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Media > Change > Radio to TV

The shift from radio listening to television viewing

Clearly, given that people have only so much time to devote to leisure activities, the time spend watching the new-fangled television had to come from somewhere. Traditionally, commentators have focused on the effect television had on cinema audiences. That correlation, however, is complex: daily viewing need not replace weekly cinemagoing, while the changing post-war demographics and the austerity that prevailed in Europe played a significant part. The social composition of early television audience is profiled on another page.

Radio was inevitably much more likely to be affected, however ingrained the habit of listening had become, especially during wartime. The BBC compiled annual data about evening listening which showed that between 1949/50 and 1953/54 the amount of listening when television was being broadcast fell by 30 per cent. Interestingly, UK cinema admissions fell by only seven per cent during that period. Throughout the period there was only one television channel but three radio services to choose between.
        The chart shows the average number of hours spent listening to radio per head of population, not just in television-equipped households.  [Data is for the year from 1 July to 30 June.]

In the more telling comparison of households with television sets the effect was more evident at an earlier period, when the BBC television service was confined to the London area (ie, prior to 1949). This comes from a Mass Observation survey, based on data collected from households with television on 21 days between 22 October to 16 December 1948.


Sources: R J E Silvey: 'BBC Programmes and the Public, Some Recent Trends', (BBC).
Mass Observation Bulletin, August 1949.
Both quoted in Asa Briggs: The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom, Volume IV: Sound & Vision (OUP, 1979)

See also BBC Audience Research 1952
Change index

Page updated 24 March 2001
David Fisher