BBC Masirah Relay
|This article was first broadcast on Adventist World radio and now forms part of the Radio Heritage Collection ©. All rights reserved to Ragusa Media Group, PO Box 14339, Wellington, New Zealand. This material is licenced on a non-exclusive basis to South Pacific DX Resource hosted on radiodx.com for a period of five years from January 1 2003. Author: Adrian Peterson|
An Island for a Radio Station
The island of Masirah (ma-SEE-ra) is a picturesque, though quite barren island, just 15 miles off the coast of Oman (o-MAHN) on the south-eastern tip of the Arabian peninsula. The island was named “Masirah” by Admiral Nearchos (nee-AR-kos) who was a fleet leader with the armies of Alexander the Great.
The island itself is pear-shaped, just 40 miles long and 10 miles wide, with the narrowest point just 5 miles wide. The island is sandy and barren though there are scenes of beauty inland. There is an abundance of wildllfe on Masirah with unique turtles and tortoises and birds, and also a spectacular coral reef just offshore.
The island was un-inhabited right throughout history until military installations were constructed less than 100 years ago. At its full potential, there can be a population as high as 30,000 personnel on the island.
This unusual island, which is little more than a military staging facility, was bought from the government of Oman by the British government specifically so that the BBC could establish a large international radio station on it.
In earlier times, the BBC had established mediumwave stations on Perim Island Aden, and at Berbera in Somalia. However, both of these stations were closed due to changing political circumstances in the area.
There was need for a large BBC station to cover the Gulf region and so work began on the construction of a two transmitter facility on the island of Masirah. The first transmitter was placed into regular service on June 1, 1969, and the second unit became operational a few months later, early in the following year 1970.
These two transmitters, each rated at 750 kW, radiated BBC programming in English, Arabic and other regional languages on two widely separated mediumwave channels, 700 & 1410 kHz, with at times slight variations. At one stage, test broadcasts were also radiated on 1320 kHz.
On June 13, 1977, a hurricane swept through the area lasting four days, and damaging at the BBC station mainly the antenna systems and buildings. It took six months to re-activate the 700 kHz transmitter, and another year again to re-activate the 1410 kHz transmitter. During the interim period, additional shortwave transmissions were beamed into the coverage areas from BBC facilities at other sites.
However, at the time when the devastating hurricane struck the area, work had already commenced on a large new shortwave station some five miles distant. A total of four transmitters at 100 kW were installed at this facility, the first of which was inaugurated in September 1978. The additional units were progressively phased into service and the station became fully operational early in the year 1979. The shortwave station was operated under remote control from the mediumwave station.
Initially, programming was provided to the BBC Masirah on large tapes sent out by ship & by plane, and by off-air relays from the BBC station located on another island, Cyprus in the Mediterranean. The BBC receiver station on Masirah was located at an electrically quiet area some distance from both the mediumwave and shortwave transmitting stations. A program feed by satellite from London was implemented in 1981.
In more recent time, a replacement radio station, both mediumwave and shortwave, has been constructed in Oman on the mainland, and the transfer of programming from the old station on Masirah Island to the new station on the mainland began in August earlier this year. According to an email news item from Wolfgang Bueschel (BUSH-el) in Germany, the final broadcast from the BBC Masirah was concluded at 21:59 UTC on October 7. The last transmitter was on the air on 6030 kHz for its final broadcast.
The loud voice of the BBC Masirah is now silent, the station is off the air. It has been replaced by the new station on the Omani mainland. Masirah will be remembered by millions of listeners in the Gulf areas, and by multitudes of DXers around the world, some of whom are fortunate enough to hold QSL cards and letters from this now silent radio station.
The new BBC Station in Oman
The encyclopaedia tells us that Oman is a small country located on the south eastern tip of the Arabian peninsula. The total area is less than 100,000 square miles and the total population is estimated to be in excess of one million people. Arabic is the official language
The New Omani Site
Oman is described as one of the hottest places on earth with one of the lowest rainfalls. The temperature can rise to 130 degrees Fahrenheit, 54 degrees Celsius, and the rainfall is around six inches per year.
Much of inland Oman is a desolate sandy wilderness where nothing grows, though there is an abundance of underground petroleum reserves. In coastal areas, fishing is an important way of life.
European influence began some six hundred years ago when Portugal took over the territory that is now Oman. However, in 1798 the British signed an agreement with the local rulers and Britain has maintained a close relationship with Oman since that time.
Work commenced on the new radio station at A’Seela (ah-SAY-la), near Al Ashkarah (AHSH-KAR-a) in March 2000. This facility houses three shortwave transmitters at 250 kW made by Thomcast, and two mediumwave transmitters at 800 kW. There is also a rotatabale shortwave antenna at this new station.
This new station is owned by the BBC and it was built by Merlin who are also managing the facility. It was designed and constructed as a replacement for the station on Masirah Island which is more than 30 years old.
The phase over of programming from the old station at Masirah to the new station on the Omani mainland began in August, earlier this year. The final transfer of all programming to the new station occured at the beginning of the new broadcast day on October 8.
The rugged old station on Masirah Island is now silent, but the new station at Al Ashkarah is now on the air loud and clear.
BBC Relay Stations – Masirah Island
Station Year Date Event
Mediumwave 1969 June 1 1st transmitter inaugurated
1970 2nd transmitter inaugurated
1970’s Off air, negotiations with Oman government
1973 1410/1412 unit retuned temporarily to 1320
1977 June 13 4 day hurricane antennas buildings damaged
1978 Jan 1410/1412 transmitter re-activated
1979 Jan 14 700/701 transmitter re-activated
1979 Nov 23 New allocations 702 & 1413 kHz
Shortwave Station 1978 Sep 1st SW transmitter inaugurated
1978 Transmitters 2 @ 3 activated
1979 Early 4th transmitter activated
2002 Aug Phase over to A’Seela begins
2002 Oct 7 Final broadcast closes at 21:59:30 on 6030
BBC Relay Stations – Masirah Island
Station Information & Reference
Description of Masirah Island; RMI 215
40 miles long 10 miles wide shaped like hour glass narrowest 5 miles; Website
15 miles off coast of Oman; Website
Named by Admiral Nearchos, with Alexander the Great; Website
Uninhabited until military installations constructed in 20th century; Website
Up to 30,000 inhabitants at full potential military usage; Website
Wildlife, turtle, tortoise, spectacular coral reef, scenic views inland; Website
Island bought by British government to establish BBC relay station; RA372
Island bought by British government to establish BBC relay station; EA 9-73 114
BBC Masirah – Mediumwave Station
Earlier MW stations Berbera Somalia & Perim near Aden; RA211
New HP MW station soon on Masirah; EA 2-68 147
New BBC station; 82.4 Yellow 3
Replacing Perim which replaced Somaliland 701; EA 2-68 147
5 miles distant from SW station; RMI215
Eastern Relay Station opened to Gulf areas 1.5 MW June 1, 1969; BBCE 454
1st transmitter 750 kW began June 1 1969; RMI215
QSLs for both transmitters received in NZ; EA 77.14 9-69 180
2nd transmitter 750 kW began 1970; RMI215
2 MW at 750 kW 700 & 701 and 1410 & 1412 depending on direction; RMI8
Considering new channels; R&H 79.17 5-73 118
1410 moved to 1412; EA 79.17 6-73 118
1410/1402 transmitter on 1320 kHz for a while during 1973; RA372
1410/1402 transmitter on 1320 kHz for a while during 1973; EA 79.17 9-73 114
Hurricane June 13 1977 damaged the station; RMI121
Off air few months early 1970’s negotiations local government; RMI215 & RA211
Antennas and buildings damaged by cyclone June 13, 1977; RMI215
Additional SW transmissions at other locations on fill-in basis; RMI215
1410/1412 will return in few weeks, 700/701 after few months; RMI121
MW station will be re-activated early in New Year 1978; RMI128
1410/1412 1st re-activated AMP heard in Maldive Islands Jan 1978; RMI215
Allocated to 702 & 1413 kHz Nov 23, 1978; RA211
700.701 re-activated Jan 14 1979; RMI 215
New satellite relay system to Cyprus & Masirah installed; BDXC 1981
BBC Masirah – Shortwave Station
5 miles distant from MW station; RMI215
SW station remote controlled from MW station; RA211
SW station under construction; EA 79.17 4-76 113
Several SW transmitters under installation 1977; RMI121
Harris 4 @ 100 kW SW100 installed 1978; TDP98 42
4 @ 100 kW under installation during repair of MW station; RMI215
1st SW transmitter will be activated in early part 1978; RMI128
1st SW transmitter activated mid-1978, entered service Sept; RMI215
BBC Masirah sign on 17770 0900 local sign on; NZDXT 10-78
3 transmitters in service by Dec 1978; RMI215
4th transmitter activated early 1979; RMI215
New satellite relay system to Cyprus & Masirah; BDXC 1981
Local address for possible QSLs; PC 1-84 18
Phase over to A’Seela began early Aug 2002; Email bulletin, Titarev Bueschel
Final broadcast closed at 21:59:30 on October 7 2002 on 6030 kHz; Email news
BBC Masirah – Receiver Station
Some distance from both MW & SW stations; RA211
New BBC Relay Station – Oman
Station Information & Reference
Description of Oman; 14WBE Oman
BBC A’Seela, Al Ashkarah – Shortwave & Mediumwave Station
Owned by BBC, Merlin construction oversight & management; Merlin website
Work commenced March 2000; Website
2 MW @ 800 kW & 3 SW @ 250 kW Thomcast ; Merlin website
Rotatable SW antenna; Merlin website
Phase over from Masirah began early Aug 2002; Email bulletin, Titarev Bueschel
Al Ashkarah 4 @ 300 kW installed 1997; TDP98 42
Final broadcast Masirah ended 21:59:30 October 7 2002 6030 kHz; Email news