BBC Radio 4 (real name, Home service), the end is nigh?

I have written about some important topics in my time, but this towers over global warming, asteroid hits and the Spanish economy…. The end of BBC Radio 4 long wave, which has far reaching implications as will be discussed later.

In the ‘20’s the BBC had set up two styles of broadcasting stations: National and Regional. The National Service broadcasted general material to keep Britain in check, whilst the 6 Regional services transmitted material tailored for the region, complete with local dialects in case the locals couldn’t understand English. At the outbreak of WW2, it was decided to combine these stations into one, and was called the Home Service. One reason for this was to limit the number of radio transmitters around the UK, who’s signals could be used as triangulation points for those nasty German bombers.

After WW2, the BBC reinstated its regional stations and established three Nationals. The “Light programme”. This was aimed at those who liked popular music and light hearted material. The “Third programme” was aimed at Doctors, the Upper Class, Bank Managers who liked classical music and the “Home Service” broadcast serious stuff for grown ups, schools and weather forecasts for our shipping fleet…

The “Home Service” transmitter moved from Chelmsford to its new site in Droitwich, Midlands in the late ‘20s. When driving on the motorways around the area, you will see the 700 foot arrays of long wire aerials. Transmitting originally at 200kHz, 1500mtrs wavelength. The aerial system has largely remained unchanged, apart from maintenance. Because of the low frequency of the signal, its very high radiated power (some 500,000 watts) and aerial design, the signal covers a good 4/5th of the UK and beyond. Brilliant. The problem we now have however is the following. The devices used to power the aerial systems are a couple of very large substantial valves. These were hand made and standing 4 foot tall. Over the years, the stock of these valves has been depleted and we are now down to the last few sets. The operating life time of these valves is around 2-6 years. The BBC has bought up the last remaining stock from around the globe. The cost of making replacement valves would run into millions as would the redesign and building of a new long wave transmitter. Lesser quality valves could be used, but the associated risk of a high voltage flash-over, common at the high power rating required, could render the aerial system useless. So the days are numbered.

So, why is it so important the Long wave Radio 4 (Home Service renamed in ’67) service continues. Well, several reasons; The Westminster and Parliament programmes, without which, Britain would loose its identity and dissolve into anarchy. Test match Cricket, without this, gentlemen would not have a reason to drink warm beer and the breweries would go out of business. Listen With Mother, with this gone, children would leave home at the age of 4 and start mugging people…… Now the Shipping Forecast, along with all those great names….Dogger, German Bite… If our fisherman couldn’t hear the sea conditions, they would all be bumping into each other and bang goes our fish and chips. More importantly, the forecast sign off tune “Sailing by” composed by Ronal Binge would never be heard again. Have a listen, its lovely. A lot of equipment, clocks and time keeping systems, rely on the Radio 4 frequency of 198kHz as a reference signal. If this goes missing, half the UK will be late for work, employees will get sacked and the unemployment rate will be that of Spain.

So, joking aside, it will be a sad day when the Home service goes quiet. If you have some 4 foot transmitting valves in you shed, let me know and ill do you a jolly good deal.

Seth Pittham.  Zeta Services.

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