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BOOK REVIEW
By Mike Brown

On AirOn Air - A History of BBC Transmission
Compiled and Edited by Norman Shacklady and Martin Ellen

Published by Wavechange Books
ISBN: 0-9544077-1-7 (paperback)
ISBN: 0-9544077-0-9 (hardback)

This is a book which you can devour from cover-to-cover or just pick up and dip in and out of. I guarantee that any regular visitors to this site will find something of interest on every one of its 217 pages.

The BBC’s services were broadcast by its own transmitters from 1922 until 1997 - a lifetime.

During that time thousands of people were involved in the process of researching, planning, designing, specifying, acquiring, making, operating, maintaining and managing the facilities needed to transmit the programmes.

The idea for On Air arose in 1997 when BBC Transmission (as it was known from 1987-1996) was privatised and two new companies were formed: now called National Grid Wireless (formerly Crown Castle Internatiomal) and Merlin Communications. It was the end of an era and a natural point for reflection on past achievements. The result is a book of some 80,000 words contributed by over 50 people. The book celebrates a lifetime of achievement in the world of broadcast transmission engineering and includes many anecdotes from the lives of people involved.

The book is divided,  neatly and logically, into seven main sections:

Although the book starts and the beginning and ends at the end, what you won't get from this book is a smoothly crafted narrative story. This is not one man's story of life in BBC Transmission - it goes far beyond that, drawing together the combined knowledge, experience and memories of the 50-odd (!) people who contribute to it. Along the way, the nostalgia is utterly tangible.

As the book jumps, butterfly-like, from one paragraph and one section to another what comes over is the intensely human side of the growth of this technical and technological industry, right from its very inception virtually to the present day.

It's all here - everything from 2LO through to DAB.

The section I found most fascinating was the one devoted to HF transmission, perhaps because I felt it was the area I knew least about. It takes us to many different locations and climes. The book goes into some detail about the HF relay station on The Ascension Island and is well worth the cover price for this alone!

Between sections 4 & 5 can be found a set of illustration pages providing some 24 high quality photographs. These are all black-and-white but are specially printed on high quality, glossy paper

Section 6 includes a comprehensive chronological listing of all the major developments brought to the industry by the BBC's Research and Development Dept. - essential reference material!

The seventh and last section of reminiscences is also the largest, making up just over half the book, but each and every one of these give fascinating insights into many different aspects of the industry. If you want to find out about The Phantom Winch Winder, The 'Singing Arc', Kirk O'Shotts and 'The Ladies Stocking Factory', The 'Quality Street Gang', The Spanner in the Rigging and more, you'll just have to get the book!

On Air costs £12.50 in paperback or £17.50 in hardback. More information is available from the BBCEng.info site

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