Sunday, March 15, 2015


The book On Air is available on this web site in the form of two PDF files: On Air Text and On Air Pictures, as well as the cover shown below.

The text file retains the format of the printed book and it is displayed in the top left part of each A4 page.  This makes it possible to print (not recommended) and to read easily off screen. On a desktop/laptop it is best to download the files and use Adobe Reader.  Set the magnification so that the text of a page just fits on the screen, then use the right (and left) arrow to change page.  On an iPad adjust the size to fill the screen, then scroll.  An App such as iBooks makes it easier to move to other pages, but the text of each page needs to be magnified to fill the screen.  I have not found a way of re-formatting the PDF file overcome this problem - advice welcome!

Brief description of the book:
The BBC's services were broadcast by its own transmitters from 1922 until 1997 - a lifetime.  Thousands of people were involved in transmitting* the programmes and hundreds of millions of people benefited through the information, education and entertainment that they received.

 *The process of transmitting the programmes involved researching, planning, designing, specifying, acquiring, making, operating, maintaining and managing large and complex engineering facilities.
The book On Air celebrates a lifetime of achievement in the world of broadcast transmission engineering and includes many anecdotes from the lives of people involved.  100 hardback and 500 paperback editions of On Air were printed in June 2003 and they were all sold by early 2004.  A re-print was made available in January 2006 and they sold out in February 2009.

The idea for On Air arose in 1997 when BBC Transmission was privatised and two new companies were formed: called Crown Castle and Merlin Communications.  It was the end of an era and a natural point for reflection on past achievements.  The result is a book of some 80,000 words, edited by Norman Shacklady and Martin Ellen.

The tower at Crystal Palace (as shown on the front of the book) is a well known landmark in south London, but it is only one of around 1400 sites used for the broadcasting of BBC services. Masts and towers are the most obvious aspect of BBC Transmission, but visitors are usually amazed at the size and complexity of the associated infrastructure.

In the beginning there were medium wave domestic radio services, but these were followed by higher quality stereo VHF/FM services, data services such as RDS and digital radio.

Television developed from 405 to 625 lines, then colour, teletext and NICAM stereo sound, followed by digital television.

"Short wave" overseas broadcasting started with UK based medium power transmitters that needed many staff to operate them and developed into a worldwide network of high power transmitting stations with fully automatic operation.

This book describes the technological and organizational developments that took place, but over half of the book is devoted to the personal reminiscences of the people involved.  They were geographically spread, but there was a tremendous sense of community and the unusual aspects of the work generated many stories. These stories are best told over a pint of beer and this was often the case, but many people felt that it would be worth trying to get some of the anecdotes into a book, so here it is............