Monday, March 02, 2015

The BBC Far Eastern Relay Station

BBC Singapore (
The Original BBC Relay Station in Singapore

The current BBC Far Eastern Relay Station in Singapore traces its earliest origins back to the year 1937.  It was on March 1 of that year, that a new studio and transmitter facility was officially opened at Caldecott Hill on Thomson Road, on the edge of suburban Singapore city. 
            This new international radio broadcasting station contained five transmitters; four low power shortwave transmitters each rated at just 500 watts, and a 2 kW mediumwave transmitter that had previously been on the air on 1333 kHz at a downtown location, a government building in Empress Place, Singapore.  These five transmitters now on the air at Caldecott Hill were as follows:-
                        4 Transmitters             ½ kW  SW                              Callsigns ZHO ZHP ZHN
                        1                                  2          MW     1333 kHz         ZHL    
            Most of the programming for this new radio station was produced locally in the adjoining new studio building on Caldecott Hill.  However, live off air programming on shortwave from the BBC London via the two 80 kW transmitters at Daventry (Senders 4 & 5) was also inserted into the daily scheduling of Radio Malaya Singapore.              It was intended that the Caldecott location was only temporary as far as the transmitters were concerned, and work began at Jurong on the south coast towards the western edge of Singapore island for a more permanent transmitter facility.
            At this same time (1937) as the British colonial authorities in Singapore were developing their new radio broadcasting station on Caldecott Hill, the BBC in London was making plans to establish a relay station in Singapore, their very first overseas relay station.  Then, as warlike conditions were emerging in Europe, the BBC attempted to actually purchase the new radio station in Singapore.
            Soon after war broke out on continental Europe, a new 100 kW Marconi transmitter was despatched by ship for Singapore.  However, this ship was torpedoed and sunk, and its electronic cargo was lost.
            As a replacement, the BBC obtained a 50 kW RCA shortwave transmitter from the United States and this was despatched to Singapore by ship for installation at the new station already under construction at Jurong.  A simple antenna system had already been installed.
             However, before work was completed on the entire facility, the transmitter was hurriedly removed due to the outbreak of war in the Pacific.  It was then shipped to Barbados in the Caribbean where it was installed at the C&W Cable and Wireless communication station at Bearded Hall, under the callsign VPO. 
            The entire facility at Caldecott Hill was taken over by the Japanese administration and it was reactivated as Shonan Radio; their first broadcast was on March 27, 1942.  In addition, the Japanese constructed a new transmitter station on an adjoining property at Jurong, and they installed four shortwave transmitters at 7½ kW each. 
            Three of these transmitters were new units, and a fourth was taken from Penang Island where it had been on the air previously under the British as ZHJ.  The final broadcast as Shonan Radio took place three years later on February 3, 1945.
            Soon afterwards, the studio suite on Caldecott Hill and the two side by side transmitter stations at Jurong were taken over by the returned British administration.  The original Radio Malaya transmitter site was developed for use by the Royal Air Force, and the new former Japanese transmitter site was taken over for use by four different radio organizations:-
                        C&W               Cable & Wireless                               
                        BMA                British Military Administration                                    
                        SEAC              South East Asia Command Singapore          
                        BFEBS            British Far East Broadcasting Service
            Even though all four organizations were each using the same facilities, the three broadcasting organizations, BMA, SEAC & BFEBS, each issued their own separate QSL cards.  Initially though, left over stock of the pre-war Radio Malaya card with its Malayan sunset scene was in use.
            On June 30, 1946, the SEAC services ended; BMA became Radio Malaya, and BFEBS became a BBC relay station with off air programming from the BBC London.  The identification announcement for the BBC relays was given as the Voice of Britain.
            In January 1946, work began on the installation of four Marconi shortwave  transmitters, 10 kW units Model No. SWB11.  These transmitters came from India, and it is presumed that they were left over units no longer needed for the Forces Service in Delhi. 
            The first unit was activated on January 19, (1946) and the second on February 4.  All four were in use by November in the following year (1947).  The BBC officially took over the Jurong station on August 8, 1948.  At this stage, three of the recently installed transmitters were now listed at just 7½ kW, and one at 5½ kW.
            In order to increase the coverage from the Jurong transmitter station, the BBC announced that they planned to install a Marconi 100 kW transmitter at this location.  However, due to the development of an international airport nearby, this projected facility had to be cancelled; the tall antenna towers would become an obstruction to aircraft.
            At this stage, the BBC began to look for another suitable location, which they ultimately found on the nearby Malay peninsula, and thus work began on a huge new station in the rubber plantation areas near the bottom tip of the peninsula.
            In April 1949, the BBC closed out its usage of the Jurong transmitter base on Singapore Island, and their Far Eastern Service was transferred temporarily to the SEAC shortwave station at Ekala north of Colombo in Sri Lanka. 
            The QSL cards verifying the shortwave transmissions from the BBC Far Eastern Relay Station reflect the changes that took place in that era.  Initially, BFEBS QSL cards quite clearly verified the reception of the station.  After the BBC takeover, appreciation was expressed to the listener for the report, though, as was stated on the card, they could no longer officially QSL reception reports from listeners.
            Thus in summary, the story of the BBC Singapore in this early period of radio history is as follows:-

* 1937-1942    Radio Malaya              Caldecott Hill   4 @ ½ kW       Program relays
* 1937-1939    BBC                            Jurong             1 @ 100          Projected shortwave station
* 1945-            1947    BFEBS                        Jurong             4 @ 7½           Ex Japanese station
* 1945-1949    BBC                            Jurong             1 @ 100          Projected shortwave station
* 1948-1949    BBC                            Jurong             4 @ 7½           Official BBC relay station

            When we take up the continuing story of the BBC Far Eastern Relay Station next time here again in Wavescan, we plan to present the information regarding their temporary usage of the SEAC shortwave station in Ceylon.