The Radio Scene in the Isles of Scilly

The county of Cornwall is located at the south west tip of England; it is the last visible land of the English mainland when traveling by sea from England across the Atlantic to North America; and it is an area of important Roman history back two thousand years ago. In ancient times, the Cornish language was spoken locally, a Celtic language that is similar to the Gaelic languages of Ireland, Scotland and Wales, as well as the Isle of Man bareton. In recent time, the usage of the Cornish language, which became extinct nearly two hundred and fifty years ago, has been reinstituted, and some schools are now providing classes in revived Cornish.

Some thirty miles out west from Land’s End at the tip of the Cornish peninsular lie the Isles of Scilly, an archipelago of 140 islands, 5 of of which are inhabited. These Atlantic islands operate under their own separate local authority as part of the county of Cornwall, their main industry is tourism, and their main export is cut flowers (in particular daffodils) for the London market.

Scenes from the Isles of Scilly in 2012. © Radio Heritage Foundation – Chris Mackerell Collection

According to the local historians, a Marconi wireless station was installed at the Telegraph Tower on the island of St. Mary’s, the major island in the Isles of Scilly, in 1898. The earliest known callsign was TVP, and this location was in continuous usage for wireless and radio communication up until the end of World War 2.

In December 1904, the underwater cable between the Isles of Scilly and the English mainland at Penzance in Cornwall malfunctioned. Communication between the islands and the mainland was taken over by the navy-operated Marconi-equipped wireless station at Telegraph Tower on St Mary’s Island.

Vintage postcard showing the Marconi Station, St Mary’s. Image: worthpoint.com

At 1:30 am on April 18, 1910, the passenger liner SS Minnehaha, callsign MMA, ran aground on rocks in the Scilly Isles while en route across the Atlantic from New York to London. The wireless distress signal in Morse Code was heard at Falmouth, and three tugs were sent out to aid the stricken liner, which was ultimately refloated.

The Scilly radio & TV tower in 2012.
© Radio Heritage Foundation – Chris Mackerell Collection

A combination radio TV retransmission system is now installed near the Telegraph Tower as a relay facility for BBC radio and TV programming from the mainland. A local community FM station was inaugurated on September 3, 2007, with 100 watts on 107.9 MHz under the identification slogan Radio Scilly. The station call was changed to Islands FM on February 1, 2020.

Radio Scilly 107.9 recorded in 2012
© Radio Heritage Foundation
Chris Mackerell Collection

This feature was written by Adrian Peterson and originally aired on Adventist World Radio’s “Wavescan” DX program of October 10, 2021

In 2012 you could travel to the Isles of Scilly by scheduled helicopter services from Penzance.
© Radio Heritage Foundation – Chris Mackerell Collection

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