Wednesday, December 30, 2009

BBC London on Shortwave - Start Point

It is a little known fact these days that the BBC London was on the air shortwave from three widely scattered regional locations back in the middle of last century. These small shortwave stations were intended to diversify the BBC shortwave output in order to ensure that the radio voice from London could still be heard throughout the world, even if the large Daventry station should be suddenly silenced.
These three regional shortwave stations were located at Start Point on the south coast of England, at Clevedon near the border with Wales, and at Lisnagarvey in Northern Ireland. On this occasion, we take a venture back into the pages of radio history and present the interesting story of the BBC shortwave station located at Start Point, on the south coast of England.
The story began in the year 1935, and right at the beginning of that year, BBC personnel began a site search for the establishment of a high powered mediumwave station that would give coverage to the southern areas of the English mainland. Two years later, a location just a little northwest of the Start Point Lighthouse was chosen; and two years later again, in April 1939, test broadcasts began on 1474 kHz from this new BBC station at Start Point.
The new station was officially inaugurated on June 14, 1939, with a 100 kW STC transmitter on 1050 kHz, and at the same time, three smaller mediumwave stations nearby were closed. The directional antenna system consisted of two tall towers at 450 ft, with the active tower on the north side and the reflector on the south side, in order to to avoid wasted signal coverage over the English Channel.
Early in the year 1940, this transmitter, now listed as Sender 21 in BBC records, was converted to dual usage with shortwave coverage on 41 & 49 metres during the day, and mediumwave 1050 kHz at night. During this era, there were three known shortwave channels in use by the BBC in these two shortwave bands, and they were identified in this way:-
Callsign GSA 6050 kHz
GSW 7230
GRX 9690
At the time, the BBC followed the practice of identifying each shortwave channel with a three letter callsign, but the transmitter location was not specified. It is probable that these three channels were on the air from Start Point on scheduled occasions, but it is also probable that these three channels were in use at Daventry on other scheduled times.
It is known that Start Point was in use during this era with the relay of the BBC European Service, and in February 1942, the European Service was heard in Australia on 9690 kHz under the callsign GRX. It is suggested that this programming was indeed on the air from the BBC shortwave station located at Start Point.
This same transmitter was modified for an increase in power on mediumwave up to 180 kW later in the same year 1940 to provide an increase in coverage over continental Europe during the night. However, in May 1944, the usage of the twin towers was reversed, so that the coverage area would be increased over continental Europe. At the same time, the transmitter was retuned to 583 kHz and the programming was switched over to the American SHAEF network, the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force. The shortwave usage of this transmitter also ended at this same time in 1944.
The two tall towers were replaced in 1957; the 100 kW transmitter was re-tuned to 1053 kHz on November 23, 1978 with a relay of BBC1; and the final entry in the World Radio TV Handbook for this historic radio broadcasting station was in the 1994 edition.
However, in addition to the shortwave usage from the 100 kW mediumwave transmitter, there was an additional 100 kW Marconi shortwave transmitter on the air at this location. This unit, listed as Sender 22 in BBC records, was inaugurated on January 20, 1940.
Initially Sender 22 carried the BBC Home Service for two purposes: as a fill in for shadow areas in mediumwave coverage, and also as an emergency back up if there was a major disruption to the landline distribution network. However, nine months later the programming relay was changed to the European Service, which was retained from this unit until the end of the year 1945.
The only channel in use from this second shortwave transmitter at Start Point was 6075 kHz which was listed in BBC schedules under the callsign GRR. This channel was often logged in Australia and New Zealand with the European Service, and it is quite probable that the programming was actually on the air from this second shortwave transmitter located at Start Point on the south coast of England.
When this transmitter was de-activated in 1945, the official record states that it was “placed under dust sheets”. In view of the fact that nothing else is known about the subsequent usage of this transmitter, we could ask the question somewhat humorously: What happened to the dust sheets?
No, there are no known QSL cards verifying the reception of the two shortwave transmitters located at Start Point, Senders 21 & 22. The BBC has never been a consistent verifier of listener reception reports.
(AWR Wavescan/NWS45 via Adrian Peterson)