UK Broadcast Transmission
Main indexMain GalleryFeaturesInfo
Send in your photosMailing listsFAQsContact
The LibraryTeletextMHPTBS


   © Written by Alan Drury

Alan Drury relates how he joined Transmitter Department and recalls how much he enjoyed his job. This article complements the other Holme Moss site files in the mb21 TX Gallery which can be viewed here

I started with BBC Transmitter Group after finishing my HND in Electrical and Electronic Engineering at Sheffield City Polytechnic (Now Sheffield Hallam University) in 1982. I was already a Radio Amateur and liked playing with transmitters so booking an interview with them at the 'Milk Round' recruitment fair seemed a logical thing to do.

I remember the interview well. I was shown to a tiny box room with one small table, two chairs and an expressionless guy in a suit. He never smiled or returned any courtesy whatever. For forty minutes he tossed cards onto the table with circuits and diagrams on them. "What would be the voltage at this point?" he demanded. "How could you improve the frequency response of this amplifier?" "Why won't this oscillator work?" There was no feedback on whether I was right or wrong, he'd just look at me stone-faced for a few seconds then toss down the next card. Once or twice, when I knew full well I was right, he stopped and said pointedly, "Are you sure?" "Yes", I said, now feeling anything but. Again, no feedback, just a few more seconds of silence then out would come the next card and on it would go. I walked out of there thinking "Well, I never really wanted that stupid job anyway", and was surprised to be called to London for a second interview and offered a start as a Direct Entry Engineer. This meant I only had to do a year's training unlike the apprentices who had to do three full years to qualify as a Transmitter Engineer (TE).

Training consisted of two residential courses at the BBC Training Centre at Wood Norton plus periods on operational stations, Daventry for HF and Sutton Coldfield for TV, for hands-on experience. I took the Daventry photos while training there.

Having qualified I did several long sessions at Holme Moss which was my base location. I was on staff there when the ice fell and took some more photos. I saw the old VHF FM transmitters replaced by the new,, I personally switched off the old Band I TV transmitter for the very last time and watched the completion of the new mast. Holme Moss was a lot of fun, struggling in through the snow, frequent trips across to Emley Moor and up the concrete tower, the view from the top on a good day was incredible. I also went on the road with the mobile teams to the many relays across the extensive Holme Moss patch. These were invariably at the top of a hill in some farmer's field, up a track so rough the Range Rover could barely make it. Up there you'd find a mast with a concrete blockhouse at the base housing the equipment and a very basic cesspit toilet. Sometimes we had to visit to open up for the cesspit tanker to pump these out. We did so one day then pushed off to the pub for lunch while the driver did his thing. On our return the field stank, having been coated in a foul brown slurry with what looked suspiciously like bits of toilet paper dotted here and there. My colleague demanded an explanation. "Well," said the cesspit man, "I did the job and was on my way down when the farmer offered me an extra twenty to spray it on his field rather than take it away. Seemed a shame to waste good fertiliser...." We went home quickly and nothing more was ever said. These remote sites varied from tiny to huge and modern to archaic. I remember the medium wave transmitter for Radio Sheffield which looked like it had been salvaged out of some ancient wartime vessel and quite possibly had. I also remember the site at Idle. This was next to a maggot farm and one hot summer we arrived to find a broken window in the maggot shed and the air thick with thousands of flies...

As a newly qualified engineer you initially went onto what was called the Reserve Pool. This meant you had a base location but the BBC could move you around the country as needed to fill gaps elsewhere. This arrangement saw me do two deployments at Moorside Edge, the Medium Wave national radio transmitter perched on the Pennine hills beside the M62. Here again I saw the old replaced by the new, the massive old valve station with its motor-generator power supplies and magnificent diesel generators giving way to the new building with its rows of solid state rectangular grey boxes. What also went in that transition were the massive Yorkshire roast dinners, where the entire staff would sit together round a huge polished wooden table with crockery, cutlery and a massive silver teapot all emblazoned with the BBC logo. Pre-packed sandwiches and a mug of tea never quite worked after that.

Another deployment I did was in the depths of winter to the HF station at Skelton, near Penrith. A colleague and I rented a nearby stone farm cottage which was absolutely freezing and only had coin-fed electricity so it stayed that way much of the time. The shortwave stations run 24x7 so night shifts and other unearthly working patterns were the norm. Senders (nobody knows why they didn't just call them transmitters) came on and off air constantly at different times and had to be wave-changed by physically swapping the huge coils, still hot from the last run. You then had to set them up ready for their next use, tune them and test them before dropping them finally into auto so the scheduler could pick them up. And on top of that sometimes there would be an almighty bang and you'd have to start fault-finding while quickly re-wavechanging a couple of senders you'd already done to fill the gap, while also keeping up with the rest of the schedule, and all of this at 3am. The work itself was great but I hated the night shifts and always finished each block of them with an upset stomach as I just couldn't seem to physically adjust.

We were assured we would be in the Reserve Pool for around twelve months, no more, definitely not more than eighteen months at the absolute outside and then they would fix us up with a permanent role at our base location so we could settle down. Unfortunately though, they didn't come through..

My entire entry were kept on the pool the whole time and I'd been on it not far short of five years when I finally packed it in. The job was the best job ever, I loved it, but being phoned on a Wednesday night and told you were in Scotland on Monday for four months when you're not long married with a young child and another on the way just wasn't sustainable. Meetings were held and promises made and excuses given, but as time went on I saw my entry of 22 engineers dwindle as people left for better things, and by the time I went only four of us remained. It was a real shame, but I guess the writing for Transmitter Group was already on the wall though we didn't know and couldn't see the bigger picture at the time. Today there is no Transmitter Group, it's all outsourced and run by third-party companies, so I hope my recollections here provide a glimpse into what it was like to be part of a little piece of British history that is now gone forever.

Home Moss TX page

Features | Top o' t' Moss

mb21 by Mike Brown
Hosted by Astrohosts