Babcock International Airs Special DRM Transmission to Mark 50 Years of BBC Broadcasts from Ascension Island

Babcock International Airs Special DRM Transmission to Mark 50 Years of BBC Broadcasts from Ascension Island

The BBC’s Atlantic Relay Station on Ascension Island, operated by Babcock since 1997, celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. The first short wave transmission of BBC programmes was made on July 3rd 1966, just days before England won the World Cup football final, and the same year as NASA opened a satellite ground control station on the island for the Apollo moon programme.

That weekend in August, the station’s staff and guests celebrated the station’s 50th birthday with a number of social events to mark the occasion, including a family open day, exhibitions and party. On Sunday at midday, there was also be a special digital broadcast on short wave using DRM – Digital Radio Mondiale – an international digital radio standard designed by broadcasters in co-operation with transmitter and receiver manufacturers. As a founding members of the DRM Consortium, both Babcock and the BBC fully support this high quality digital technology to replace analogue radio transmission in the AM and FM bands.

The location and environment of Ascension Island in the South Atlantic makes it unique amongst the overseas relay stations operated by Babcock on behalf of the BBC, and it as critical now to delivering programmes to millions of radio listeners in Africa as it was back in 1966.  In its early days, a BBC presenter was based at the transmitter site and made live announcements prior to playing out pre-recorded programmes shipped from London. At other times, the station relayed short wave transmissions from the UK, fed to Ascension from Daventry in the UK using “unadvertised” side-band frequencies. These were replaced by satellite feeds in the early 1980’s, which provided studio quality audio for the first time.

Since its launch, the Atlantic Relay station has broadcast BBC World Service programmes to two continents – Africa and South America, and to this day, continues to broadcast over 250 programme hours every week to East and West Africa in English, French, Hausa and Somali. Africa has some of the BBC’s largest radio audiences in the world; with nearly 66m* listeners every week tuning in to transmissions from this tiny rock in the South Atlantic Ocean!

[*audience figures are combined English/French/Hausa/Somali, BBC Global Audience Measure, 2016]

Neale Bateman, Babcock International