Recollections of BBC engineering from 1922 to 1997
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I first met Ron Johnson in the mid-1960s at Washford Transmitting Station. As a member of the regional mobile maintenance team I was not part of his staff, but this most gentlemanly of men could not have been more helpful and supportive. Deeply interested in all aspects of the work of Transmission Group, Ron delighted in any unusual technical problems we encountered and was readily available to offer a helping hand. His knowledge was extensive, his enthusiasm infectious, and he was particularly generous with his time. In later years I was to discover the value and extent of the contribution he made to the work of Transmission Head Office.

Ronald Oliver Johnson was born in Lichfield, Staffordshire, in 1917. After serving as a Wireless Officer in the Merchant Marine he joined the BBC at the Penmon Transmitting Station on Anglesey. He subsequently spent a number of years at Brookmans Park and this is where he met his wife Daphne, who was secretary to the Engineer-in-Charge. His next move was to the Woofferton Transmitting Station, where he broadened his experience into short wave techniques, and this was followed by his appointment as a Senior Maintenance Engineer at Westerglen in Scotland. Staff employed on the night shifts at Westerglen did not experience a quiet time on Ron’s watch. He took full advantage of the break in transmissions to carry out maintenance and explore the station’s equipment. Not every member of his shift was happy with the energetic activity that ensued but younger engineers benefited considerably from the training and experience provided on Ron’s night shifts. His technical skills, his ability to relate easily with his staff and to motivate them, and his cordial relationships with staff in other parts of the BBC and with outside contacts, inevitably led to further promotion, and in 1962 he was appointed Assistant Engineer-in-Charge at Washford. Two years later he became the Engineer-in-Charge. During his tenure Washford Transmitting Station, its equipment, and the surrounding land and gardens were maintained to a very high standard. Ron took great pride in this and was, not surprisingly, disappointed when, following his retirement in 1978, the station was modernised, the staff removed, and the grounds and gardens became sadly neglected.

Despite his disappointment Ron was happy to return to Washford when the Wireless in the West Museum was established in part of the old transmitter buildings. He was, of course, the ideal person to advise and assist the new curator and the museum is still there today. His contribution to the BBC also continued beyond his retirement with the commission from Transmission Head Office to write and produce a detailed technical handbook on long and medium-wave transmitter equipment. This was accepted with relish and completed on time and with his customary thoroughness. He did, in fact, remain involved with technical matters for much of his retirement and he was, for many years, the source of information and inspiration for the authors of historical articles on technical equipment and systems. The response to these authors, a number of whom were his protégés, was provided quickly and usually with a sprinkling of highly relevant anecdotes. Away from engineering Ron was a keen gardener and, for many years, an active member of the Rotary Club of the Quantocks. He was the Club’s President in 1975/6 and his outstanding service was recognised in 1993 when he was presented with the Paul Harris Fellowship Award by the Rotary Club of Houston, Texas. He was justifiably proud of this award.

Ron Johnson died on 1 April, aged 92, and is survived by Daphne, his wife for more than 60 years, and their three children, Anthony, Susan, and Lesley.

Bert Gallon.


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