Friday, May 05, 2017

Another BBC Shortwave Station is Closed

BBC - Nakhon Sawan, Thailand tower
The latest edition of the Australian DX News alerted us to the fact that the BBC has closed its East Asia Relay Station at Nakhon Sawan in northern Thailand.  Additional news reports about the closure of this important BBC shortwave relay station have subsequently circulated widely on the internet.
            According to a news release issued by the BBC in London, the last day of operation for their relay station in Thailand was December 31 last year, at the end of their lease which was not renewed.  The BBC states that they have not been able to come to an agreement with the Thai government over programming issues, but in any case the BBC has now closed the station due to financial difficulties.                   Even this station has been completely silent right throughout this year thus far, the closure of this important BBC shortwave station seems to have largely escaped the attention of the international radio world.  In our program today, we plan to present the story of this BBC Far East Relay Station during its nearly ten year operation from Hong Kong, and in a coming program, we plan to present the story of their subsequent station in Thailand.  
            Planning for the Hong Kong relay station began during the 1970s.  However in 1981, the Managing Director of BBC External Broadcasting, Douglas Muggeridge, expressed frustration that the entire project may be abandoned due to unavailability of funding. 
            Nevertheless, even though it was known in advance that the station could expect a life span of no more than ten years, the managing authorities finally decided to go ahead with the project in Hong Kong while planning also for the construction of a subsequent station in another at the time undetermined country.
            The location for the new BBC East Asia Relay Station was in an area of undeveloped jungle in the New Territories at Tsang Tsui, some 75 miles north west of downtown Hong Kong.  It was an isolated location with no nearby public transportation. 
            A very compact site was chosen for the construction of the transmitter building and the erection of five self supporting antenna towers.  The towers were arranged in an east-west row and they supported four multi-band curtain antennas with passive reflectors. 
            Each antenna could be slewed electronically at plus or minus 14o for coverage into northern China and Japan.  A row of hills obstructed propagation to the south, but in any case the station was needed for programming only to the north.
            Construction work at the Hong Kong transmitter site began in February 1985 at a total cost of $11 million.  Two Marconi transmitters at 250 kW, Model B131, were installed and the first test transmission began more than two years later at 0400 UTC on August 6, 1987 on 15280 kHz.  Full time operation began six weeks later on September 27.
            Programming delivery from London was by satellite to Hong Kong Telecom and then by fibre optic cable to the station.  Programming was broadcast in three major language streams, Chinese, Japanese and English, with two programs on the air simultaneously at any one time.
            The station was an efficient computer controlled unattended operation with only twelve employees, just one of whom was a foreigner, a BBC manager from England.  As a touch of humor, it was stated that the local protective dog was also a BBC employee, due to the fact that the manager fed it from BBC funding.
            On the political scene, it was agreed that the one time British colony of Hong Kong would revert to China in June 1997.  Consequently, the BBC planned to remove and ship out all usable equipment and demolish the building in advance of the transfer of the territory to Chinese sovereignty. 
            The final broadcast from the BBC East Asia Relay Station in Hong Kong occurred at the end of November 1996.  The actual location of this shortwave station seems to be a green area among the jungle trees, visible on Google Maps at 113 55 18 57 E & 22 25 04 02 N.
            Many QSL cards were issued from the BBC East Asia Relay Station, quite often local Hong Kong postcards with a rubber stamp on the text side containing the QSL details.  At one stage, a printed QSL card showed a photo of the antenna system at Tsang Tsui.

            Two months after the station was closed, the towers were down and the two transmitters were already crated, ready for shipment to another destination, which turned out to be a new BBC station in Thailand.  And that station is now also off the air.  The story of this station is planned as our topic here in Wavescan, quite soon.
(AWR Wavescan/NWS 247)