Home | Back to Wavescan Index

"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 N271, May 4, 2014

BBC Central Mediterranean Relay Station Malta

The island of Malta is located in the central Mediterranean between Sicily and North Africa. The name Malta comes from the ancient Greek word "melity" and it means "sweet honey."

There are actually five main islands belonging to Malta, three of which are inhabited. Their capital city is Valetta on the north coast of the main island Malta. With a total land area of only 122 square miles, and a total population approaching half a million, they are one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Tourism is one of their main industries, with more than a million visitors coming to the islands each year.

There are two official languages in Malta, English and Maltese. The Maltese language traces its earliest origins back to a form of ancient Arabic spoken previously on the nearby island of Sicily. However, the Maltese language is written with the English script, not the Arabic cursive writing.

In ancient times there were two unique forms of life on the island; the dwarf elephant and the pigmy hippopotamus, each only half the size of its African relatives, though both are long since extinct.

In prehistoric times, the earliest colonists constructed Neolithic Stone Temples which they say today are the oldest stone structures anywhere in the world. The islands were colonized by the Phoenicians from the Middle East, and they were followed by settlers from Greece. Malta was conquered successively, among others, by Carthage, Rome, the Arabs, Sicily, France, and then by England.

The unique toy dog, the Maltese, is quite small, with long silky hair reaching to the ground. This dog was highly favored by noble women back two thousand years ago.

The Roman poet Martial wrote a poem about a Maltese named Issa that was owned by his friend Publius, Governor of Malta. During the winter of 60 AD, St. Paul was shipwrecked on Malta, at St. Paul's Bay, as recorded in the Book of Acts, chapter 27. He befriended Governor Publius who converted to the new Christianity, along with the entire population of the island.

In more recent times, the British constructed a naval fort at Delimara Point on the extreme eastern edge of the island of Malta in 1876. The name Delimara in their language means the shadow of a woman.

The story of the BBC Central Mediterranean Relay Station seems to begin not in Malta, but back on the island of Cyprus, in the year 1959. The World Radio TV Handbook for that year (1959) lists a radio broadcasting station with the slogan Radio Independent Transmitting Unit, ITU.

In 1959, as the WRTVHB states, a broadcast unit was on the air at the British communication station at Episkopi with a 3-1/2 hour daily service in English from 1200 - 1530 UTC on 7130 kHz at a power level of 500 watts. A service in Arabic was also in the planning stage.

It is probable that this new shortwave service in the Middle East, temporary and experimental, was intended to grow into a larger facility akin to the earlier Radio Sharq al Adna, previously on the air on this same island, Cyprus. This new radio service, under the title Radio Independent Transmitting Unit ITU, was on the air for no more than a few months, and the entire project was seemingly transferred to the island of Malta. The WRTVHB listing states that a QSL response was available by letter.

In the early part of this same year 1959, a party of BBC personnel made a visit to Malta to assess the radio situation on the island. They rendered their official report in April.

A new BBC relay station, designated as the BBC Central Mediterranean Relay Station was soon afterwards installed in the Royal Navy Fort at Delimara Point on the extreme easternmost point on the island of Malta. This new relay station with its two mediumwave transmitters at 20 kW each was inaugurated during the following year 1960. The licensed output power from this BBC relay station, which was owned and operated by the Diplomatic Wireless Service, was 10 kW, and only one transmitter was ever on the air at any one time.

Programming was on the air ten hours a day in two sessions and it was a relay of the BBC Arabic Service which was beamed towards Libya and Tunisia. The introductory channel when this station was inaugurated was 1079 kHz. Then in March of the following year (1961), the channel was changed to 1178 kHz.

However, in November 1968, the BBC announced that they planned to close this station. But instead, it remained on the air, and in September 1969 the frequency was again changed, this time to 1546 kHz. Two years later, another change was made to 1511 kHz. Then in February 1973, at the end of nearly 13 years of service, this BBC Central Mediterranean Relay Station was indeed closed, supposedly due to a request from Egypt.

The station was donated to the radio broadcasting authority in Malta, and they reactivated it with two channels on the air simultaneously, 998 & 1546 kHz, each at 20 kW. One channel was programmed in Italian & Arabic, and the other in Maltese. However, the entire facility was soon afterwards dismantled and re-installed at Bezbezija, some ten miles distant, almost in the center of the island.

The fort at Delimara Point was subsequently abandoned, and soon afterwards it was leased to a pig farmer. Finally in 2005, the land was transferred to Heritage Malta and plans were implemented for turning the location into a museum and tourist site.