Designed to serve most of the South West of
England and South Wales, the West Regional Transmitting Station at Washford
Cross, was the fourth built as part of the BBC's 'Regional Scheme' and was
opened in May 1933.
The BBC's first Chief Engineer, Capt.
P.P.Eckersley originally proposed the Regional Scheme around 1924, the
intention being to replace the existing low-power transmitters serving
major towns and cities with high-power stations that would cover whole
regions of the British Isles. The limited number of wavelengths available
made coverage of the entire country impossible with low-powered stations
as synchronisation of transmitter wavelengths to the required degree of
accuracy was not possible at the time.
The Scheme started with the opening, in 1929,
of a twin transmitter station at Brookmans Park to serve London and the
South East of England. This was followed by similar stations for the North
Region in 1931, the Scottish Region in 1932 and the West Region in 1933.
The West Regional station housed two 50
kilowatt transmitters designed for the Regional Scheme by BBC engineers
and manufactured by Marconi's Wireless Telegraph Co. at Chelmsford. They
fed aerials attached to two 152m (500ft) high masts, one radiating the
'National Programme' and the other, the new 'West Regional Programme'. By
the time the National transmitter became operational, the synchronisation
of transmitter wavelengths to the accuracy required to avoid reception
problems in regions of service area overlap, had become possible. The
National transmitters of Washford and Brookmans Park became the first
high-power transmitters to share a wavelength.
By 1937, with the National Programme being
easily available from the Droitwich transmitter, this service was
discontinued from Washford and a new 'Welsh Regional Programme' was begun.
However, coverage of the West Regional Programme was not as good
throughout the South West of England as had been hoped and new stations at
Clevedon near Bristol and Start Point on the south coast took over the
West Regional service in 1939.
At the outbreak of World War Two, Washford,
along with other BBC transmitters broadcast only the 'Home Service', but
later the 'Forces Programme' was broadcast at various times also. With a
return to peacetime programming, Washford broadcast the Welsh Home Service
from July 1945.
In 1949, the building was modified and
extended to accommodate a new Standard Telephones and Cables CM10
transmitter. This unit consisted of two 100kW transmitters capable of
being operated in parallel and replaced one of the original Marconi
'Regional' transmitters. One half of the CM10 took over broadcasting the
Welsh Home Service in March 1950.
On 30th September 1967, the BBC launched its
'Popular Music Programme', Radio 1 and this was broadcast from the other
half of the CM10 transmitter.
On the same day the Welsh Home Service
was renamed Radio 4 Wales the name changing again to Radio Wales in
Towards the end of the 1970's the whole
station was re-engineered for unattended operation and virtually all the
original equipment was scrapped.
Three new air-cooled Marconi
transmitters were installed in the former Machine Room for Radio Wales on
882kHz (100kW), Radio 1 on 1089kHz (50kW) and Radio 3 on 1215kHz (50kW).
The front half of the building was no longer required by the BBC but was
saved from demolition when the whole station was given Grade 2 listing by
English Heritage in 1984. Various schemes were put forward for use of the
redundant Transmitter Hall, Control Rooms and offices including plans for
a swimming pool and, in August 1986, a Trust House Forte restaurant in the
grounds. However, the building remained empty until, in August 1987,
planning permission was granted for conversion to a tourist attraction
containing animals, tropical plants, children's' playground and caf
facilities. The Tropiquaria opened to the public in May 1989 with heating
provided by waste air from the transmitter cooling system in the adjacent
part of the building. The Radio Museum (Wireless in the West), designed to
give visitors an idea of the building's history and purpose, opened in
Early in 1993, the BBC gave up use of the 1215kHz
frequency which was taken over by Virgin Radio in April. They replaced the
Marconi transmitter with a more efficient Harris DX50 unit. The 1089kHz
frequency was given up in July 1994 and taken over a few weeks later by
Talkradio UK who also replaced their Marconi transmitter with a Harris
In March 1997, all the BBC's domestic
transmitting stations were taken over by Castle Transmission International
(later to become Crown Castle UK Ltd.).