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Afghanistan

More than 75 years since its first broadcast from Algiers in 1943 as the British Forces Broadcasting Service, BFBS continues to serve those who serve, wherever they are, and whenever they need us.

Our services have evolved a lot since then, but our core role remains the same: to keep our armed forces, families and veterans in touch with home and with each other, and to forge and maintain a strong connection for those separated by deployment, posting and detachment.

The early years

In 1945, we started broadcasting the BBC’s General Forces Programme, which included the hit show ‘Forces Favourites’ (later re-named ‘Two Way Family Favourites’). It was so popular that it became synonymous with forces broadcasting, and even made radio stars of its presenters, Cliff Michelmore and Jean Metcalfe.

Other radio stations soon followed, including Malta, Singapore, Hong Kong and Cyprus.

During the 1970s BFBS Cyprus came to play an important role in broadcasting news and information during the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974.

And in 1975, the first BFBS TV service started in Celle, West Germany, gradually expanding throughout the country, eventually via the “longest microwave network in the world” with programmes relayed from London.

With tens of thousands of British forces still based in post-war Germany, we quickly gained a huge and loyal audience there, including millions of German listeners – with many using the service to learn English.

 

1980s and 1990s

In 1982 came the Falklands Islands conflict, which put BFBS firmly back in the public eye for its support for the British forces deployed away from home.

By the time of the first Gulf War in 1990, BFBS was established as a vital link to life in the UK while serving overseas. 1989 saw the fall of the Berlin Wall, but we stayed in the city until western allies left five years later.

During the 1990s, reflecting the constant shift in the military focus and needs of the forces, BFBS established a new presence in the Balkans. As British forces helped to stabilise the volatile situation in Bosnia, Croatia and, later, in Kosovo, a programme launched that linked serving men and women in the region with their families back in Germany. ‘Calling the Balkans’ had a hugely positive impact – just as ‘Family Favourites’ had done half a century earlier.

Meanwhile, in 1991, satellite had arrived, enabling the BFBS TV service to extend to Cyprus, Bosnia and Croatia.

The noughties

Heralding the arrival of the new millennium, BFBS became the first foreign broadcaster to be granted a licence to go on-air at the British Army Training Unit Suffield (BATUS) in Alberta, Canada.

Also, using the experience gained when setting up stations in Kosovo and Bosnia, BFBS was able to deploy to Kuwait, followed by Iraq, when allied forces began their build-up against Saddam Hussain in early 2003. BFBS also embedded two correspondents with the British forces during the war.

In 2008, BFBS added three community stations in Holywood, Aldergrove and Ballykinler in Northern Ireland. Also that year, we opened a station in Kuwait, co-located with the logistics support regiments, who provided everything needed for the smooth running of Op Telic operations at Shaibah Logistics Base in Iraq.

With digital technology embracing the world’s media, BFBS Radio exchanged analogue for digital in 2009. We also set up our first social media channels on Facebook and Twitter in that year.

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David Beckham in Afghanistan

2010s

The new decade began with BFBS launching a YouTube channel, complementing the existing social media platforms, and creating more opportunities to reach people through video.

2010 also saw BFBS win a Sony Special Gold Award for years of radio service to the armed forces. Later that year, the Royal British Legion honoured BFBS with a Friends of the Forces Award for a ten-hour takeover of the BBC Radio One on May Bank Holiday.

 

With studios in Nepal, Brunei and the UK, BFBS Gurkha Radio opened in 2011, offering its own bespoke Nepali news service. Also that year, we broadcast live from its new studio in Camp Bastion, Afghanistan.

And 2011 was the year that BFBS Radio broadcast to the British Army Training Unit Kenya (BATUK).

In 2013, BFBS secured a new 10-year contract with the Ministry of Defence, enabling us to continue as the provider of choice for broadcast services to the British forces worldwide.

Forces TV launched in 2014 to bring news and features about the armed forces to a wider UK public audience with an interest in the military, with a Forces TV YouTube channel following soon after.

Two years later, we formally launched our commercial digital and media services, and the Forces Media Academy welcomed its first student intake in 2017.

2019 saw us reaching more global locations than ever before with radio services broadcast worldwide, and permanently-manned stations in Brunei, Bahrain, Canada, Cyprus, Germany, Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands.

2020s

Our TV, radio and digital services go from strength to strength.

BFBS TV offers the best of UK TV, delivered to ships and land, spanning 15 time zones, and delivered by whatever means is needed to reach the UK armed forces across the globe; satellite and cable for traditional TV transmission, and online for mobiles, tablets and PCs.

Crucially, our service is also available on mobiles, tablets and PCs using our custom-made MiPlayer platform for those serving overseas in disconnected or poorly-connected areas.

And for those in areas where internet access is not an issue, BFBS TV Player offers access to live and catch-up TV across 30+ channels.

Over 80% of those serving overseas and their families continue to listen to BFBS Radio – and forces.net attracts a growing audience to its mix of military-based news and features every week.