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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 N316, March 15, 2015

BBC Far Eastern Relay Station-2: The Temporary Relay via SLBC Sri Lanka

Initial consideration for a large shortwave transmitter station at Ekala in Sri Lanka goes back to the year 1941, when preliminary plans were laid for a shortwave facility to extend the coverage of Radio Colombo, for listeners both in Ceylon and further afield in Asia. At first, progress on this new station was slow, but when Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten came onto the scene in 1944, work on this project became a high priority.

The design for the shortwave station at Ekala, 10 miles north of Colombo, was very similar to the design for the huge BBC shortwave station located at Tebrau at the bottom tip of the Malay peninsula. Much of the electronic equipment for the Ekala station was quickly shipped from the Marconi factory in England, but the ship was sunk by a torpedo off the coast of Ceylon. The original antenna towers came from the Isle of Wight, and these were lost also when the ship went down as a result of enemy action.

A second consignment of electronic equipment was shipped out from England, and this was quickly installed into the new transmitter building at Ekala. Provision was made for one shortwave transmitter at 100 kW, an English Marconi model SWB18; and three at 7.5 kW, American RCA model ET4750, one of which was transferred from the RAF transmitter station on the adjoining property.

The antenna system at Ekala consisted of four curtain antennas and three Krauss dipoles, and these were strung from six tall aerial towers. A total of four diesel power generators were installed in a separate building, three for regular usage, and one as a standby unit. This large new shortwave broadcasting station was developed by Mountbatten under the wartime SEAC, the South East Asia Command.

A shortwave receiver station served both of the adjoining transmitter stations, the RAF Royal Air Force and SEAC. This receiver station was located at Horahena, some 10 miles distant from the two side-by-side transmitter stations, and it was already in active service before SEAC Ekala was commissioned.

This receiver facility included two banks of three receivers, American RCA receivers model AR88, and the receiving antennas were triple wire directional diamond shaped rhombics. The receiver output was landlined to a studio complex in Colombo, with the main shortwave relay programming coming in from the BBC London, All India Radio Delhi, Radio Australia Melbourne, and the Voice of America in Washington, DC.

The first unit installed in the new SEAC building at Ekala in 1945 was a new RCA transmitter, model ET4750, rated at 7.5 kW. Test broadcasts from this transmitter went on the air in advance, and it was taken into regular service on May 1, 1946, along with the large 100 kW unit.

Likewise, this 100 kW unit had been installed during the latter part of the year 1945, and preliminary test broadcasts were noted in April of the following year. This unit was taken into regular service also on May 1 (1946), along with the smaller RCA unit. Both transmitters were officially opened with a commissioning ceremony one week later, on May 8.

A third shortwave transmitter, another American RCA unit at 7.5 kW, was transferred from the neighboring Royal Air Force communication station which had been inaugurated at Ekala during the previous year 1945; and a fourth, also another RCA at 7.5 kW was installed in 1947.

A 10 kW mediumwave transmitter was also commissioned for SEAC coverage of greater Colombo, and this was inaugurated on 920 kHz some time towards the end of the year 1948, under their regular callsign ZOJ. It is not known where this transmitter was located, though we would suggest that it was at either Ekala or Welikada, and probably Welikada.

A part time relay of BBC programming via the Ekala shortwave station began at the time when this station was inaugurated, on May 1, 1946.

Then three years later, in April 1949, the BBC phased out their usage of the Jurong station in Singapore. By this time, they had already opened an office in Colombo on April 1, and three days later (April 3) they assumed active control of the Ekala shortwave station. However, the BBC still retained their office in Singapore for the administration of the relays via Ekala, and for the development of the new shortwave relay station in Tebrau, Malaysia.

At the time, there were four shortwave transmitters on the air at Ekala, one at 100 kW and three at 7.5 kW. However, the BBC took usage of only two of these transmitters, the historic Marconi 100 kW and one of the American RCA units at 7.5 kW. At the same time, mediumwave ZOJ also carried a BBC relay for listeners living in the greater Colombo area.

Programming from the BBC in London was received at Horahena on shortwave and it was composed of their General Overseas Service together with several different language services for specific countries in Asia. The identification announcement in English stated: This is the BBC broadcasting from Radio Ceylon.

A BBC schedule for November 1950 gives the following information, in local Ceylon time:

1:55 pm-7:30 pm 17730 kHz 100 kW Hong Kong, China, Japan
7:40 pm-11:20 pm 15120 kHz 100 kW India, Pakistan
1:55 pm-11:20 pm 21620 kHz 7.5 kW South East Asia

In the meantime, work on the large new BBC relay station at Tebrau moved ahead quite rapidly, and the first transmitter was taken into service at Christmas time, 1950. The short term usage of the ex-SEAC shortwave station at Ekala as the temporary BBC Far Eastern Relay Station came to an end at the end of year 1950. At that time, the entire station reverted to local usage and that is when the Radio Ceylon Commercial Service began to take over.

Only one QSL from the BBC Far Eastern Relay Station in Ekala, Sri Lanka is known and that was a letter addressed to a listener in Sweden. The Colombo address on the letterhead was Box 194, and the letter was an official statement of confirmation, though no specific reception details are stated in the letter itself.