Trade Chat Bilsdale transmitter fire
Well anything unexpected can happen but are these masts not checked on a fairly regular basis? When I was in the trade, there were often announcements saying that so-and-so transmitter was off air or on low power for maintenance reasons.....
Don't really watch TV, but hooked up a set to the workshop aerial this morning, checked BBC1,2 and ITV, and indeed I don't have any service.
I wonder if the tubular mast simply acted as a picturesque chimney for a fire in the equipment at its base, or if it had actually spread to cabling etc. inside it? If the latter, a tall tube would make a very effective draught intensifier where even fire-redardant materials could be provoked into a very intense blaze and we've probably all seen enough news footage of burned-out industrial units with their Salvador Dali RSJs to know how seriously steel structures can be weakened. As an aside, we made my father a 75th birthday cake with a full complement of candles for a laugh and the ones in the middle roared up and burned down about 3 times as fast as the outer ones in a striking demonstration of the "Dresden updraught".
I recall the Morborne mast collapse and was both surprised and somewhat unconvinced at the conclusion reached- that a stray firework set fire to bundled cables part-way up and the resultant blaze had critically weakened the structure. It seemed odd that a "firework" could provide enough energy to provoke such a blaze in what was presumably approved, fire-retardant cabling and for it to achieve sufficient intensity for long enough in an exposed, open-lattice structure like that mast. Maybe it was a case of "we've ruled out the likely stuff, now for the less likely..." This was sometime ago, it may be that there has been further investigation and other conclusions.
I sometimes go cycling/walking in the vicinity of the Sandy Heath mast and I'm always impressed at just how much clobber is attached to it all the way up- I guess someone's across both physical loading and power density implications involved but there's a heck of a lot been added over the years. Perhaps the pressure to add more and more RF spectrum services to tall structures and minimise ongoing manning, inspection, maintenance etc.costs will see more incidents happening in the future and add to the pressure to shift ever more media services to the internet.
The BBC, in its infinite stupidity, has allowed comments on that article.
Years ago there was a blog called "spEak You're bRanes" which took the mickey out of some of the contributors to the BBC "Have Your Say" and other below-the-line comments sections.
Nothing has changed.
Like Turretslug, I still find the "explanation" for the mast collapse at Morborne less than plausible.
The BBC, in its infinite stupidity, has allowed comments on that article.
The local BBC up here also spouted a load of tosh about the loss of BBC Yorkshire from Bilsdale - Really? Bilsdale doesn't carry the Yorkshire service. If you're up there at the top end of the county, you're in what we affectionately call "Tyne-Tees Territory". They went on to explain to affected viewers what they can do to use alternative platforms to receive BBC programmes - Speaking to an audience who can neither see nor hear them, but the most ridiculous comment was to tell viewers that; "If you watch via FreeView you cannot retune your television or set top box to view another service"! - Really? I have no idea what FreeView equipment they're using in the "Geordie Borderland" region, but mine can be retuned to any DVB-T and DVB-T2 signal that's available!
I'd hate to be a newsreader, having to sit there and read pages of text written by the ignorants in the back office.
According to ITV Yorkshire, "The cause of the fire is not yet known, and there are concerns over the integrity of the steel mast, which has likely been weakened by the heat from the fire". One thing is for certain, if it has been 'hot enough' and quenched with water, the steel will have undergone a significant change at the molecular level (Eutectic change?). In the meantime, temporary transmitting equipment is to be installed in a bid to restore a partial service as soon as possible.
From the pictures, the seat of the fire looks to have been at ground level. Smoke was issuing quite liberally from the mast-head, and at what might have been an access door about a third of the way up the mast.
I cannot help but wonder if the mast might have been struck by lightning - There has been a lot thunder and lighting all over North Yorkshire, and it is quite common for the heather to be ignited by lightning. Bilsdale is a long way off the beaten trail, and there is no suggestion that the fire was 'man made'. Another thought might be that with the intense heat of a couple of weeks ago, the transmitter equipment at the base of the mast may have been stressed to breaking point? - I'm thinking insulation breakdown, couple that with a lightning strike?
It will be interesting to see how long it takes now the transmitter chain is divorced from the broadcasters to get some sort of service restored, wasn't it just a couple of days to get VHF CH10 back on at Emley? The trouble is with a temporary set up it's bound to be at much reduced power, the trouble is you can still get entertainment value from grainy analogue but my experience of Bilsdale reception on the coast at Sunderland and Seaham is that it was difficult at the best of times. In fact during Tropo events it wasn't unusual for analogue to be obliterated by Dutch and German co channel interference. Digital reception for many maybe either a blocky mess or nothing at all at reduced power.
Lots of elderly people rely immensely for TV as company and I really feel it for them as many won't have access to broadband for iPlayer etc. I still remember driving home one evening from work in the mid 70s and Pontop Pike had been off air for an hour or more. A couple of old dears were frantically waving down traffic, cars stopped then moved on. It was my turn to be stopped and they anxiously asked if I knew anything about televisions and could if I help them. I tried to explain "everyones" TV was off and it would come back on by itself, they still continued to stop the traffic.
I read reports from bystanders that not only their own mobile phones but the Fire Brigade's Airwave sets were also disrupted by this (which doesn't surprise me as I think Emergency Services comms infrastructure has shared some broadcast masts since the days of the IBA and NTL/DTELS); hopefully Airwave had backups such as those mobile repeater vans but that also begs the question of how much resilience the blue light services have (especially with the plans to move the lot to LTE on the EE/BT network..)
Really, I'm still off!
" It will be interesting to see how long it takes now the transmitter chain is divorced from the broadcasters to get some sort of service restored "
Interesting. Now that ALL 5 networks and just about all broadcasts in Sydney (bar MW) are handled by TX Australia Pty Ltd from the one site (with a few co-channel fillers) there have been NO outages for as long as I can remember. DAB was down for a day some years back while they moved it from the now-demolished TCN9 tower to TX Australia's Mowbray Rd site.
I just remembered this VERY interesting video, a few years old now and a bit long but WELL worth sticking with:
Sometimes something as drastic as a fire can be fixed quite quickly. What surprises me is that the reflectometers didn't shut down the transmitter(s) when the first flashover occurred, and that the internal insulation in the pipe was flammable!
It does say some Teesside homes.
Bilsdale is a big mast similar to the one that fell on Emley Moor 50 odd years ago, it’s not going to be a quick job to replace that coverage. Perhaps get the temporary mast that’s been in use at Emley Moor that was in use while maintenance work was recently carried out but that is going to take some time to move.
Those able could always find new hobbies rather than watching TV, there’s a controversial statement.
They're all watching Netflix and Tik Tok if social media is to be believed.
I see "Largely restored" has now become "Restored for some". It seems the relay at Eston now has some output which is fine for some of the coastal areas and the advice is to "Manually Retune" and not use Automatic. I will bet 99.9% of Freeview users have no idea how to do that.
There is more information in post#43 UKVRRR including a quote from Arquiva.
Appears they are putting a lot of effort into the restoration but it’s going to take time for normal service.
It will be interesting to see how long it takes now the transmitter chain is divorced from the broadcasters to get some sort of service restored, wasn't it just a couple of days to get VHF CH10 back on at Emley?
It wasn't long to get some coverage after the collapse, but it only just covered the West Riding conurbation. I was 0nly 12 years old when the collapse occurred, and living just outside York. Our service seemed like weeks to reappear - I remember missing an episode or two of Thunderbirds, or Captain Scarlet, or something because of it!
I recall the evening of of the collapse, about tea time, and we were all watching "Discotheque" [or was it "Lift off" with Aysha] (because my elder sister said that's what were going to watch!). All was normal right up to the moment, then suddenly it was gone, just as if the aerial plug had been pulled from the telly - And perhaps not surprisingly, that's where we looked first - Twinkle, the cat had a habit of sitting on, or sometimes behind, the telly to luxuriate in the warmth, and remembering this was in March 1969, that's what we thought, but Twinkle wasn't there, and the aerial was definitely plugged in! So, we waited for the inevitable "THERE IS A FAULT, PLEASE DO NOT ADJUST YOUR SET" message, and the soothing voice of Redvers Kyle reassuring us all that the engineers were working to restore the broadcast as quickly as possible, but, we saw and heard neither. After a few minutes of nothing, we tried BBC1, (Ch2. Holme Moss) and that was working! - So it was nothing to do with Twinkle, and not likely to be our telly.
After hopping back and forth between YTV and BBC1 a few times over the next half hour or so, it was quite apparent that it wasn't a normal fault, then, as was customary back then, up pops a "NEWSFLASH" on BBC1 to the effect "IBA television transmitter at Emley Moor has collapsed" etc. Of course by then, Emley Moor was carrying BBC2 (UHF) as well as Yorkshire Television (VHF), so BBC-TV were duty bound to make a statement. That was when we found out what had happened. I don't remember if YTV and BBC1 were also available at UHF at that time.
Next evening, we saw the BBC news coverage of the wreckage, remembering that it was after dark when the mast came down, so the first pictures were in daylight, and filmed the following morning. The best views came from helicopter footage, and the pictures looked somewhat like the aftermath of a train wreck. The mast, along with its cable stays were strewn across the surrounding landscape including roads, lanes, and the local church. The roads had been closed all night, and indeed it was quite a common occurrence for those roads to be closed due to falling ice, but this time it was falling and fallen metal. At least one of the cable stays had dropped across the church below and neatly cut the roof into two halves.
Work to restore services began almost straight away, and two companies were employed to build temporary masts - One was a British company, and the other was Swedish. The British team were off to a flying start, but the Swedes first had to get their equipment and their riggers over to Yorkshire. The first mast was raised to a low level and transmitting aerials rigged within a few days - This restored service to parts of the West Riding.
The Swedes arrived! And set about building their mast which soon equalled, and rapidly surpassed, the Brits. Aerials were rigged, and the transmission feeds were sapped over to the Swedish mast. This allowed the Brits to go back to raising their mast higher again than the Swedes, at which point the feeds were once again swapped over. So it went on, every few days the masts were growing taller and the services were reaching out further, eventually reaching over to us, and the York area. The Vale of York was now covered, but the dales, the North York Moors and The Wolds had to wait a while longer. One thing that baffled a lot of viewers was that we had sound only for several days prior to vision being restored, then as I recall coming home from school, 'et voila!' just like that, we had both sound and vision from YTV when we turned the telly on! - We only had 405 lines in those days, dad said we weren't buying a new telly just to get one extra channel "There's enough rubbish on the two we've already got, without buying more!".
According to local legend, there was a huge run on VHF aerials during the "dark days" and it was apparent to most that the VHF service was reaching out further and faster, and the further out you were, the more apparent that became. I guess it wasn't a wise move to have your VHF aerials taken down so soon?
So the Brits and Swedes went on building their masts, and what a task it must have been, up there in the bleakest part of Yorkshire, in the bleakest time of the year, with short days, driving rain, sleet and snow, and bitterly cold gales most of the time. It runs in my mind that work was only carried out in the daytime. I'm not sure if that was because of the dangers of working aloft in such atrocious weather, or if it was because of potential danger from working in close proximity to an active RF transmitter - Bear in mind that television in those days was largely an evening service, so the safest time was in daylight while the transmitters were turned off.
Eventually, the entire region had been restored to normal service.
Now, the work of installing a permanent mast could get underway. A few years ago, I found a couple of websites dedicated to the collapse, and the building of the new mast - I can't remember what they were called, and cannot find them now.
Winding back to the night of the collapse, I read somewhere the Chief Engineer's log for the evening. Aside from the mast collapsing, it covered in some detail, with times logged, what actions had been taken immediately afterwards, and the steps taken were quite interesting reading, including the steps to isolate the RF feeds to the mast and to shutdown the transmitting equipment. If I recall, there were some automatic breakers which were triggered [presumably] by the short circuiting of the RF drive to the radiating elements (Or would it be possibly because SWR would be off the scale?), and the Chief Engineer also 'pulled' manual isolators to prevent the mast feeders from being inadvertently reenergised. Surprisingly, and maybe not so, sending for the emergency services was not the top priority - That came after the staff headcount, issuing emergency instructions and the systematic shutdown of the power in the transmitter building. Also, if I remember correctly, no one was allowed to exit the building (I guess in NASA parlance a "Lock The Doors" policy was in force?) for several hours afterwards.
@richardfrommarple Some of those pictures, especially some from the reconstruction, look familiar. I'm not sure where I read to log entries, but I'm pretty sure there were more entries than shown on that website - Maybe the years are playing tricks, or maybe there are discrepancies between between sources, though one source was from ITV itself in their own special programme recounting the disaster some 30 or 40 years later.
I shall explore that website when more time is available, it looks good!
Any further news on what's happening at Bilsdale? - There's been an absolute dearth of information on either, Calendar News, or Look North (BBC Leeds). I'm curious to know if the mast is considered to be safe, or if it's likely to be replaced.
What's the story on restoration of services in the affected area?