Programmed ribosomal frameshifting allows one mRNA to encode regulate expression of, multiple open reading frames (ORFs). The polymerase encoded by ORF 2 of Barley yellow dwarf virus (BYDV) is expressed via minus one (-1) frameshifting from the overlapping ORF 1. Previously, this appeared to be mediated by a 116 nt RNA sequence that contains canonical -1 frameshift signals including a shifty heptanucleotide followed by a highly structured region. However, unlike known -1 frameshift signals, the reporter system required the zero frame stop codon and did not require a consensus shifty site for expression of the -1 ORF. In contrast, full-length viral RNA required a functional shifty site for frameshifting in wheat germ extract, while the stop codon was not required. Increasing translation initiation efficiency by addition of a 5' cap on the naturally uncapped viral RNA, decreased the frameshift rate. Unlike any other known RNA, a region four kilobases downstream of the frameshift site was required for frameshifting. This included an essential 55 base tract followed by a 179 base tract that contributed to full frameshifting. The effects of most mutations on frameshifting correlated with the ability of viral RNA to replicate in oat protoplasts, indicating that the wheat germ extract accurately reflected control of BYDV RNA translation in the infected cell. However, the overall frameshift rate appeared to be higher in infected cells, based on immunodetection of viral proteins. These findings show that use of short recoding sequences out of context in reporter constructs may overlook distant signals. Most importantly, the remarkably long-distance interaction reported here suggests the presence of a novel structure that can facilitate ribosomal frameshifting.