Monday, October 12, 2009

Demise of the BBC Daventry

from this week's AWR "Wavescan" program, Adventist World Radio

In this week’s edition of “Wavescan”, we present the story of the final years of on air service from the huge shortwave station that was erected by the BBC at Daventry in central England. This was a station that was described at one stage as the largest shortwave broadcasting station in the world, and it was an authoritative voice that gave confidence to millions of people throughout our world during the bleak days of international despair in the middle of last century.
Over a period of almost sixty years this majestic station was on the air with the usage of two dozen shortwave transmitters ranging in power up to 250 kW and radiating through a bevy of antenna systems of all types & sizes & heights, and numbering somewhere around half a hundred. This station spoke almost as many languages as the number of years it was on the air. It was heard in every country of the world, and its programming was relayed at sometime or another by the local radio stations in almost every country.
Let’s pick up this final episode about the BBC Daventry around the time when peace took over in the middle of last century.
By this time, the VOA relays were still on the air from England, but they had been transferred from Daventry to other locations, mainly to the very new station located at Woofferton.
Beginning on February 10, 1947, every BBC transmitter was required to drop its power output to 50 kW. This was not only for economy, but also because the power generating equipment in England was getting quite old and it had not been upgraded for many years. This requirement was in force for a period of two years and it was finally lifted on March 21, 1949.
On July 20, 1963, there was a total solar eclipse across the Atlantic and Radio Canada International made arrangements with the BBC to broadcast a special series of transmissions beamed towards Canada. Three years later, RCI took out a regular relay via the BBC at Daventry with programming beamed towards continental Europe and the Mediterranean areas. Then, in the following year, RCI actually bought two of the shortwave transmitters at Daventry for relay purposes. Programming by this time was provided by a satellite link from Canada to England.
During the 1960s, a modernization program was implemented at Daventry with the removal of several older transmitters which were replaced by more modern and higher powered equipment. Additionally, the antenna systems were also upgraded.
However, time was moving on and the grand old facility at Daventry was beginning to show its age. It was becoming evident that the entire facility would need to be rebuilt, or simply closed down in favor of other more modern locations. A date was set for the final closure of this station and the sale of the land for other purposes. This would finally come in the year 1992.
In preparation for the ultimate demise of the BBC Daventry, usable equipment was removed and transferred to other locations. And for the final closure of the last transmitter on air, a farewell party was planned with dignitaries coming in from many different places and organizations. It had to happen; and it took place at 1130 UTC on Sunday March 29, 1992.
Sender 24 was the last remaining transmitter still on the air; most of the others had already been removed. This unit was radiating on the well known BBC channel 15070 kHz, formerly designated as shortwave channel GWC. The broadcast came to its end, and the transmitter was switched off. BBC Daventry was now silent, for ever.
The property was divided, and some was sold for a housing estate and a local park. Two years later, all of the antenna towers were dropped, except one which is now in use for local phone communication. There is talk of establishing a radio museum in one of the still standing buildings.
You might ask: Are there any surviving QSL cards verifying the reception of transmissions from the BBC Daventry? That in itself is a very interesting question.
The BBC has never been an active verifier of its transmissions. Back in the 1920s and 1930s, the BBC issued a non-specific “Thank you” card, acknowledging the receipt of the reception report, and these were issued for transmitter G5SW at both Chelmsford and Daventry. In the mid 1930s, another un-specific card was issued thanking listeners for reporting the reception of the Empire Service from Daventry.
For a short while in the 1940s, a QSL letter was available from the BBC in London, and around the same era, the BBC office in New York was issuing QSL cards. For those who were accepted as technical monitors for the BBC, a special provision was made wherein the specific QSL details were typed onto a generic acknowledgment card.
During the year 1937, two international radio monitors, Ahman & Weyrich, set up their own unofficial QSL system on behalf of the BBC and they issued quite specific printed QSL cards. These cards were nicely designed, with large red letters for the callsign and the channel was listed in both metres and kilocycles. According to Jerome Berg in his book “On the Shortwaves”, some 400 QSL cards were issued in this way before this perhaps well-intentioned system was dropped.
Back around the 1950s, the Voice of America issued QSL cards for their relays via the BBC shortwave stations in England, their well known Blue Star QSL card, with the channel callsign and frequency entered, though usually the specific location was not shown. In addition, Radio Canada also verified their relays from the BBC in England with the transmitter location listed with a single letter, such as D indicating Daventry.
Goodbye, Daventry, and thank you for a job well done!
(Adrian Peterson, AWR/NWS33)