (including all terrestrial channels) with Front Row's pay-per-view movies and events will also be included. Subscribers will be offered the first four weekly issues of the new title for the same price as the existing monthly magazine, will be delivered free to homes in time for the first programme week of 4 January 2003, both companies will actively and jointly market the new edition.
On 22 May 2007, two extra pages of television listings per day were added as part of a slight tweak in the publication's format, bringing it up to ten pages of listings per day in total, or five double-page spreads: two pages of reviews of highlights ("choices") followed by two pages of terrestrial television listings, then six pages of listings for digital, satellite and cable channels. Before digital channels became commonplace, a terrestrial day's television was sometimes spread over up to three double-spreads mixed with advertisements, but this format was phased out when independent publishers were allowed to publish television programme schedules.
Until 2009, the listings issued a warning phrase "contains strong language" used for BBC television programmes from 9:00pm during the hours of watershed restrictions.
As from 10 April 2010 onwards, the daytime listings have moved onto the evening section having the full day's output for the five main channels (including the Freeview section) on one double-page spread. Other changes saw the addition of Freeview EPG numbers into the channel headers, and include director and year of production details on all Film4 movies throughout the day.
The latest circulation figure (January 2013 – January 2014) for the Radio Times is 831,591 ( 6.9%) making it third in the TV listings magazine market behind TV Choice (1,374,813 11.8%) and What's on TV (1,049,558 14.1%).