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"Wavescan" is a weekly program for long distance radio hobbyists produced by Dr. Adrian M. Peterson, Coordinator of International Relations for Adventist World Radio. AWR carries the program over many of its stations (including shortwave). Adrian Peterson is a highly regarded DXer and radio historian, and often includes features on radio history in his program. We are reproducing those features below, with Dr. Peterson's permission and assistance.

Wavescan, October 4, 2009

The BBC Daventry

Thus far in our onward story about the BBC shortwave station located at Daventry in England, we have looked at the original Empire Service from amateur station G2NM, the BBC usage of the Marconi transmitter G5SW, and the formative years for the BBC at Daventry itself. On this occasion, we take a look at the years of progress at this very remarkable and authoritative international shortwave station. Last week, we ended the story around the year 1935, at the time when the BBC purchased an additional 95 acres and began the construction of a new transmitter building capable of holding three large shortwave transmitters, together with 25 new antennas, 14 of which were reversible curtains.

The two new transmitters were made by STC, the English equivalent of the American Western Electric Company. These two units, capable of an output ranging between 50 and 80 kW, were commissioned in 1937 as Senders 4 and 5. In addition a small 7.5 kW transmitter was also installed in this building and all three were on the air for the special broadcasts associated with the Coronation of His Majesty King George VI. Sender 6, a Marconi 100 kW, was commissioned nearly a year later.

It should be remembered that similar progress also was underway at the same time in other countries around the world. Statistics during that era reveal that there were 131 shortwave transmitters on the air throughout the world in May 1936, and by October in the following year 1937, there were now 245 shortwave transmitters on the air. The number had almost doubled in less than 18 months.

During this era, the BBC Daventry was on the air usually with two transmitters in parallel, though occasionally three were employed. For very special occasions, they would sometimes activate as many as four of these shortwave transmitters with parallel programming.

In April 1938, the additional 100 kW Marconi transmitter (Sender 6) was installed in the new Empire Service Building, and work commenced on the addition of an east wing to this building for the installation of two more new Marconi units at 100 kW each. These were commissioned in February 1939 as Senders 8 and 9.

Back at this time, it was a common procedure to allocate a specific callsign to a transmitter, and then to give additional callsigns for each channel in use from that unit. The introductory callsign for the BBC Daventry was GSE, with the "E" standing for Empire. All 26 letters of the English alphabet were in use for various shortwave channels, and then they began to allocate additional callsigns in a similar manner in the GR series. Callsigns in the range GSA, GSB, GSC, etc, right down to GSZ were all taken up, one call per shortwave channel; and then they began to use the sequence in the GR series, beginning with GRZ and working backwards in the English alphabet, GRY, GRX, etc., right up to GRA.

With political events heating up on continental Europe, the BBC began to introduce foreign language programming into its external shortwave services. The first additional language was Arabic which was inaugurated in January 1938. Two months later, Spanish and Portuguese for South America were introduced, followed by several continental languages in the following year or two. Studios for all of these external services were established in Bush House, London.

At the time of the outbreak of hostilities in continental Europe in September 1939, the BBC Daventry was on the air with the usage of nine shortwave transmitters, eight with a significant power output, and one smaller standby unit for emergency usages. These transmitters were designated as follows:

Building Transmitters Make kW Identification
5GB Mediumwave Building 1 Marconi 60 Sender 3
Original Shortwave Building 2 STC 15 Senders 1 & 2
Two Wings of Empire Service Building 2 STC 80 Senders 4 & 5
3 Marconi 100 Senders 6, 8 & 9
1 Marconi 7.5

It should be added that the transmitter designated as Sender 7 was installed more than a year later, in December 1940. This was a double unit that was capable of radiating on two channels simultaneously, and it was identified in BBC terminology as Sender 7A and 7B.

A new relay service via the BBC commenced on Saturday April 25, 1942, and this was on behalf of the new Voice of America with its studios in Madison Avenue, New York City. Programing was either taken off air and forwarded by landline to Daventry, or it was sent by undersea cable and re-transmitted from Daventry on shortwave. Some programming was sent to England on recorded discs. At this stage, the BBC usually incorporated the American programming into their own scheduling, rather than broadcasting the American programs as a separate relay.

The off air relays from the United States were via the regular shortwave broadcasting stations or by special arrangement with point-to-point shortwave transmitters. From this original time onwards, VOA has been relayed almost continuously on shortwave from England.

During this decisive era, the BBC began work on three additional large shortwave locations, at Skelton, Rampisham and Woofferton, and by the end of the year 1943 the BBC was capable of handling 43 different shortwave transmissions simultaneously. It was during the early part of this era that the BBC Daventry was looked upon as the world's largest shortwave broadcasting station.

It was during this era also that the BBC color-coded its transmissions to various parts of the world in eight colors for clarity, and these colors were: Red, green, purple, brown, pink, blue, yellow, gray.

And that's where we leave the BBC Daventry on this occasion. Next week, we plan to present the final episode in this five part series on the BBC Daventry, and you will hear the story under the title: "The Demise of the BBC Daventry."