Recollections of BBC engineering from 1922 to 1997
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Site Acquisition Section
By Alex Rothney 9/05/09

The Transmitter Engineering Department [later renamed Transmitter Group] has always had the responsibility of acquiring the sites for BBC transmitting stations, in co-operation with the transmitter installation, and building and legal departments.

This was true with the enormous increase of sites needed to fulfil the changeover from VHF to UHF. Far more stations were required because the coverage from a UHF transmitter is very much less than from a VHF transmitter of the same power.

To cope for the extra work, a new section was created, Site Acquisition Section. Initially it had three senior engineers, two junior engineers and two secretaries, but later another senior engineer, two more secretaries and an office clerk were added.

An innovation was that there was an agreement that the BBC and the ITA would share all the UHF stations. SAS would acquire sites for half of the stations, and an equivalent new section in the ITA would acquire the remainder. Each body would provide its own transmitting equipment, but the aerial system and transmitter building for both would be provided by the body acquiring the site. The UK was divided up into areas for each authority.

The BBC Research Department decided where the transmitters should be located.

One of the SAS Senior Engineers was Head of Section and he would decided who would deal with each RD recommendation. The site engineer would then arrange to visit the proposed site, usually using his own car, or a hire car. With distant sites sometimes the journey could be made by rail or air and hire car. On the first visit a field strength meter and portable aerial would have to taken, along with maps, a camera, a compass, binoculars and perhaps an altimeter, (Wot! No Satnav?) hence the need for car transport.

The RD recommended site would be located, and an initial judgment made. It might have been built over, or be at the end of an airport runway, etc One example is where there was a small hill between the proposed site and the area to be served, but this did not appear on the O.S. map because the top of the hill had not penetrated the next contour boundary.

If the site was considered suitable, its ownership had to be found, and negotiations started. If they failed, a search would be made for an alternative. A purchase was preferred, otherwise a long lease with a right to renew. All would be subject to satisfactory reception and planning consent, and also approved by the Director of Engineering, which was virtually automatic. Photographs were taken of the site and access.

The planning authority needed to be sounded out. If all went well the site finder returned to base and arranged for full reception tests on the site, carried out by the junior engineers with, originally, a Land-Rover with a telescopic mast and measuring equipment. There must be high quality reception from a parent station. Later SAS was equipped with a Mercedes Unimog, a larger and more effective cross country vehicle.

An “Event 20” document, giving full details of the site was then produced and copies sent to Research Department, Transmitter Planning & Installation Department, Building Department, the BBC Solicitor and the ITA,. Also, an Application for Outline Planning Consent was made by the site finder.

In the event of planning consent being refused, an application would be made for a Planning Inquiry. The site finder would become the expert witness, and a barrister appointed.

Occasionally site finders attended public meetings to explain BBC needs.

Monthly progress reports on each site were issued to all concerned

Site Acquisition Section became so successful that its services were sought in acquiring facilities for setting up other radio facilities, such as finding sites for local radio transmitting stations or direct point to point radio links, and other matters concerning land such matters of rights of way at Rampisham, which resulted in a public inquiry with a satisfactory outcome.

Radio users, other than BBC, often applied for aerial space on BBC aerial masts and towers. Provided Building Dept gave its approval to the mast/tower loading, SAS negotiated the terms.

When Libya decided to have a television service in 1965, it sought guidance from the BBC. BBC engineers were involved in all aspects of training and construction work, including an SAS site finder being sent out to establish sites for several high power and low power TV transmitting stations.


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