The first shortwave transmissions from the BBC were broadcast in 1925 from Daventry. BBC shortwave programming began as the Empire Service on December 19, 1932, broadcasting particularly to Australia. It gained a special position in world broadcasting during the Second World War as it broadcast news to a wide range of audiences. It moved to Bush House in 1940.
News and other programming from the BBC World Service is frequently relayed by local stations around the world, and it is regarded as the world's premier radio news source. In addition, the World Service provides educational, dramatic, and sports programming. A special use of the World Service has been emergency messages to British subjects abroad, such as the order to evacuate Jordan during the Black September incidents of September 1970.
Currently the BBC World Service broadcasts in 43 languages world wide, though budget cuts in 2001 led to a decision to cancel English-language broadcasting directly to North America. Some PBS stations in the US carry daily half-hour programmes from BBC World Service.
The World Service uses a mediumwave transmitter at Droitwich to provide coverage to Europe. Shortwave transmitters are located throughout the United Kingdom, Antigua, Ascension Island, Canada, the United States, Singapore, and other locations. In addition, the World Service provides specialist programming to the Caribbean and the Falkland Islands. Since the 1990s the World Service has also increasingly used satellite broadcasting as a means to deliver its signals to its overseas transmitters and to home dish owners in several countries.
The interval signal of the BBC World Service in English is the sound of the Bow Bells of London. Its signature tune, "Lillibulero", is broadcast just before the top of most hours, preceded by the announcement "This is London" and followed by a time signal (five short and one long pips) and the hourly news. In other languages, the interval signal is four notes, pitched B-B-B-C. BBC programmes frequently use the chimes of Big Ben as well.
One of the primary purposes of the BBC World Service is to disseminate fair neutral news and information around the world. In many countries in the world the world service is relied on as the only source of reliable news not manipulated by the local government.