Pages Navigation Menu

Ideas and technique to help you promote and image radio

Pips and Eddie Mair

When the BBC pips failed this afternoon, Radio 4 and the World Service lost not only their time signal but one of radio’s finest sonic branding devices. Those six short tones are not just a reassuring noise but are all about precision: a fine characteristic of any journalism.

When, in 1999, the designer Martin Lambie-Nairn was commissioned by the BBC to overhaul the identity of its news services he did so with two major properties: the colour red (previously, blue was the established colour of broadcast television news) and the BBC pips which composer David Lowe deployed as the central idea of his famous suite of themes and beds.

Martin and David understood the symbolism and provenance of the pips, yet presented them on a fresh medium and in a modern setting. Cleverly they used a device first introduced in 1924 to help bring BBC News into the 21st Century.

Today, the failure of the pips couldn’t have been in better hands. Eddie Mair went on air as they broke and later covered the developing story in technical detail with a live link-up to the BBC control room.


Eddie and the pips are old friends. At BBC Radio Scotland his 1990s morning show contained pips at 9am, just before the newsreader delivered their bulletin. Very occasionally, the newsreader would forget to “cancel” the pips so listeners would also hear them when they next appeared at 9.15am.

After an unfortunate run of such lapses, Eddie’s playfully cruel response was to record one pip on a cart and play it in over his programme at 9.14:55. The newsreaders soon learned to switch-off the feed.