Sunday, May 15, 2011

Five in a Row: BBC Middle East Relay Station: Perim Island

Two weeks back, we began a short series of topics here in Wavescan in which we are presenting the story of the five BBC relay stations in the Arabian coastal areas, one after the other. The
first topic was on the story of the BBC East Africa Relay Station located at Berbera in Somalia. Here now is the second topic in this series, the story of the BBC Middle East Relay Station, located on the island of Perim, at the mouth of the gulf that is labeled in current maps and in the Bible as the Red Sea.
The very small Perim Island is a volcanic outcrop just five square miles in area. The highest point is just a small hill at 200 feet above sea level, and vegetation on the island is very sparse. There is no fresh water on the island, and every item needed by people living on the island must be imported from wherever it is available.
This small isolated island never had a significant local population in ancient times, and even to this day, the only local inhabitants are a few fishermen who use the island as a base for their fishing enterprises. However, when the island has been used as a base for various purposes, the population of imported personnel has sometimes stood quite high.
Perim Island was occupied by the Portuguese in 1513, and subsequently by the French, and then the British. During the 1800s, a lighthouse was erected on the island, and this was around the time that the island served as a coaling station for ships traversing the Suez Canal.
In the year 1872, the Eastern Telegraph Company established a cable station on Perim Island for connection with England, Africa, India and ultimately Australia. This cable station was later taken over by C&W, Cable & Wireless, or as it was known in the Arabic language, the “Lightning & No Wire Company”. A spark wireless station was installed at this facility nearly a century ago and this was on the air under the callsign BVQ.
On July 1, 1960, the two Somalilands, British & Italian, achieved independence and they united into the one Somalia. As mentioned in our program two weeks ago, it became necessary for the BBC soon afterwards to close their rather new East Africa Relay Station located at Berbera due to political differences between England and the new Somalia.
During the year 1964, the equipment from Berbera in Somalia was transferred across the waters and re-installed on the island of Perim, a distance of some 200 miles. While this station was under re-installation, security personnel repulsed a terrorist attack which fortunately inflicted very little damage.
This BBC relay station was again co-sited with an old C&W cable station, this time on the island of Perim, and it was installed and operated by DWS, the British Diplomatic Wireless Service. The BBC station on Perim Island operated on the same mediumwave channel as in Berbera Somalia, 701 kHz.
The power output of this mediumwave station on Perim has been listed variously as 10 kW, 100 kW or 400 kW. One listing shows the power as 1.5 megawatts, but this is probably the total power generated at the station for all purposes on the island.
This re-sited BBC relay station was re-inaugurated as the BBC Middle East Relay Station in the earlier part of the year 1965, probably during the month of April or May. BBC Perim was heard in Australia & New Zealand around local dawn, and this would suggest that the actual power output was 100 kW; 10 kW would not propagate too well to the South Pacific, and 400 kW would require the generation of too much electricity locally on a small island where everything is imported.
As was the case with the station when it was at Berbera, the re-located station on Perim took an off air relay from the BBC transmitters on shortwave in England. This programming was in mainly Arabic & English. No programming was produced locally.
However, changing political circumstances also plagued this radio station at its new location. The two Yemens, North & South, were united politically, though not always very amicably, and the island of Perim was handed over by the British government to this new entity. It became necessary to again close, and move.
During the year 1966, the population on Perim Island was at its all time high, with some 600 people living there. These resident foreigners were serving with the BBC, the leftover of the old C&W cable station, supportive business and social operations, and armed service personnel. In addition, many local people from the nearby coastline of Yemen were resident on the island, as local employees, and also as local opportunists.
During this era on Perim, the 3rd station in a row was already under construction at another location in the Arabian coastal areas. Another island, the island of Masirah on the eastern edge of the Saudi peninsula, had been chosen for a larger new mediumwave station. The BBC MIddle East Relay Station on Perim Island closed during the year 1966 in favor of the much larger and newer station on the Island of Masirah after less than two years of service at the mouth of the Red Sea.
Three weeks from now, we are planning to present the 3rd BBC station in a row, the much larger mediumwave station on the island of Masirah.
(AWE Wavescan/NWS # 116 via Adrian Peterson)