The BBC’s Atlantic Relay Station on Ascension Island celebrates its 50th anniversary this July. Operated by Babcock since 1997, the station’s unique location in the South Atlantic Ocean, 1,600 km from Africa and 2,250 km from South America, makes it an essential link in the overseas relay network operated by Babcock on behalf of the BBC.
Since its launch, the Atlantic Relay Station has been crucial in broadcasting BBC World Service programmes to Africa and South America. The station made its first short wave transmission of BBC programmes on July 3rd, 1966, just days before England won the World Cup football final.
Originally a BBC presenter was based at the site to make live announcements before playing pre-recorded programmes shipped from London. Later the station relayed short wave transmissions fed from the Daventry transmitter in the UK using unadvertised side-band frequencies. In the early 1980s, these were replaced by satellite feeds which provided listeners with studio quality audio for the first time.
The station remains as important as ever, broadcasting over 250 hours of programmes every week, in English, French, Hausa and Somali. Africa currently provides one of the BBC’s largest radio audiences in the world with nearly 66 million listeners every week—many tuning in to transmissions made from this 88 km2 island in the South Atlantic.
To celebrate the station’s 50th anniversary, at midday on Sunday, August 28th, 2016 there will be a special short wave digital broadcast using Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM). DRM is an international digital radio standard designed by broadcasters in co-operation with transmitter and receiver manufacturers. Both Babcock and the BBC are founding members of the DRM Consortium that is promoting this high quality digital technology to replace analogue radio transmission in the AM and FM bands.
The station remains as important as ever, broadcasting over 250 hours of programmes every week, in English, French, Hausa and Somali.
Neale Bateman, Babcock