Independent Television in the Channel Islands


The engineering skill behind bringing ITV to the islands

Tom Robson
Tom Robson, OBE, Director of Engineering at the Independent Broadcasting Authority

THE Independent Television Authority was brought into being by the Television Act of 1954 and was given the function to provide television broadcasting services, additional to those of the British Broadcasting Corporation and of a high quality, both as to the transmission and as to the matter transmitted, for so much of the United Kingdom, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands as may from time to time be reasonably practicable.

The service to be provided was that of monochrome pictures transmitted on 405 lines on a band of frequencies which had not previously been used for broadcast purposes, and this commenced with the opening of the London transmitting station at Croydon on the 22nd September, 1955.

Other stations were opened to serve major population areas of the mainland, but it was to be almost seven years before Independent Television was extended to the Channel Islands.

One of the main reasons for this delay was the problem facing the Authority of establishing a link between the mainland and the Islands by means of which mainland originated programmes could be sent to the Islands for rebroadcast locally to supplement those produced in the Islands by Channel Television, the contractor appointed by the Authority.

This problem was finally resolved in the setting up of a receiving station by the British Post Office on Alderney, the nearest point to the mainland, to receive ‘off-air’ transmissions from existing Authority transmitting stations in Cornwall, Devon and on the Isle of Wight.

These signals were then sent across to Jersey on a micro-wave link to be received at Fremont Point, the transmitting station set up by the Authority to serve the Islands, before passing them on a cable to Channel Television Studios in St Helier.

The output from the studio which could be either their locally produced programmes and advertisements, or the ‘network’ programmes brought over from the mainland, were then sent on a second cable to Fremont Point for transmission to local audience.

The service continued in this form until, following the introduction in 1969 of the Authority’s colour transmissions to the new standard of 625 lines, the decision was taken to extend this service to the Islands.

It was accepted then that it would be necessary to reengineer the link between the mainland and the Islands to handle the more critical wide-band colour signals and to improve on the reliability and quality of the picture signals which had been transmitted on the original monochrome service.

The British Post Office were no longer responsible for the receiving station on Alderney and it was therefore necessary for the Authority to carry out this work themselves.

This work included the complete re-equipping of the receiving station for operation on Band IV, Channel 23, to receive off-air colour signals from the Authority’s Stockland Hill transmitting station in Devon, replacement of the micro-wave link between Alderney and Fremont Point, installation of a new aerial system, buildings and transmitters at Fremont Point, and the building and installation of a new station at Les Touillets, Guernsey.

The employment of high quality solid state equipment designed for long life and unattended operation was a basic pre-requisite in the design philosophy applied to these projects.

One such area on which considerable development work was undertaken was in the design of a unique computer controlled aerial receiving system installed on Alderney to pick up the mainland originated network programmes, which has the ability to alter its electrical characteristics to reject interference from unwanted stations.

A second aerial system is employed on Alderney, spaced some distance away from the other aerial to give a measure of diversity in reception to meet fading conditions as they arise.

There is a large element of duplication of equipment to reduce the possibility of complete breakdowns of the service to an absolute minimum.

In parallel with the development work and installation on Alderney there was work to do in providing the accommodation and equipment for transmitting stations on Jersey and on Guernsey, and work in this direction commenced with the necessary extensions to Fremont Point in January, 1975.

A man sits at a control desk
John Mitchell at the controls of the then Independent Television Authority’s Fremont Point Station

It was necessary also to provide accommodation for the BBC who, under a nationally agreed plan would move into Authority sites on the Islands to share our facilities.

Most important of those facilities is the transmitting aerial system at the top of our masts from which all of the television services, IBA or BBC, are radiated.

The advantages of this is that viewers need only one receiving aerial to feed their receiver, pointing in the general direction of the transmitting station, to receive ITV, BBC 1, BBC 2, or Channel Four programmes.

All of this installation work was carried out over a six month period to be completed in April, 1976. This was followed by a period of colour transmissions for the benefit of trade and public alike, the colour service being opened officially by Lady Plowden, then Chairman of the IBA, on Monday, 26th July, 1976.

This however was not the end of the story as coverage from transmitting stations in Band IV and V is not as great as that of Band III and it has been necessary to identify areas of poor reception and to build low power relay stations in those areas to improve the level of received signals.

A number of those areas have already been dealt with with relay stations built and operational at La Collette, St Anne and St Peter Port, with others at varying stages of planning and construction at Torteval, Guernsey, and Mont Orgueil Castle, Jersey.

Whilst we were seven years behind the mainland in the provision of the original 405 line monochrome and the 625 line colour service, the Islands were more fortunate in the approval by the Authority for a major installation programme to be carried out on Fremont Point and on Alderney in 1982 for the provision of the new Channel Four programme service to be opened in November of that year.

This major work was carried out successfully and the Islands had Channel Four programmes available to them from the start of this service in the U.K. Some work remains to be carried out to provide the Channel Four service from the remaining transmitters in the Islands group and it is expected that this work will be completed by the end of 1984.

This story began with the opening of the Authority’s 405 line monochrome service to the Islands in 1962, and it is perhaps fitting that as we celebrate the 21st Anniversary of Channel Television, and ITV, in the Islands, the story should close with the news that this 405 line service is to close in January, 1984.

I think all will agree that it served us well in its time, but, with advancing technology and the added dimension of colour, it could serve us no more.


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