Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The End of Another Era: The BBC Thailand is Permanently Closed

Soon after the BBC began work on the construction of their new East Asia Relay Station in the isolated jungle area of the New Territories of Hong Kong, they also began planning for another new relay station somewhere else in the Asian arena.  The BBC East Asia Relay Station at Tsang Tsui in the far west of the New Territories with its two shortwave transmitters at 250 kW was taken into full service on September 27, 1987. 
            At that time, active planning for this another shortwave station was underway, and serious consideration was given to several different sites in the country areas of the Asian Kingdom of Thailand.    In the original planning, the projected new shortwave station in Thailand was intended to be a joint project between the BBC in London and Radio Netherlands in Hilversum Holland for major coverage into the Indian sub-continent.  Interestingly, the ABC and Radio Australia in Melbourne Australia also demonstrated an interest in a shortwave relay station in Thailand during that same era.    
            However, in October 1990, Radio Netherlands announced that it was withdrawing from the shortwave project in Thailand, due to what it considered to be exorbitant costs for installation and operation.  Initially, the BBC estimated that the station would cost $17 million to build, with an additional $3½ million as an annual budget for operation, though subsequent reality demonstrated that the final cost for construction together with grants to the Thai government was more than double the original estimate.  It would be presumed that Radio Australia faced the same financial problem, as they made no progress in this direction.
            Three years later (1993), the BBC enlarged their planning for the Thailand project when it became evident that their new station in Hong Kong would indeed need to be closed and demolished before the British territory of Hong Kong was officially handed over to China.  Thus the planned target  coverage for the new Thai station was considerably increased, from coverage into the countries surrounding the Indian sub-continent, to now include all of the countries of Asia and the Far East.  Interestingly at that stage (1993), Radio Australia again evinced an interest in a shortwave relay station in Thailand.
            In the second quarter of the year 1994, the Thai government offered the BBC the choice of any of five different country locations, all of which were thoroughly investigated prior to the final decision. Ultimately, the final choice rested upon a compact site in the shape of a large capital letter T in central Thailand 150 miles north of Bangkok.  The transmitter site is located in a wetland area next to a small lake, some eight miles north of the small provincial town Nakhon Sawan.
            Work at this new BBC shortwave station, with its four transmitters at 250 kW and thirteen antenna systems, began in August 1994.  On May 8 of the following year (1995), a special ground breaking ceremony was conducted on the site, with participation by representatives from BBC management and from the Thai government.  A crowd of people from the surrounding villages also attended this grand local event.
            Test transmissions began during the following year (1996), followed by the gradual transfer of programming from the BBC East Asia Relay Station in Hong Kong to the new BBC Asia Relay Station in Thailand.  At that stage, two new Thomcast transmitters from France, Model TSW2250, had already been installed, together with many of the antenna systems. 
            On November 18 (1996), the new station in Thailand assumed the full load of programming from the station in Hong Kong, though Hong Kong remained in standby mode for nearly three weeks, until December 6.  Then it was that the two transmitters at 250 kW in Hong Kong, Marconi Model B131, were removed and prepared for shipment to Thailand, where they were installed and activated very early in the new year 1997.
            Later in that same year (1997), on October 29 to be exact, this new BBC Asia Relay Station in Thailand was officially opened by His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, during a royal tour of several Asian countries with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.
            During the year 2001, an additional 250 kW shortwave transmitter was installed together with an additional antenna system.  This new electronic equipment passed acceptance tests in October, after which it was all taken into regular service.  In April 2009, the BBC Asia Relay Station was off the air for a few days due to a local flooding emergency. 
            Then it was, at the end of the broadcast day on December 31, 2016, that this important and very successful BBC relay station was switched off, quietly and without any fanfare or advance notice, for what has now become the last time.  Due to the failure of negotiations between the BBC and the Thai government, the broadcast license was not renewed, and the BBC subsequently announced the permanent closure of the station anyway, due to the very high financial costs.
            At the time of closure, this BBC Asia Relay Station at Nakhon Sawan in central Thailand was operated under contract with Babcock Media Services, and it contained five shortwave transmitters at 250 kW, thirteen curtain antennas.and four shorter antenna masts.  We ask the question: What will ultimately happen to this station, and what will happen to all of this expensive electronic equipment?  Will it be removed and re-installed elsewhere?  Who knows!

            What we do know, is that those international radio monitors who successfully received one of the readily available QSL cards from this BBC Asia Relay Station in Nakhon Thailand, are holding a nice piece of radio history that is no longer available.
(AWR-Wavescan/NWS 430)