Some curious or unusual radio events, by Trevor Brook
Spectrum Radio 558kHz Lots Road received without carrier
Apparently unique, has anyone heard of propagation like this? One hot sunny late August afternoon during the exceptionally long dry summer of 1995 I was driving home and, probably uninterested in some package on BBC Radio 4's PM news programme, bashed through the AM memory presets on the (Philips DC777 shortwave) car radio.
Spectrum Radio on 558kHz was appallingly distorted and quite unlistenable. This continued for several minutes until I reached our house, where I switched on the communications receiver.
At first, with the AM Synchronous Detector in use, the station sounded normal but the receiver's S meter was swinging around with the station's audio modulation. Switching to the envelope detector made the station grossly distorted, the same as on the car radio.
London Underground's Lots Road Power Station from across the Thames in 1977
A bit more investigation showed the upper and lower sidebands were similar and clean. There was simply a total lack of carrier, in other words, apparently perfect double sideband suppressed carrier. Knowing the transmitter design it seemed impossible it could be transmitted like this so there had to be some weird propagation cause.
The signal path from Lots Road in the London basin to the Surrey Hills
Might it be a clash between the usual groundwave over 38km and a freak equal strength signal via the ionosphere with a path length difference which outphased at the carrier frequency? If this was some exceptional medium wave summer daytime near vertical incidence skywave (NVIS) reflection it would soon alter or cease altogether.
The road with nulling of 558kHz carrier and home, slightly off-centre to the angles affected
The effect persisted though, and a drive the other way, northwards, showed that the distortion reduced at around half a mile and ceased even further along the road. Could there be two ground based paths for this signal? At VHF you'd be thinking of a second path reflecting off hills but this seemed implausible for medium wave. Anyway, if that was the cause the distortion would be constant.
Path plot from Lots Road, beside the River Thames, via the 220m AOD North Downs to home, at 130m
Groundwave signals follow the soil surface from the transmitter to the receiver. Seemingly the explanation for the carrier null is that the extended hot dry spell allowed a second and different length path to develop directly through the chalky North Downs.
558kHz is 537.6 metres wavelength, so cancellation needs a shorter or longer path through the hill of a half wave difference of 267.8 metres (or an odd multiple), with both having exactly the same path loss. A direct path through the hill, being less than 50m shorter, is insufficient, but the lower velocity factor of propagation through chalk makes the necessary delay plausible. It remains a remarkable fluke to have encountered the event.
Three details of the London to South Coast area from:
- Bedrock electrical conductivity map of the UK by David Beamish, 2013
- BBC conductivity map 1930, revised May 1951, showing mS/m
- Stanford geological map
Poor conductivity in both 2013 and BBC maps for the geological map North Downs chalk
Heavy rain two days later returned reception of Spectrum 558kHz to normal. Wetness improving the surface conductivity would reduce the penetration of radio signals into the hill, as well as aiding propagation of the usual groundwave over the hilltop at Netley Heath. Subsequent summers never recreated the extraordinary effect. In 2001 Spectrum Radio 558kHz moved from Lots Road to Crystal Palace, a less obstructed path.
More details of: "the hottest two-month period in the entire CET series" and: "the driest in the 230-year EWP series" are in: The climate in the UK from November 1994 to October 1995 by Mike Hulme.
Lots Road Power Station between transmissions in 1979
The original 1973 LBC (719kHz) and Capital Radio (557kHz) aerial at Lots Road was a double wire hamper T aerial, suspended between straps around 3 metres below the tops of the two chimneys, each of which is 275 feet (84 metres) tall, with a 2 wire drop from its centre skewing sideways to land at the south east beside Chelsea Creek. The installation was scornfully dubbed 'Radio Clothesline' despite its coverage proving excellent.
Marconi B6023 1kW AM transmitter
The Independent Broadcast Authority (IBA) used Marconi 1kW transmitters, amusingly marketed "for the low-budget operator". These generated 25 Watts of AM with a series modulator which was then amplified by a linear valve PA, gobbling nearly 5kW of power. In April 1973 I chanced on hearing the first IBA test starting, flattening Radio Veronica 557kHz off the Dutch coast which I'd had on while driving from Croydon to Bromley.
Medium Wave channels shuffled to multiples of 9kHz in the 1978 Wavelength Changes
After Capital and LBC had moved to their permanent Saffron Green site in 1975, Lots Road next carried BBC Radio 4 720kHz, introduced in 1979 as a London filler following the November 1978 Wavelength Changes which had moved Radio 4 to Long Wave, causing reception complaints. Wavelength changeover recordings.
CARFAX trials on 526.5kHz from five sites, including Lots Road
At the same time, Lots Road also carried 526.5kHz between 1979 and 1981 for BBC CARFAX traffic information experiments, along with four surrounding 500 Watt transmitters, each adjusted to radiate 50 Watts EMRP: West, at Transport and Road Research Laboratories Crowthorne; North, initially on the north Tee antenna and then on one of the 1929 original 200 foot towers at BBC Brookmans Park; East, diplexed with BBC Radio Medway 1034kHz at Hoo and South, from a tall umbrella aerial covering most of the front lawn at BBC Research Department Kingswood Warren. Photo and coverage in Wireless World.
In this early cellular lattice concept, with all transmitters on during signalling, the FM capture effect allowed phase modulated tones to unmute a car radio for AM messages relevant only to its location. CARFAX recording. Home Office frequency allocation difficulties and development of the radio data system (RDS) for FM, with its traffic announcement (TA) flag, sounded the death knell for the CARFAX project.
Passing Lots Road frequently, I watched the T aerial being cleared for chimney maintenance and rebuilding work. A lesser sloper aerial rising up to the east chimney alone became the norm for BBC Radio 4 720kHz and the later 1990 Spectrum Radio 558kHz service.
IBA press release fax: Spectrum Radio 558 and 990kHz simulcast
In 1990, with 558kHz by then in use by Radio Caroline the inevitably poor service area of Lots Road, despite combining extra transmitters, led to the IBA adding a simulcast for Spectrum Radio on 990kHz from an aerial suspended between lighting towers at the Craven Cottage football ground beside the River Thames in Fulham. A copper grounding strap was cleated across the towpath and routed down the embankment wall into the riverbed mud. 990kHz continued until 31st March 1991. Doubtless such a site would have been prohibited under post-Millennial RF exposure regulations.
More atmosphere from your radio - Private Eye on the 558kHz fiasco
In May 1990 I had written to IBA Director of Engineering Dr John Forrest about the inept allocation of 558kHz, the availability of other frequencies in London for Spectrum Radio and how IBA compliance with the DTI's Radio Caroline jamming scheme brought the engineering profession into disrepute. The IBA strategically 'lost' the letter, only replying after a reminder months later once transmission was under way (PDF).
2,500 field strength readings at the Forge in Cranleigh between 1984 and 2002 record licensed groundwave signals, including Spectrum Fulham 990kHz, Airport Information Radio 1584kHz, Care Brooklands, Radio London Frinton and Susy 531kHz as well as Caroline, Laser, Jackie, Jennifer, Skyline, London Greek, Edge 738kHz and other pirates: transcribed to Excel.
Radiofax 12,255kHz AM received as single sideband
While Radiofax was on the air 625km away it was the habit at The Forge to flip regularly through its frequencies. Excepting for Dellinger shortwave fadeouts, 3MHz and 6MHz were generally audible and sometimes, when the maximum usable frequency (MUF) was high, 12MHz would appear by sporadic E short skip.
The receiving system
Just once, one morning, there was a good signal on 12,255kHz but it was single sideband, LSB only. The transmitter of course could not produce this, we had chanced upon the MUF sitting exactly at the carrier frequency, the ionosphere reflecting the lower sideband but not the upper one.
One switch swipes through Envelope, DSB, LSB, USB, ISB and Quadrature
The situation persisted for about a minute and a half until the MUF suddenly moved on upwards, 'switching on' the upper sideband as well. It had been fascinating to see how abrupt the MUF cut-off was, leaving the upper sideband attenuated by more than 20dB.
Chart recordings of the three frequencies in Surrey
The main short wave receiving aerial at The Forge was a horizontal triangular loop between poles at each end of The Forge and in a small oak tree beside the stream across the yard. A balanced twin wire feeder dropped down into the building.
From a south east sloping mountainside in Inishowen, Co. Donegal, 3910kHz was transmitted for night time 5PM to 2AM from a full wave dipole with an open wire feeder, 6205kHz had a colinear of three dipoles while 12,255kHz fed a vertical dipole with triple reflectors aiming south east, passing over the Foyle and audible by groundwave almost into Belfast.
Adjusting a 12MHz reflector in the Surrey Hills - Donegal is never that cold
Balanced feeds had baluns and the aerials, made with 14 SWG (2mm) hard drawn copper wire, had no breakages at the exposed site. Both 6205 and 12,255 were 24 hour services.
Kilkeel 405 line TV sound offset as a propagation beacon... and remote weather station
In the days before many amateur radio beacons, the Band I transmitters of BBC1 were useful indicators of VHF propagation conditions.
Vision carriers employed slight frequency offsets, chosen as fractions of the 10.125kHz line frequency, which reduced patterning interference on the picture when there was a lift in conditions. A description of UHF video offsets is at 2 minutes in: IBA Engineering Announcements - 12 May 1987. 405 line AM sound carriers similarly employed offsets, chosen to avoid tones or whistles during lift conditions.
TV turret tuner RF and oscillator bakelite segments for each channel
TV sets had turret tuners and free running oscillators with automatic frequency control (AFC) using the 3.5MHz higher vision carrier, while their 38.15MHz sound IFs had passbands around 50kHz wide.
BBC 405 line and worldwide 525, 625 and 819 line Band I allocations
The unique frequency of each transmitter on the same channel meant that a selective receiver could monitor the signal from a particular transmitter. Meldrum in the north east of Scotland on Channel 4, 58.25MHz, at 700km was an excellent indicator of north south conditions to be expected on the nearby 70MHz amateur band. Tropospheric propagation was always present, with the bonus of meteor scatter, aurora and an occasional rare Es backscatter.
The Kilkeel hilltop site looking over the Irish Sea to Snowdon
Towards the north west from Surrey, at 493km and also conveniently horizontally polarised, was the Kilkeel low power repeater in Co. Down, Northern Ireland, on Channel 3, 53.25MHz. With vision at 6 Watts on its southeast bearing (PDF), the sound carrier had an ERP of just 1.5 Watts, yet its carrier was always receivable, presumably aided by knife edge diffraction over an unusual path passing over Snowdon, which is line of sight to Kilkeel.
The path from Kilkeel to Surrey over Snowdon
Separating the Kilkeel carrier using an offset of +37.125kHz from others on the channel using different offsets required a narrow filter, in my case a single 455kHz crystal filter in a much rebuilt Hallicrafters valve receiver.
Hallicrafters communications receiver with Heathkit OS1 oscilloscope on top monitoring AM envelopes
An ink pen chart recorder driven from the receiver's AGC system allowed long term plots of signal strength. The Kilkeel transmitter was odd because its exact frequency wandered slightly up and down, in and out of the passband of my crystal filter, creating a regular pattern on the chart recorder.
Regular strength changes on the chart caused by frequency drift, not fading
The increase and decrease in frequency was caused by temperature cycling as the transmitter's crystal oven thermostat switched on and off. The switching period was related to the outdoor temperature at the Kilkeel site, amusingly giving an idea of the weather over there.
One variant of Test Card C
Apart from some programmes for schools, transmitters were on the air during the daytime for the installation and repair trades, radiating Test Card C generated by photo etched Mullard monoscopes, along with 400Hz tone and copyright free music. More at The Test Card Circle.
On walking through a front door of a house it was always obvious if a TV was turned on somewhere because of the 10.125kHz sound from its line output transformer and cathode ray tube scanning coils. TV line output stages, also generating EHT for the tube, ran around 40 Watts. If you were young, with hearing to 20kHz, after 1964 you could tell if the set was tuned to 625 line BBC2 with its higher 15.625kHz line frequency.
1960s RF heaters
There was quite a craze for diathermy and RF heating in the 1960s. Diathermy treatment promised deep heat therapy for patients while RF heating was fashionably sold industrially for several purposes, plastic welding amongst them. Without any harmonic filtering and little screening these devices had stunning coverage, radiating for dozens of miles.
British RF Induction Heaters - up to 45kW
transmitters RF generators were crude self oscillating devices usually using a pair of large glass valves in push pull running from a rectified but generally unsmoothed high voltage DC supply. Power was typically in the 1 to 10kW region, with high power units run on 3 phase mains and humming at 300Hz, rather than 100Hz. (The same frequency could be heard on some broadcast transmitters whose smoothing was not up to scratch.)
Chart recording of wipeout interference as an RF heater sweeps through 70MHz during the working day
At least adjusted to avoid the TV broadcast band below 68MHz, my charts recorded on three successive days show one or more heaters operating throughout the working day. Every few seconds, on an affected channel, a cluster of unstable buzzy carriers would pass through from the heater, both AM and FM modulated by mains hum, sweeping across a couple of megahertz or so.
With a 70MHz RF heater twenty miles away and side on, G3TCT beaming north from Guildford recorded G3RLE's Morse via auroral reflection in 1968, with interference every seven seconds: audio.
70MHz auroral Morse in 1968 with frequent RF heater interference
Naturally, frequency varied with the load and temperature, so whatever industrial, scientific and medical (ISM) allocation was intended, 27.12 and 40.68 MHz being possible candidates, was purely notional.
Better and more efficient techniques appeared and as these devices aged and needed maintenance their usage tailed off and the nuisance abated, as did the perpetual ticking of unsuppressed car ignition systems.
Receiving RNI's 100MHz FM signal in Surrey at 124km
The offshore station Radio Northsea International was unusual in having an FM transmitter as well as being on Medium Wave and Short Waves. The ship had come over to the UK from the Netherlands. Its 102MHz FM service soon moved to 100MHz quaintly, to non-European ears, announced as Channel 43.
The Rohde & Schwarz 1.2kW mono transmitter fed a vertically polarised folded dipole, unlike all services in the UK at the time which radiated horizontal only. The FM aerial was mounted on a pole above the shorter foremast of the Mebo II, about 15 metres high and producing a near-omnidirectional ERP around 600 Watts.
The FM aerial is at the top of the Mebo II's foremast
The radio spectrum in the UK was under the control of the Home Office. One of the officials' tactics to obstruct developments was to continue purchasing and installing radio telephone systems for the emergency services on post-war 96-108 MHz allocations within the Band II broadcast band, long after it was plain there was a demand for more broadcasting.
So, with this mad situation, people with FM radios could additionally hear the police, fire brigade and gas board. To do so was of course illegal under the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1949 and the occasional person caught listening in did get prosecuted.
In Britain, widespread piracy became the way other innovations, like baby alarms, garage door openers, Citizens Band Radio and cordless telephones, eventually became legal.
The path to Surrey from RNI's mooring 5 miles off Clacton
People near the coast in Essex could hear RNI well on 100MHz, but would its signal make it as far away as 124km to Surrey?
Summer 1970: Bands 1&3&UHF TV aerials with a vertical yagi receiving RNI
The answer was yes, up to a point. I walked across the roof tiles to the chimney (don't try this at home) and twisted the J-Beam of Northampton 6 element yagi from horizontal to vertical. This made the signal listenable, though hissy.
The listening experience was rather destroyed, however, by frequent radiotelephone chit chat from the public services operating between 99.9 and 100.1 MHz obliterating RNI's audio.
Fixing Cheltenham Radio 603kHz which tripped off air during Drivetime
In 1996, the Independent Local Radio (ILR) service for Cheltenham, running a 250 Watt transmitter for its 100 Watt Effective Monopole Radiated Power (EMRP) licence, developed a commercially disastrous propensity to fall off the air during the busy listening time of 5 to 7 PM.
The transmitter would trip for two seconds and then reapply power. If three trips occurred within a short period it stayed off permanently until somebody drove up from the studios in Cheltenham, out to the site in a far flung corner of the racecourse which was once a rubbish tip, opened the cabin and pressed a reset button.
Cheltenham Radio logo : Station manager and breakfast presenter Marc Bond
It seemed that large numbers of starlings congregating on the T aerial at dusk, before flying off to roost, were detuning the aerial sufficiently to upset the modern solid state transmitter. This power at Medium Wave is harmless to birds but if a bird has the sad misfortune to land on a high power Short Wave aerial the RF would blow off its legs.
The T aerial favoured by starlings PHOTO: DAVE THORPE
On auspicious days someone would be positioned at the site to scare birds. Marc Bond, station manager at the time, needed help. To win a few weeks of time to devise a plan and obtain parts, my first action was to climb the east mast and install at the top a large decoy eagle owl I'd bought from a field sports shop.
The half-metre tall eagle owl decoy
Optimods don't really do low frequency roll-off, so in the studio racks room I also installed a balanced jack switch box which could insert various capacitors into the audio feed going out through the jackfield to the transmitter. Selecting an appropriate LF roll off crispened up the muddy sound of the station caused by losing treble due to poor return loss and sideband cutting in the narrowband transmitting aerial.
Balanced LF roll off switch box
The original aerial matching system PHOTO: DAVE THORPE
That night I took the station off the air at 1 AM to take antenna bandwidth measurements and examine the aerial matching unit properly. The aerial tuning hut was installed beside the centre of the T aerial drop, with the transmitter cabin directly beside it. There were a range of suspects, ranging from non-optimal to simply wrong:
The 1993 antenna system design and installation was by local Cheltenham company Alan Dick & Co Ltd. Whatever their skills in VHF and UHF broadcasting it has to be said that Medium Wave engineering was not their forte.
- Even adjusted for zero reflected power at carrier frequency, the transmitter was seeing significant reflections on treble in the sidebands
- The two 27 metre masts were too short, which was a planning constraint
- At 56 metres, the masts were too close together, especially given their height
- None of the steel supporting stay wires were broken up with insulators
- Worse still, shackles attaching the stays to the masts were not strapped across, meaning variable contact resistance
- Given the short length, the three wire hamper should have been wider with more wires
- Instead of tapering, the T drop should have remained wide to nearly the bottom
- The buried earth mat was too deep at 30cm, so earth above it drying out would affect tuning more than it should
- Seven coils in a matching unit intended to widen bandwidth were achieving no more than an L network, as well as being lossy
- Inductors were small and undesirably close to each other or the enclosure's aluminium side panels, reducing their Q
- The matching unit was assembled with steel washers between joints of silvered copper straps, which is lossy
- A similar arrangement of washers in the riser from the earth system was also lossy
Rik Scott frightens birds at the Cheltenham Radio 603 transmitter on Cheltenham Racecourse
The main transmitter was a 250 Watt HCD Research Ltd. unit with a 125 Watt HCD as reserve. The manufacturer had no suggestions, so going through the circuit diagrams and output device specifications I devised circuitry changes to the transmitters aimed at making the installation more tolerant of reflected power, without risking damage.
Main and reserve transmitters in the cabin PHOTO: DAVE THORPE
After doing modifications on the standby transmitter and testing it into a dummy load it was put on the air while I modified the main 250 Watt unit, luckily with dry January weather while working on the ground at the cabin door.
After an evening meal in Cheltenham I again took the service off the air at 1 AM and proceeded to dismantle the matching unit completely. I then rebuilt the match as an auto transformer. Providing no harmonic attenuation, it's a technique which normally comes into its own on Long Wave but it looked like a promising solution for this antenna, also dispensing with the need for a static leak. Each connection, including tap points on the silver plated coil, was made in the lowest resistance way possible.
My special rechargeable return loss bridge, crystal tester and precision 100mW source covering 130kHz-20MHz
Once I had the new arrangement matched to 50 Ohms at better than 30dB return loss on the 603kHz carrier frequency the moment of truth came by sweeping the return loss bridge up and down by 5 and then 10kHz. What a transformation in bandwidth!
A mast stay could now be banged hard to shake the structure without any flicking of the return loss. The repowered transmitter with 100% tone modulation at 6kHz displayed only modest reflected power. Cheltenham Radio 603 now had proper treble with nicely symmetrical sidebands.
603kHz was shared with Invicta Radio in Kent, 116km. After the rebuild Cheltenham, 140km, became predominant in Surrey
Apart from the jump in sound quality, it became obvious that the field strength was almost embarassingly better. Confident that these measures were a permanent fix for birds, as well as ice, fog, wet soil or dry soil, back in Surrey, where Invicta Radio from Littlebourne in Kent had been the predominant signal on the channel, Cheltenham Radio was now the strongest.
Foreign stations at night but a 3db increase in daytime signal on 1st February 1996
I had notified all the details of changes to the Radio Authority, as required by the licence. Perhaps recognizing that the site had always underperformed the power was never regulated downwards and so it continued until the station obtained one of those supposedly non-existent FM frequencies in 1998.
Littlebourne was one of the sites where the IBA used aluminium, rather than copper, radial wires. It was unique in the UK for running 200 Watts by day and 400 Watts at night, leading to naughty station staff covering over the IBA's light sensor on the transmitter building.
Susy Radio 531kHz RSL aerial visible from space - and a Long Wave test
Around the millennium we heard of a pair of unwanted old Decca non directional beacon (NDB) transmitters. These were used for aeronautical beacons, periodically sending a callsign in Morse code modulated carrier wave (MCW) and seeming to offer the prospect of use for SUssex and SurreY SUSY Radio's annual restricted service licence (RSL). We visited a delightful house in Bosham and returned with two transmitters and four heavy linear power supplies.
The Decca NDB transmitter in question
It emerged that the transmitter generated a low level AM signal which was then amplified by six linear modules and combined at the output. The first 45 Volt power supply powered everything, until it was time to send the Morse code when the output stages were switched up to 100 Volts, adding the 55 Volt power supply in series. This minimized heat dissipation while just sending carrier but allowed the four times higher peak envelope power needed on modulation... and also explained the peculiar 'crunch' noises beacons made just before and after sending their Morse!
The 531kHz transmitter being set up
After many modifications the units were producing 50 Watts of proper AM and the output, usually for the 350kHz region and involving ferrite and a variometer, would just tune up to 531kHz. Susy Radio's studio had fine trees in the grounds and a grassy area suitable for the aerial feedpoint some 70 metres from the transmitter room. In August 2001 a double riser and very long top hamper was installed in a figure 7 shape with an extensive ground system of long radials and concentric circles of copper earth rods.
The first Susy Radio 531 aerial matching and feedpoint
An L match to 50 Ohms produced return loss of 40dB at 531kHz and below 25dB +/-6kHz with the inband 1062kHz second harmonic hardly detectable beyond the driveway.
Quick check of a workable match at 531kHz
For the following year's licence I raised the feedpoint into a tree. A hamper of wires, along with the coax, rose from the earth mat up to the tree with the aerial itself continuing on upwards. Elevated feed was a lot of bother for a possible 0.5dB improvement in signal.
The protected feed point and white spacer bars of the riser and hamper show in 2001 satellite photographs
Knowing that two wires withstood the weather, to reduce losses in subsequent years I used more wires in a wider spaced riser. Replacing the linear power supplies with switch mode units gave some improvement in efficiency.
Amateur TV operator John Stockley G8MNY looking after things
The Radio Authority had been reluctant to licence 531kHz, claiming it was impractical to provide a serviceable 1 Watt EMRP signal at such a low frequency. The opposite happened. Phone calls came from miles away and listeners were astonished at the coverage.
Reports directly to Susy 531 and BDXC reception reports, 2001 - 2006
Many people happened upon Susy Radio as the 531 default button on car radios and jealousy even caused a complaint to the Radiocommunications Agency.
Netherlands appears in Medium Wave Circle's list of farthest RSLs
In 2009 the idea was copied from the Ross Revenge in Tilbury by Radio Caroline, who have a geographically widely spread listener base.
Susy 531 was detectable during the daytime in Belgium and the Netherlands
A transmitter which had originally operated rather lower in frequency than 531kHz and an aerial which stood a chance of being matchable gave rise to the idea of a Long Wave trial. Using a precision signal generator to inject the required 1080kHz the transmitter would operate at the other extreme of its tuning, on 270kHz.
Before dismantling the aerial for another year, one pleasant dry day an attempt was made to match the aerial to 50 Ohms using a box full of high voltage RF capacitors and a selection of large coils wired in series.
As expected, return loss rose dreadfully on the sidebands (6.4kHz wide at 10dB return loss) but the horribly inefficient Class A output stage of the Decca was unlikely to care. So, an exciting tone was radiated.
The 92km path over which 270kHz Long Wave was stronger than 531kHz Medium Wave
From the few who knew of the experiment the furthest reception report came from 92km away to the north west where, as one would hope, 270kHz was subjectively a better signal than 531kHz on an Audi car radio.
A less lossy match would need a proper large diameter coil with thicker conductors, though lower losses would come with the consequence of an an even tighter bandwidth. The already diminishing proportion of radios covering Long Wave meant there was little appeal in applying for the very first RSL licence on that band.
A 'stealing listeners' squabble between Guildford's County Sound 1476kHz and South Coast Ocean Sound 1170kHz
In late 1988, as Independent Local Radio (ILR) licencees were required to cease simulcasting and split AM from their FM services, the trend to Gold music services led to upset by the operator of County Sound.
County Sound Gold in Surrey and north Hampshire with Ocean Sound to the south
I was engaged by Ocean Sound's Chief Engineer Russ Tollerfield (onetime 1960s offshore Radio London engineer) to submit evidence for a court case that there was no incursion by Ocean Sound into County Sound's coverage.
14 survey points chosen in the contended area
The project involved checking relative field strengths of the two services at a number of survey points in populated areas towards the southern fringes of County Sound's measured coverage area (MCA). Essentially the issue was that by using the same 'Gold' imaging, Ocean Sound were potentially claiming listeners who 'should' be using County Sound.
There were echoes of the High Court injunction just four years earlier by John Aumonier of Crawley's Radio Mercury against Radio Jackie on the other side of the North Downs. During that period I had been endorsing the back of every advertiser's cheque made out to Radio Jackie and paying them into one of my accounts.
Mobile spectrum analyser display of signal strengths at a supposed boundary in the countryside
Hundreds of field strength measurements were collated which showed there was no commercial competition by Ocean within County Sound's area. The entire report, which includes Radio Caroline 558, is here.
A newspaper report early in the court case
Contrary to promises in parliament and the localism requirements of the Sound Broadcasting Act 1972 which enabled ILR, over subsequent years almost all stations merged into national networks. Had there been effective listener groups might a judicial review have blocked this happening?
Russ Tollerfield does the final closedown of Radio London 266 PHOTO: DAVID HAWKINS
After the BBC, Ocean's Chief Engineer Russ Tollerfield (1944 - 2017) had been engineering for Wonderful Radio London, Big-L, on the MV Galaxy, doing the very last transmitter switch off at 3pm on Monday 14th August 1967. Next he was Chief Engineer at Radio Victory in Portsmouth, which later lost its franchise to Ocean Sound.
Jointing tape, single edge razor blades and EMI splicing block
It was Russ, radio amateur G3SQD, who conceived of and spliced tape with Kenny Everett to create the original R L high speed Morse sounder preceding each Radio London news item. Seven pieces of tape and six pieces of leader were cut accurately to length and 14 splices made at 45 degree angles to create the proper fade-in fade-out keying characteristic. The result was then recorded onto a NAB cartridge so newsreaders could press the player's button to fire the sound.
Original R L Morse news sounder / ▄▄▄ ▄ ▄ ▄ ▄▄▄ Morse August 1966-March 1967 / six pips March-August 1967
The Post Office amateur Morse test was at 12 words per minute (WPM). Initially, at the start of Radio London's news, Russ and Kenny's ▄ ▄▄▄ ▄ ▄ ▄▄▄ ▄ ▄ R L Morse sounder is heard with a 470Hz tone at 25 WPM, while for each subsequent story topic it is doubled in pitch, 940Hz, and speed to 50 WPM used for machine readers. A different Morse sounder, ▄▄▄ ▄ ▄ ▄ ▄▄▄ BT, a symmetrical prosign meaning new message, at 1.2kHz and 35 WPM was used later. From March 1967, six very rapid 735Hz non-Morse pips were used. All the tone types were rich in harmonic content.
This recording shows the four Radio London news sounder types:
-- the ▄ ▄▄▄ ▄ ▄ ▄▄▄ ▄ ▄ R L Morse code, slow then fast, on Saturday 21st August 1965, with Ed Stewart
-- the ▄▄▄ ▄ ▄ ▄ ▄▄▄ BT prosign on Tuesday 27th December 1966, with Keith Skues (AUDIO: Alan Field)
-- the six rapid pips on Sunday 6th August 1967, with Ian Damon.
I believe this pacy - topic / sounder / story - idea was never really used again in British radio. Or was it?
If you want to write ▄ ▄▄▄ ▄ ▄ ▄▄▄ ▄ ▄ Morse in HTML try code like this:
<span style="font-family: monospace; font-size: 65%; vertical-align: 1.3ex; white-space: pre-wrap;">
▄ ▄▄▄ ▄ ▄
▄▄▄ ▄ ▄ </span>.
The Ocean Sound story is described by Tony Harding in: Ocean Sound and Me.
The night lightning struck an aerial running around my bedhead
At midnight one night when I was 13 a deafening bang suddenly woke up the whole house. My sister's and my bedrooms were upstairs and I awoke to a fizzing sound with a discharge from along the edge of the window frame, seemingly going through the glass to outside and producing choking white fumes which rose up to the ceiling.
Clear plastic covered aerial wire was vaporised and molten
My conventional 132 foot (40 metre) longwire strung from an oak tree along the garden ran into the bedroom through a piece of plastic tubing in a hole I had drilled in the top left corner of the wooden window frame and all down its left hand side. It then trailed along the entire length of the bed, between the bed and the wall, turned the corner across the bedhead and up to a radio on my bedside chest of drawers.
Aerial down the window, alongside the bed, across the bedhead and to the radio
In daylight next morning the support halyard with its porcelain egg insulator dangled uselessly from the tree. There was no aerial but a decorative trail of small shiny drops of solidified copper ran across the lawn.
There were no signs of damage to either the house or the oak tree itself.
Unsurprisingly, the home built transistor medium wave radio was dead and so also was a nearby one transistor superregenerative VHF tuner covering Airband and Two Metres, which used an OC171.
VT was the schematic designator for transistor - EMP blew those in plastic containers
In attempting repairs I found that even new transistors not in use and half a metre away in plastic containers had been destroyed by electromagnetic induction. The only survivors were a few used transistors with their 25mm or so leads cut short. Transistors at that time were germanium PNP and came with long leads to suit mounting on tag boards as well as circuit boards.
In subsequent decades the issue of semiconductors, electromagnetic pulse (EMP) and atomic weapons designed to maximise the effect, became a cause of concern.
Metal Vono bedstead forming a partial Faraday screen?
I was not aware of receiving any electrical shock but being awoken by the bang could well have masked that! Might lying asleep on a mattress 10cm above the metal mesh of the Vono bed mean its ground plane effect acted as some sort of partial Faraday screen providing protection from induced current and fatal shock?
My sister still dislikes storms: "I woke in the night, it was dark, all the lights were off, the power was gone. All I felt was that I had heard a loud crack but what struck me most distinctly was an acrid, metallic smell drifting through the house. A bit like smoke but not really. Thunder and lightning raged outside, I was scared. As I ventured out of my room I realised something had happened in my brother’s room. I seem to remember a black mark on the wall above his bed."
The house was on an 8 metre rise in ground level coming from the prevailing wind direction of south west, possibly making that location slightly more vulnerable. Luckily, my parents took a rational view of the chance of being struck again and had no objection to me installing a replacement aerial in the same place, though I did reposition the bed.
For ever after there remained a charred black line all along the side of that bedspread.
Lead weights - useful things I made
1930s mains cable in houses used rubber covered conductors sheathed in lead.
Particularly where air surrounded the exposed insulation at the ends, the rubber gradually degraded dangerously and disintegrated so old cabling was removed and replaced with PVC types.
Lead sheathed mains wiring
In the era before recycling, it seemed a bad idea just to throw away the old cables so I stripped the lead away from the wires inside and, using the kitchen scales, made up a pile weighing one pound (454gm).
I put the lead scraps into an old tin can. In those days cans had paper labels which could be removed easily.
A tin can containing lead scraps ready for heating
As a teenager and while nobody was home, I put the tin onto one of the gas burners on the hob and heated it gently.
With the delightful smell of burning dust and rubber, the lead duly melted. When it had cooled and solidified I cut and peeled off the steel tin can, releasing a useful lead weight.
The four resulting lead weights. The can strengthening ridges show clearly
The success of the first led to making three more similar weights which can be used in various combinations up to 4lb (1.8kg).
Regluing the delaminated prop on an old picture frame
The set of weights still find themselves used every month or so, often for flattening archive documents or holding down items whilst they are being glued.
Discovering all independent FM stations were overdeviating
As Britain gradually increased usage of the FM band, controlling the deviation of transmitters to minimise interference to adjacent channels, rather than simply avoiding distortion for listeners, became necessary.
We developed a Peak Deviation Meter which could measure brief periods of overdeviation and many broadcasters worldwide acquired units. At Broadcast Warehouse in Croydon Roger Howe (1964 - 2020) always had one switched on above his design workbench.
The Peak Deviation Meter dial, artwork done with Letraset and a Rotring pen
Almost all BBC stations were peaking, correctly, at a deviation of ±75kHz. Pirates, of course, were all over the place but every one of the IBA stations was overdeviating, even going as high as ±120kHz.
The 19 original ILR stations which were overdeviating in 1977
The IBA had proudly installed high quality Drawmer DL221 stereo limiters at their transmitter sites, quite failing to grasp that nice studio limiters are inherently unsuitable for transmission use.
Drawmer stereo limiters - given the wrong job to do
When a high audio level comes along the Drawmer responds by reducing the gain over a millisecond. This is pleasant subjectively but leaves the output level overshooting for that period.
The Peak Deviation Meter and Chart Recorder
Another product we developed was a peak-capturing chart recorder, with moving styli pressing down on pressure sensitive sprocketed paper to produce black traces. In the days before computer waterfall displays this was the first time such images had been seen.
With independent transmission providers prohibited and no Ofcom in 1977, the BBC and IBA more or less regulated themselves within their own sub-bands. Initially, the IBA were rather inclined to dismiss these alarming charts as unimportant.
June 1977: BBC deviation up to 75kHz while IBA stations go beyond 100kHz
Overshoots deviate the station's carrier outside its own 200kHz wide channel (or, more precisely, 203kHz wide for 99% of energy), potentially interfering with adjacent services. On tune, traditional receivers didn't mind much but the advent of crystal IF filters, with sharp cut off at the channel edges, meant receivers would lose signal whenever the carrier overdeviated, producing a novel kind of unpleasant distortion - momentary bursts of the white noise you hear when tuned to a vacant channel.
At the rear of his home in Finchley, along with two assistants, Angus McKenzie MBE, G3OSS, ran an audio and RF product testing laboratory and had become a respected reviewer. He also had a monthly 'FM Radio' column in HiFi News magazine.
Angus McKenzie with his guide dog Simon PHOTO: KIRSTY MCKENZIE
Angus knew of my measurements and, rather outraged, publicly wrote up the findings in HiFi News, thus creating considerable kerfuffle at the IBA headquarters in Crawley Court.
The outcome was... installation of proper broadcast limiters at all ILR sites.