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Last Updated:  Thursday, 27 March, 2003, 13:48 GMT
Radio waves for the forces

By Katie Smith
BBC News Online entertainment staff

The British Forces Broadcasting Service (BFBS) is celebrating its 60th birthday by being relayed to more than 20,000 troops on duty in the Gulf.

Contact with loved ones is proving to be top of the wishlist for the British armed forces in Iraq.

The BFBS has been deluged with dedications from soldiers to their loved ones and vice versa.

Some 15,000 requests have been made since the Iraq conflict began - with All You Need is Love the most heavily requested track from families at home to servicemen and women.

1. The Boys Are Back in Town - Thin Lizzy
2. We've Got To Get Out of This Place - The Animals
3. Take Me Home - Sophie Ellis Bextor
4. Don't Know Why - Norah Jones
5. Without Me - Eminem
6. Half the World Away - Oasis
7. Writing to Reach You - Travis
8. Rock DJ - Robbie Williams
9. Rock the Casbah - The Clash
10. Hero - Chad Kroeger

"We are offering a link with home," said BFBS spokesman Marc Tyley. "That is probably our single most important role.

"We are currently trying to clear between 500 and 800 dedications a day.

"The volume of requests is so high we are having to turn to every single BBC local radio station in the UK to help get these messages out."

BBC Radio 2 is also helping out.

From this Sunday, Radio 2 DJ Steve Wright will have a dedicated slot during his Sunday Love Songs programme for messages and dedications.

British Forces radio has come a long way since it opened as an experiment in an Algiers harem in 1943.

Since then it has grown to encompass two networks which broadcast from 20 countries and 67 radio stations to a total of 200 million listeners around the world.

Both BFBS Radio 1 and BFBS Radio 2 are transmitted by satellite from Buckingshamshire.

But local BFBS stations are based in and transmit to Germany, Cyprus, Gibraltar, Belize, the Falkland Islands, Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Bosnia/Croatia, Brunei and, of course, the Gulf.

Brigadier Shawn Cowlam helps DJ Chris Pratt open the BFBS station in Kuwait
Brigadier Shawn Cowlam helps DJ Chris Pratt open the BFBS station in Kuwait
The service currently has 11 staff stationed in the Gulf. Five are at a station in Kuwait and the rest are based with troop units.

All have had to undergo chemical training. Some are veterans of the last Gulf War or Bosnia, but for others this is their first time in a war zone.

"It can be a frightening job," says Mr Tyley, "But the feedback we get on the ground is so fantastic it makes it more than worthwhile."

Soldiers can get both BBC Radio 1 and 2, but in a slightly different format.

"BFBS Radio 1 is aimed at the younger soldiers, sailors and airmen," said Mr Tyley.

The station offers a mix of music, from DJ Richard Allinson to a weekly relay from the Ministry of Sound, as well as programmes specially made in the UK.

BFBS Radio 2 provides a mix of talk, news and sport via relays of BBC Radio 4 and 5 Live, as well as a range of classical and other specialist music.

BFBS Middle East logo
BFBS carries messages from Tony Blair or the Queen
BFBS also produces 30-minute specials, focusing on issues of importance to the service community.

The latest examined why so many people in the Forces were smokers, and what is being done to bring smoking rates down.

Both stations also carry news, interviews and features aimed specifically at servicemen and women.

"We often carry extended interviews with politicians or if the Prime Minister or the Queen make a special message for the troops we will relay it to them," said Mr Tyley.

"These are the kind of things that wouldn't be of interest to the general population - but are of great importance to our listeners."

Messages can be left on the BFBS hotline, 0870 1202121.

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