Monday, April 22, 2013

Focus on Cyprus Relay Station-Part 2

Focus on Africa: BBC East Mediterranean Relay Station Cyprus - Part 2

In this our second topic in the mini-series on the BBC East Mediterranean Relay Station, we pick up the story at the time of the transfer of the station, the shadowy Sharq al Adna, from the Royal Air Force Base near Jaffa in Palestine to a new location near Limassol on the island of Cyprus.  This transfer took place during the era when events were heating up in the Middle East just before the British mandate over Palestine ended on May 14, 1948.
            Initially, just two sites on Cyprus were chosen as the locations for the transferred Sharq al Adna radio station.  The head office and studios were located at Polimia, or Polemydia, a suburban location in the northwest of Limassol the island capital.  The transmitter base was located at Zygi some twenty miles to the east of Limassol on land beside a British navy base overlooking the Bay of Limassol. 
            The four shortwave transmitters at 7½ kW from Sharq al Adna in coastal Jaffa Palestine were re-installed at the Zygi transmitter base on Cyprus and test broadcasts from the new location began at low power in October 1948.  A schedule of regular program broadcasting was introduced right at the beginning of the following month, November 1. 
            This re-introduced shortwave broadcasting service was on the air, still under the original slogan, Sharq al Adna, the Near East Arab Broadcasting Station.  Programming at this stage was produced locally in both Arabic and English, though it was under the auspices of the Allied Command, Psychological Unit in England.
            Strange as it may seem, not only were the equipment and the personnel transferred from one country to another, Palestine to Cyprus, but so also were the callsigns.  In Palestine, so in Cyprus; the basic callsign for the entire station was ZJM, which was usually the identifier for the mediumwave outlet.  On shortwave, the callsigns ranged from ZJM2 up to ZJM8, with the final numeric designator indicating the specific shortwave channel.   
            Quite soon afterwards a mediumwave transmitter was installed at Zygi with 7½ kW on 635 kHz.  Then in the 1950s, a series of developmental projects was implemented on Cyprus to increase the broadcast coverage and reliability of programming from the Sharq al Adna radio station.
            In 1953, a new 20 kW shortwave Marconi BD262 was installed at Zygi, with another similar model during the following year.  In 1955, two additional Marconi shortwave transmitters BD260 at 7½ kW were installed, followed by two more at 20 kW just two years later.
            At another location some distance away, an additional new transmitter station was under development.  This new location was at Lady’s Mile on the other side of Limassol, some five miles distant from the capital city, on the south west coast of Cyprus.  This tourist beach stretches some three or four miles and it was named Lady’s Mile, in honor of a horse, Lad.  This horse was owned by an officer in the Royal Air Force who used to exercise it along the beachway.
            Between the beach and a shallow salt lake inland, a new broadcasting station was constructed for Sharq al Adna with a 100 kW mediumwave transmitter.  This facility was inaugurated on May 12, 1955 on 638 kHz.
            Around this era, the political situation in Middle Eastern areas was changing and Egypt was moving towards taking over the Suez Canal.  Active conflict broke out on October 29, 1956, though a cease fire was implemented a week later, on November 6.
            To counter these aggressive moves, sudden changes were introduced at the Sharq al Adna radio station.  On October 22, a British army officer arrived from England to take over the management of the station.
            At 11:30 am, the British Foreign Office in London informed the BBC that it was taking over the station at 3:00 pm the same day.  The name was changed from Sharq al Adna to the Voice of Britain, and announcers from the BBC Arabic Service were arriving in Cyprus to take over program production.  This station was now relaying BBC programming for 4¾ hours daily.
            After the Suez crisis was over, an attempt was made to turn the station into a commercial operation with on air advertising.  This endeavor was only partly successful.  Then, early in the following year, the station was offered to commercial interests in England but none were interested in investing funding in this project.
            Thus it was that the British government announced surreptitiously in the House of Lords that they had “bought” the station, even though in reality the government already owned the station.  On March 31, 1957, the Voice of Britain on Cyprus was turned over to the BBC, and the station then became the BBC East Mediterranean Relay Station, the name that it still carries to this day.  
            Next time, we plan to present the interesting story of the development of this large relay station on the island of Cyprus into a giant facility of electronic outreach on behalf of the BBC London.
(AWR Wavescan/NWS 214 via Adrian Peterson)