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BBC World Service at 80

BBC is the biggest radio station on the planet and its international division, the BBC World Service, has an audience of 166 million people. It was founded in 1932 by Lord Reith and six days after its opening, the service scored a coup. King George V gave the very first Royal Christmas speech. The speeches are now seen as a fixture of Christmas television but for many years it was so ingrained as a radio tradition. By the time it was ten years old there were 1,400 people working for the World Service and it was typically broadcasting 78 news bulletins in 34 languages every day.

The BBC World Service currently broadcast in 28 languages, in reality it is a collection of many different radio stations,  and now also television and online services. On average, it reaches 166 million people every week with the largest audiences being 43m listening in English, 33.4m in Arabic, 23m in Hausa, 20m in Swahili and 11m in French.

In an era when US news channels are arguably being ever-more politicized, the BBC World Service continues to be seen by many as an impartial organ of truth. Indeed, ratings for the World Service have risen in America. Currently 10.2m people listen each week and that’s a trebling of its audience in the past ten years.