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THE TRANSMISSION GALLERY

TACOLNESTON

With thanks to Sean Cooper

Originally published on
1-May-1957:

Official Opening of Full-Power VHF Radio from Tacolneston
The command "full power", followed by an impressive whine like the noise of a rising lift on the radio at 6.35pm last night heralded the start of full V.H.F. broadcasting throughout the Midland Region.

With it this new high-fidelity system of transmission which has been a reality in East Anglia since Christmas was officially past its teething stage, and to mark the occasion the Press for the first time was allowed through the doors of the new Tacolneston transmitter, which is the source of both V.H.F. and television relays for this area.

The words "full power" only applied to sound radio, unfortunately, and television must remain on half power for some time yet. This is because of past agreements with Continental stations.

Continental Complication
If Tacolneston had gone over in full power TV last night there would have been some very curious results for Belgian televiewers, and Belgium might have retaliated.

Just how disastrous this "out-shouting" policy can become is best shown on the overcrowded medium wave. If it had ever come to a pitched battle for air-space between us and North-West Europe, East Anglia would have been right in the firing line, for Yarmouth is nearer to the Dutch station at Hilversum than it is to its regional headquarters in Birmingham.

The only "out-shouting" that has been allowed is in the matter of height. The 500-foot needle mast at Tacolneston has completely overshadowed the spire of Norwich Cathedral as a landmark. The mast weights 30 tons, but the downward thrust of the "piano wires" that hold it in place can, in stormy weather, equal a pressure of 180 tons.

It is now nearly three years since the B.B.C. acquired 12 acres of scrubland ten miles from Norwich, two years since the contractors arrived on the site to sink the foundations, and six months since the transmitter was first used.

No Bare Cupboards
Inside the single-story building, which stands on the site of High Park Wood, the abiding impression is of banks of grey steel cupboards containing thousands of valves and unfold miles of cable.

The most complicated mass goes not to television but to the V.H.F. relays, for each of the three programmes has two alternative circuits so that if one should fail, the other can take over. There are also duplicate sources of electric power.

Oddly enough this spacious building only employees a staff of 15 divided into two shifts. Gone are the days of human monitoring of much of the B.B.C. output, for today automation is in the air and not only does a transmitter sound a buzzer if it breaks down, but it also shows on a dial roughly what is wrong - like a patient who has spent too long in hospital.

The second shorter mast at Tacolneston is already an anachronism - part of the experimental stage, and it is likely to be dismantled before long. On the other hand, Postwick transmitter on the far side of Norwich will continue to relay medium wave transmission for the foreseeable future, but it was thought unsuitable for a television station because much of its area would spill out beyond the coast.

Originally published on
16-Mar-1976:

Stereo radio comes to Norfolk

Stereo on Radios 2 and 3 will be broadcast from the Tacolneston transmitters from Friday.

The start of a full stereophonic service on all three VHF channels depends upon the completion of a new pulse code modulation (PCM) link to the station at Tacolneston.

It is hoped that this will be possible within the next two years, but to provide stereo in the meantime, a rebroadcast link has been installed to provide Radio 2 and Radio 3 in stereo to about 1,100,000 people in Norfolk, Suffolk and the eastern part of Cambridgeshire.

Radio 4
Radio 4 stereo programmes will be added to the service when the permanent PCM link has been completed.

With the present extension, BBC stereo radio will be available to approximately 88 per cent of the United Kingdom population.

The start of stereo transmissions does not affect listeners using ordinary monophonic receivers, and to take advantage of the stereophonic information, a receiver having a stereo decoder is required.

Advice about reception of the BBC's stereophonic service may be obtained from the BBC's Engineering Information Department, Broadcasting House, London, W1A 1AA.

Originally published on
Tuesday, July 11th, 1989:

Team At Top Keep Us In The Picture
Radio transmitter beams to 600,000

Stormy weather, hot temperatures and the odd tractor are just some of the problems tackled by operators of Norfolk's largest radio transmitter.

The 505ft structure in a quiet corner of Norfolk at Tacolneston beams television and radio programmes to more than 600,000 viewers and listeners across the county, 24 hours a day.

It is rare for any of these events, even a tractor digging up some of the underground cables, to cut out the signals, according to manager Graham Barrell.

When there are faults, a number of back-up systems come into operation, maintaining BBC and ITV television and BBC radio.

A lightning strike produces a big bang in the building but cannot put the station out of action unless it also cuts off electricity supplies.

During recent industrial action by broadcasting unions, one person has been able to run the transmitter, as it is fully automatic.

It costs almost million a year to run, with a third of that going on the eight-man staff who also maintain 24 smaller transmitters dotted around the county.

"We have been one of the more efficient parts of the BBC in keeping costs down." said Mr Barrell but he added there were constant demands to cut back further.

The main work is keeping the equipment in perfect order. Rigger Chris Edwards and engineer Barry Curson regularly scale the transmitter to check for faults.

The men are trained climbers as well as experts in their field and used to working on one of the highest points in the county.

They are constantly replacing equipment and new parts fitted now will still be sending programmes to homes in 20 years time.

At the moment they are also setting up the technology which will carry Radio One FM from early next year. The station already deals with Radios Two, Three and Four and Radio Norfolk.

The deregulation of television could bring some changes to the operation of the transmitter but not for some years, said Mr Barrell.

It will certainly remain in BBC control until 1996 but become increasingly open to provide a service to private companies. "Eventually we will be fully privatised, that's what's on the cards."

Pictures/Captions (click on image on left to see full article)

Left - Chris Edwards (top) and Barry Curson scale the mast.

Centre - At the transmitter are, left to right: Chris Edwards (handyman-rigger), Barry Curson (transmitter engineer), Garham Barrel (transmitter manager) and Anne Attwood (clerk).

Right - Top, Chris Edwards carries out maintainance work on the mast. Above, Barry Curson checks the FM Radio 2 drive transmitter.

Tacolneston Gallery

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