BBC Radio Station On Board Ship?

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 for a period of five years from January 1 2003. Author: Adrian Peterson

Dring the era when the Voice of America was operating a radio station on board the Coast Guard vessel. “Courier”. the BBC in London announced that they also planned on establishing a radio station on board a ship. This was also at the time when there were several pirate radio stations on board ships in European waters as well as off the coast of New Zealand. This is how it happened.

In the year 1888, mining rights were granted by the Matabele (MAT-a-BEE-lee) people to Cecil Rhodes, a prominent Englishman living in South Africa. Seven years later, the Matabele territory was named Rhodesia in honor of its founder, though ten years later again, England divided the territory into two, Northern Rhodesia and Southern Rhodesia. In 1960, Prime Minister Ian Smith declared unilateral independence for Southern Rhodesia.

Following a long period of turmoil, Southern Rhodesia was finally granted independence from England in 1980 and the name of the country was changed to Zimbabwe. It should also be mentioned that Northern Rhodesia is now known as Zambia.

In 1965, five years after Ian Smith declared independence for his country, the relay of the BBC news from London over the local radio stations in Rhodesia was cancelled. Hurriedly, the BBC erected a new station at Francistown in Bechuanaland. This new and temporary radio station operated with 50 kW on mediumwave and 10 kW on shortwave, and it was inaugurated on the last day of the year 1965.

There was speculation at the time that this new BBC station in Africa was in reality the previous VOA transportable station at Sugarloaf in Florida. VOA Sugarloaf was also a 50 kW mediumwave unit and it disappeared quietly around the same time. The official explanation at the time was that the station was destroyed by a hurricane and bulldozed into a pit, though visitors to the area find no evidence to support this theory.

An additional 50 kW mediumwave transmitter was installed at the Francistown facility a few months later during the year 1966.

Unfortunately, the station was too close to Southern Rhodesia to be effective on shortwave, and in any case, jamming transmitters made reception in the target areas almost impossible. In addition, the host country Bechuanaland was nearing independence as Botswana and it became necessary for the BBC to close this facility.

The final broadcast from the BBC Central African Relay Station was on March 31, 1968 and the entire facility was then donated to Radio Botswana. Entries in subsequent editions of the World Radio TV Handbook would suggest that at least the 10 kW shortwave transmitter was taken into use by Radio Botswana, on the single channel 9590 kHz.

However, in the meantime, the BBC announced plans to establish a radio station on board a ship, though the details of its electronic equipment were not given. It was intended that this ship would anchor in the Mozambique Channel on the east coast of Africa and make its broadcasts into Southern Rhodesia from this seabourne location.

Feedback File:

We now have an updater on this information from several sources, including the website of Dr Martin van der Ven in Germany, offshore-radio

The original plan called for this radio broadcasting station to be established on the aircraft carrier, HMS Leviathan back in 1966. However, this project was diverted to a land based station and site studies were conducted at several islands in the coastal areas off East Africa.

The small coral atoll, Aldabra in the Seychelles, was considered but finally a site was chosen in a swampy area on the west coast of the island of Mahe, the capital island in the Seychelles. This station was launched in 1988 and it replaced the earlier BBC relay stations that had been established in earlier times at Francistown in Bechuanaland, Somaliland, and on the island of Perim.

Time Lines

Year Events
1963 Early VOA Sugarloaf transportable 50 kW 1040 kHz relay VOA Marathon
1965 Radio stations in Southern Rhodesia discontinue relay of BBC news
1965 Fall VOA Sugarloaf gone by autumn 1965; RA512
1965 Portable station flown in and installed at Francistown, Bechuanaland
1965 Dec 30 BBC Central African Relay Station opened, 1 MW, 1 SW
1966 2nd MW transmitter installed
1966 BBC announces plans for ship radio station off Mozambique
1966 Sep 30 Bechuanaland granted independence as Botswana, BBC to move
1968 Mar 31 BBC Francistown closed, donated to Radio Botswana
BBC Ship Radio Station
Location Information & Reference
Southern Rhodesia Political
Southern Rhodesia re-designated as Rhodeisa in 1964; 21WBE 498
Ian Smith declared Rhodesian independence Nov 11, 1965; 21WBE 498
New peace accord signed in 1971 between Rhodesia and England; 21WBE 499/
Bechuanaland Political
in 1895 Britain established Bechuanalnd Protectorate; 2WBE 421
On Sep 30, 1966 Bechuanaland gained independence as Botswana; 2WBE 422

Sugarloaf Florida
VOA transportable early 1963 50 kW 1040 kHz relay VOA Marathon; RA512
Gone by autumn 1965; RA512

Salisbury Radio
Radio station in Salisbury discontinues relay of BBC news; EA 77.14 3-66 133

Francistown, Bechuanaland
BBC hurriedly erects relay station at Francistown; EA 77.14 3-66 133
Francistown is 16 m from Rhodesian border; EA 77.14 3-66 133
New facility was flown in; EA 77.14 3-66 133
Speculation that it was VOA transportable from Sugarloaf Key in Florida; RA372
BBC Central African Relay Station opened 30-12-65; BBCE 460
BBC CARS initially with 1 @ MW @ 1 @ SW; BBCE 460
2nd MW transmitter installed 1966; BBCE 460
MW 980 kHz with 50 kW, SW on 7130 & 5015 kHz; EA 77.14 3-66 133
New station relays BBC World Service and African Service; EA 77.14 3-66 133
BBC Francistown 925 50 kW, SW 10 kW 7295 day & 4842 night; EA 4-66 149
BBC Francistown on 926 MW, 4845 & 7295 SW; EA 77.14 7-66 143
BBC Francistown jammed by Rhodesia;; EA 77.14 7-66 143
BBC Francistown too close to Rhodesia to be effective; EA 77.14 7-66 143
Bechuanaland granted independence 30-9-66, BBC to move; EA 77.14 1-67 117
BBC Francistown still on the air 2 @ MW & 1 @ SW; EA77.14 7-67 149
BBC Francistown 2 @ MW & 1 @ SW; EA 77.14 8-67 161
BBC Francistown closed 31-3-68, donated to Radio Botswana; BBCE 460
Plans to take over BBC Francistown by Radio Botswana; WRTVHB 1967 140
BBC CAR 2 @ 50 kW MW & 1 @ 10 kW SW; WRTVHB 1968 152
Radio Botswana on air 10 kW on former BBC channel 9590; WRTVHB 1969 136

Mozambique Channel
BBC announces plans for ship radio station off Mozambique; EA 77.14 7-66 143

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