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Photos by Peter Bigwood Page last updated: 2020-09-02

Orfordness became the new home of BBC medium wave transmissions to the continent in 1978 after the November wavelength changes.

However, the new site was not ready to carry the World Service on 648 kHz (vacated by Daventry Radio 3) and until 1982 this frequency was transmitted from Crowborough using the noble old Aspidistra transmitter.

When 648 kHz eventually moved to Orfordness it was radiated from a five tower array, whilst 1296 kHz used two parallel arrays, each of three towers. A standby monopole was provided for the 648 kHz transmitter. See the article by Dave Porter (G4OYX) from Tricks of the Trade (link at the bottom of the page).

When BBC Transmission was privatised the site was taken over by VT Merlin. Later on 1296 kHz was used at times to test DRM, and was also sub-let for a period (2000/2001) during daylight hours to a Dutch commercial radio station, Radio Nationaal.

With increasing reliance on other delivery methods for their overseas programmes, the BBC took the decision in 2010 to cease all UK-based medium wave transmissions for the external services, and the transmitters fell silent in March 2011. However, later that year 648 kHz returned to service for several months following the catastrophic collapse of a major transmitting mast in Holland, providing a replacement medium wave service for the lost Dutch FM transmissions.

Update: in November 2017 Radio Caroline started using the reserve 648 kHz mast.

Above: the five World Service 648 kHz masts (beam bearing 131°). Transmissions on this frequency ceased in March 2011.

The base of the western-most 648 kHz mast

The six 1296 kHz masts (beam bearing 96°) used for years to carry BBC Polish, Czech, Hungarian, Slovene, Slovak and German vernacular transmissions.

During the period 2000/2001, and outside of BBC hours, the frequency and transmitter were hired during the day by Radio Nationaal, a commercial station, for reception in Holland.

The six 1296 kHz towers, with the reserve 648 kHz mast in the foreground. In November 2017 this went back into service to carry Radio Caroline.

The transmitter building from the North

The transmitter building from the South

The transmitter hall is so large because it was originally built to house the (failed) top secret Anglo-American System 441A 'over-the-horizon' backscatter radar system called Cobra Mist

Orfordness is one of seven UK sites owned by Merlin Communications.

The others are Fareham, London, Rampisham, Skelton, Warwick and Woofferton.

Site layout

Orfordness index

More about Orfordness at Subterranea Britannica
The military area adjoining the site is now looked after by the National Trust
OpenBuildings site information
Cobra Mist
Tricks of the Trade - the 648 kHz array

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