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THE TRANSMISSION GALLERY

PETERBOROUGH

Photos by various Page last updated: 2013-12-29

Introduction and History

Originally constructed to broadcast BBC 405 line TV as well as national FM radio, Peterborough continues to provide VHF network radio (FM and DAB) and BBC Radio Cambridgeshire to an area often described as the East Midlands.

Peterborough used channel 5 in Band I for the 405 line transmissions. This was "shared" with both Wenvoe and Pontop Pike and as a result a quite complex aerial system had to be provided, and the erp was kept down to a very low level of 1 kW. There was less of a problem with restricted erps in Band II, and as a result it was possible to use 20 kW (mainly directed roughly north and south) with lower power to the east and west. The site went into full service on 5th October 1959.

Peterborough was the last major BBC FM radio site in England to be converted to stereo; for many years it was an RBL of Tacolneston, and as that site was fed by line until 1976 the quality was hardly exceptional. Stereo finally happened in July 1980 when a spur off the existing Swains Lane to Sutton Coldfield SHF link was provided by splitting the feed at Whipsnade and installing an SHF intermediate link station at Sandy Heath. This new PCM feed to Peterborough was in fact extended on to Tacolneston shortly afterwards; the PCM arriving at Peterborough was sent on a short cable to the BT site next door, where it went back onto SHF and onwards to BT Wisbech followed by BT Swaffham. From there it went to BT Stoke Holy Cross and thence via Norwich to Tacolneston. The "Norwich station" had in fact broadcast R2 and R3 (but not R4) in stereo since 1976 (via an analogue link involving Sudbury) but in December 1980 the PCM link from Peterborough as described above went into full service.

Peterborough had - for many years - a distinctive outline as there was a very obvious "fly-swat" at 116 m agl. This was used for two purposes; a feed of the 405 line TV signal was squirted up from the ground and directed via the passive reflector to the relay at Cambridge; the off air RBL TV signal at Cambridge was plagued by interference due to the 1 kW erp restriction at Peterborough and so the SHF link was provided soon after Cambridge opened. But in addition the fly-swat was used in the opposite direction for incoming OB signals, and Bev Marks reports that there were specially labelled bricks laid out permanently in the field around the mast which marked the exact spots where OB engineers needed to place the upwards-facing ground-based receive dish in order to align (via the fly-swat) with whichever OB site they needed to pick up.

The Peterborough station played a small part in broadcasting history when it carried Classic FM's 3-day pre-launch pilot transmissions. The station broadcast to the East Midlands as "Radio 101.9" without the presenters identifying themsleves.

On the evening of Saturday 30-Oct-2004 there was a fire at the Peterborough site. As a result the mast totally collapsed, falling onto the transmitter buildings and neighbouring fields.


(photo from Sean Cooper)


(Mast outline submitted privately)


Photo courtesy of the EBU. The Band I aerial (above the upper of the two platforms shown in this photo) was identical to that subsequently installed at Pontop Pike in 1965, which replaced the original turnstile aerial at Pontop.

(Commentary and EBU photo supplied by Martin Watkins, with help from Martin Brown)



Peterborough index

BBC Research: Service Areas for Peterborough
BBC Research: tests at Peterborough 1959

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