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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, September 12, 2010

The Rugged Rugby Station-England's Post Office Station

The story of the well known shortwave station from yesteryears, the Post Office Station at Rugby in England, begins way back exactly 100 years ago. This station was in use for a lengthy period of time, and it was often noted with the relay of broadcast programming on shortwave.

It was back in the year 1910, that the Marconi Company at Chelmsford in England placed a proposal before the Colonial Office in London, requesting approval for the erection of 18 wireless communication stations throughout the British Empire. The English government studied the proposal in different ways for a period of several years; and then there was an interruption during the four year period of the Great War; and finally things began to move a dozen years later. The Marconi Company was granted approval to construct their own limited network of communication stations throughout the British Empire, but the British government would also build and operate its own superstation, equal to anything anywhere in the world.

It was in the year 1923, that the British government acquired a large property near the small village of Hillmorton, 4 miles south east from the city of Rugby, for the purpose of establishing this huge new wireless station. Initially the property was sized at 800 acres, but in due course, it grew to 920 acres, about 1-1/2 square miles of territory. This property was previously established as a naval air station during World War I.

Rugby city traces its origins way back before the arrival of the Roman army, more than 2,000 years ago. Initially it was a small village as a center for a local farming community. The name, Rugby, means "Rook Fort", maybe honoring a local bird.

The city claims fame in at least three areas. In the year 1823, the rugged sports game of Rugby was invented as a result of a local dispute regarding the rules of football; in 1926 the mighty Rugby wireless station was opened; and in 1937, the aircraft jet engine was developed in Rugby.

Work on this radio station commenced in early 1925, and two buildings were erected in the center of the property, for use as the main transmitter building and as a power house. Twelve antenna masts were erected, each 820 ft. tall, and weighing 200 tons each, spaced at a quarter mile apart. The earthing system consisted of 120 miles of buried copper wire.

Two transmitters were installed in the three story transmitter building, a mediumwave telegraph transmitter and a 200 kW Western Electric transmitter for voice telephony communication.

A receiver station was simultaneously constructed at Swindon Wilts, or Wroughton Wilt, and one of the main receiving antennas was a beverage unit 5 miles long. Soon afterwards, another receiver station was constructed at Cupar Fife, and the main receiving antennas there were two square loops, encompassing 7 square miles each.

The new Rugby Wireless Station was officially opened for worldwide traffic in Morse Code on January 1, 1926. At this stage, the main transmitter was listed at 350 kW and it was on the air under the callsign GBR, Great Britain Radio.

The 2nd longwave transmitter, now rated at 300 kW for voice communication on 60 kHz with the callsign GBT, was inaugurated just one year later. A 3rd longwave transmitter, GBY, was inaugurated soon afterwards for communication with European countries.

During the 1930s, an additional transmitter building was constructed at Rugby, half a mile from the original building; and at this time, they installed a bevy of valve transmitters for many forms of international communication, mainly in single sideband usage.

During the 1940s, an additional 700 acres was procured, and a new transmitter building was built to house 28 new single side band transmitters, each rated at 30 kW PEP. The antenna systems were mainly three wire rhombics, double mounted.

During the 1950s, the original longwave transmitter GBR was finally retired from service, though a new form of transmission took its place. The chronohertz station MSF was inaugurated in 1951, with any of three transmitters on the air simultaneously with time signals on a standard frequency.

Finally, the GPO station at Rugby came to its end in the current century. During the year 2004, 13 of the antenna masts were felled, leaving only the MSF service on air. Three years later, the remaining four masts were brought down, and the area has since been turned into a housing estate.

As was the custom in the 1930s, each shortwave channel was allocated a specific callsign, and this happened at Rugby also. The call letter usage at Rugby covered the total sequence in the alphabet from GAA down to at least GDZ, with occasional usage of other additional call letters.

The first known broadcast of radio programming from the Rugby communication station on took place on shortwave on January 21, 1930, when His Majesty King George V made a broadcast at the time of the London Naval Conference. This broadcast was carried live by the BBC shortwave station G5SW which was located at Chelmsford at the time, and it was also relayed via GBR Rugby.

The additional broadcast service from Rugby was intended to ensure that a reliable signal could be heard in other parts of the world for local relay on mediumwave. It is interesting to note that the BBC never took out an additional relay over the Rugby station; it was always commercial interests who made the arrangements, mainly in the United States and Australia.

During the 1930s, the Rugby station carried more relay broadcasts than could ever be listed and these were beamed mainly to North America and the South Pacific, though sometimes elsewhere as well. The Christmas broadcast in 1931 was described at the time as the greatest radio hookup ever, with three transmitters at Rugby carrying the relay from Buckingham Palace, in addition to the BBC shortwave transmitter G5SW.

During the 1930s, the Rugby station was noted on air on numerous occasions with the relay of special programming to distant lands. These relay broadcasts were major sporting events, important news information, and special events of widespread interest.

Soon after the commencement of World War II, Rugby carried important war news on relay for rebroadcast in North America and elsewhere. From 1942 onwards, many shortwave relays were noted on air to the United States intended for rebroadcast by the Voice of America.

These days, the immense GPO radio station at Rugby, is not only silent; it is gone. Housing is encroaching upon the land once held by this mighty and influential radio communication station.

In spite of the tremendous coverage from this gigantic radio station and its frequent usage in the relay of radio programming, very few QSLs were ever issued. Early records indicate that at least two QSLs were issued by Rugby, and these verified the reception in Australia of communication traffic back in the year 1935, through callsign GBP on 10770 kHz and callsign GBS on 12150 kHz.