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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 N322, April 26, 2015

Amidst the Rubber Plantations in Malaysia: The BBC Tebrau

During the past 3/4 century, the BBC Far Eastern Relay Station has been on the air shortwave from four consecutive locations; Jurong, Singapore; Ekala, Ceylon; Tebrau, Malaysia; and back again to Singapore, this time at Kranji. In our program today, we relate the very interesting story about their 30 year venture amidst the rubber plantations and jungles at the southern edge of the Malay Peninsula.

Quite soon after the end of World War 2 in Asia, the BBC in London sent Mr. F. C. McLean on a preliminary search for a suitable location for a relay station in the Malay Peninsula. At the time, the BBC was on the air from the new shortwave station that had been constructed at Jurong on Singapore island during the Japanese occupation.

Initially, the BBC was interested in enlarging the Jurong station with the installation of high powered transmitters and tall antenna towers. However the Malay government, with Singapore as the capital city at the time, was planning a huge international airport nearby and tall towers could not be permitted.

Thus the BBC needed to look elsewhere for their big new shortwave station and they chose the nearby Malay Peninsula. In the meantime, they took out a temporary relay via the new shortwave station that had recently been opened at Ekala in Ceylon.

In July 1947, a team of three from the BBC in London finally chose the Tebrau site as the most suitable of the various possible venues they had visited. Their new estate of 450 acres of jungle and rubber tree plantations had no access road, nor any ambient infrastructure; and there were still some leftover Japanese ammunition dumps in the area.

The design for this new shortwave station was quite similar to the recently constructed Ekala station in Ceylon, and the original complement of electronic equipment at Tebrau would include 6 transmitters and 20 antenna systems. In addition, it was necessary to build up a self-contained set of housing and amenities, including recreational facilities, for all of the staff who would be employed at the station. Work on this massive new radio station and all of its additional accessories began quite quickly, and the installation of the electronic equipment in the transmitter building began in mid-1950.

At this stage, two transmitters at 100 kW each were installed, and they had both served the BBC at two different locations in the United Kingdom during the conflict in Europe; Start Point in England and Lisnagarvey in Northern Ireland. In order to safeguard the BBC's capability of international radio coverage during the war, two widely dispersed shortwave stations had been constructed as additional alternatives to the huge well known station at Daventry, just in case that one should be damaged in an aerial attack.

A 100 kW Marconi transmitter model no. SWB18 was co-sited with the mediumwave station located at Start Point on the south coast of England. This transmitter had been under construction at the time for an unstated foreign government, but when war broke out in the middle of last century, it was taken over for use by the BBC at Start Point.

This shortwave transmitter was on the air on only one frequency, 6075 kHz, under the channel callsign GRR. The informative book BBC Engineering tells us that usage of this transmitter was terminated at the end of the year 1945, and it was "placed under dust sheets".

Over at Lisnagarvey near Belfast, another Marconi transmitter at 100 kW, same model SWB18, was co-sited with a mediumwave transmitter and inaugurated on November 20, 1941 under the channel callsign GRW. This unit was also on the air on only one channel, variously listed as 6140 or 6145 kHz.

Interestingly, an international radio monitor in Australia noted that both units, GRR & GRW, were "heard in team"; that is, they carried parallel programming. This station in Northern Ireland was silenced on May 26, 1946, and the same book, BBC Engineering, states that it was "put under care and maintenance".

The events of radio history suggest to us that it was these two transmitters that were duly re-installed in the new BBC station at Tebrau in Malaya. The first was re-activated in December 1950, and the second was re-activated a month later, in January of the following year, 1951.

In addition, four new Marconi transmitters at 7.5 kW model SWB11E were installed at Tebrau and at least some of these units were placed in service on May 13, 1951. A program relay for various language areas of Asia was transferred from BBC Ekala, Ceylon to BBC Tebrau, Malaya.

Power for the Tebrau station was generated locally with three huge diesel engines. The feeder lines from the transmitters to the antenna systems were clustered more than a mile long, and they gave the appearance of a huge highway running through the dense forest of jungle trees.

BBC programming was phased out via Ekala and transferred in stages to Tebrau beginning at the end of the year 1950. The final BBC broadcasts from Ekala ended on May 12, 1951.

Some 20 years later, a modernization plan was implemented at Tebrau, in the early 1970s, and the 4 low powered transmitters at 7.5 kW were removed and replaced by 4 @ 100 kW and 4 @ 250 kW. However, the 2 older units at 100 kW were still retained, though they were not included in official lists.

However, when the time approached for the expiry of the license for the station, it became clear that it would be necessary for the BBC Far Eastern Relay Station to move once again. All 8 of the new transmitters were moved consecutively to a new station at Kranji on the island of Singapore, and the Tebrau station was finally closed on Sunday, March 18, 1979.

The BBC Far Eastern Relay Station at Tebrau was heard far and wide during its 30 years of service; and yes, in its earlier years of on air activity, special QSL cards verifying the reception of this station were issued from the BBC headquarters in London. In addition, for those who were official BBC monitors, the BBC would type in the brief QSL details, using one of their standard acknowledgment cards.

Next in this story on the BBC Far Eastern Relay Station, we will pick up the events once again, as they occurred on the island of Singapore some 35 years ago. You will hear this information here in Wavescan on another occasion, some time soon.