ENGLISCH/798: Questions to Mrs Gobbledygook (141) Radio Talk (SB)


141. "In the radio", "from the radio", "on the radio", "over the radio", or "by radio" ...?

Dear Mrs Gobbledygook

...I know the English prepositions are tricky little things but what I cannot understand is, why BBC Worldservice news readers always say: 'This news comes to you "i-n" the Worldservice of the BBC. Whereas on All India Radio they say: 'This news comes to you "f-r-o-m" All India Radio...

Yours sincerely

Jai Singh (from Calcutta)


Dear Mrs Gobbledygook

"to listen to the radio" or "to listen in the radio"?

Yours sincerely

Sergej Resikow (Russia)


Dear Mr Singh and Dear Mr Resikow

Well, if a British newsreader or speaker is simply identifying the station as being the BBC he or she will say: 'This news comes to you

"from the BBC"'.

But when he wants to mention which part of the BBC or which service of the BBC, he says: 'This news comes to you

"in the Worldservice of the BBC"'

in order to distinguish it from the other services which the BBC offers.

The point is, that the Worldservice consists of a lot of different programmes which are broadcast in English by the BBC all around the world 24 hours a day and "the news" is just one of those programmes. That's why they say "in the Worldservice".

In your example All India Radio is being identified as the station which is broadcasting the news. Therefore, it is correct to say:

"from All India Radio".

Just one more word about identification: When a company sponsors a programm or pays for it in order to advertise their product, which is common on commercial radio and television stations, then the announcer might say something like: This program is brought to you

"by the makers of Happy Faces chewing gum".

Now, if we are talking about ourselves listening we say "to listen to the radio" these days. The expression "to listen in" is not wrong but sounds quite old fashioned. Occasionally - actually on the radio itself - we hear the verb "to tune in":

"Tune in tomorrow at the same time, same place on the dial..."

That refers literally to the action of getting your radio set tuned in to the right frequency, but in general it means "listen".

Then, there is another old fashioned expression, the word "wireless". That is not used at all these days unless we are referring to the old days. In fact, now, in normal use we always say "the radio".

Now, we normally say "I heard it on the radio". Occasionally we use "over the radio" when it's a rather official message:

"I heard there is going to be a hurricane. They gave it out over the radio."

But that's not a very common usage and you could always say "on the radio", in any case.

Finally there is the phrase "by radio". We use that when radio is the means of achieving something. For example:

"Jane learns French by radio."

But this can easily be mixed up with another kind of equipment for sending wireless messages through the ether or

"by radio"

which means by low-energy electromagnetic waves. A large or long distance "walkie-talkie" is confusingly also called "a radio set" or simply a "radio" and has been used for long-distance communication long before the invention of mobile phones.

Hope I could be of some help

Mrs Gobbledygook

11 August 2008