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Radio Caroline & 648AM

Radio Caroline Processing Rack

For one one reason or another it's taken some time for us to be able to make this post. Given recent developments we feel now is as good a time as any to publish the first photos of the 648 transmitter, and to detail what went into the installation.

It is worth mentioning first before we go into detail about the transmitter installation, the hard work that was put in by Radio Caroline's Bob Lawrence and MP Tracey Crouch, which has been well documented over the years. Quite rightly, the Radio Caroline management are indebted to these two people alone - without whom Caroline would never have returned to AM broadcasting.

Yes - a lot of people did their bit during the three day installation phase, and indeed after the installation, but it was Bob and Tracey who carried out the hard ground work for years prior to the switch on date.

The transmitter site at Orfordness was without doubt the preferred choice for the Radio Caroline management, and just about anyone else that has knowledge of transmitters and the sites that they broadcast from. With the only other location option being a 'Pig Farm' located in Stone Aspel, Suffolk, the success of 648 broadcasting from Orfordness was unlikely to have ever been replicated from an alternative site.

The transmitter itself is a Nautel Ampfet ND2.5 donated from Switzerland, transported by road to Holland where it was collected by Alan Beech for its final journey to the UK. Alan spent many months enabling the transmitter for 648kHZ use and rigourously tested the unit prior to the installation at Orfordness. At the same that the transmitter was being prepared sound engineer Rob Ashard was putting together the transmitter audio rack - the idea being that both units could be transported to site with effectively a plug and play scenario being achieved. With exception to a few minor tweaks to the transmitter on the final day at Orfordness, this is exactly how the installation played out.

  • Radio Caroline 648 Feeder Cable (Small) Radio Caroline 648 Feeder Cable (Large)
    Point At Which The 648 Feeder Meets the Omni Mast
  • Radio Caroline 648 Mast (Small) Radio Caroline 648 Mast (Large)
    View From The Base of The Caroline 648 Omni Mast
  • Radio Caroline Orfordness (Small) Radio Caroline Orfordness (Large)
    View of Cobra Mist Facility From The Caroline 648 Mast

  • Radio Caroline 648 Transmitter - Nautel Ampfet ND2.5 (Small) Radio Caroline 648 Transmitter - Nautel Ampfet ND2.5 (Large)
    BBC World Service Standby Antenna Connection Point - (Omnidirectional Mast)
  • Radio Caroline 648 Transmitter - Nautel Ampfet ND2.5 (Small) Radio Caroline 648 Transmitter - Nautel Ampfet ND2.5 (Large)
    Radio Caroline 648kHZ Transmitter - Nautel Ampfet ND2.5

Many months of negotiations went on between the Orfordness service providers Cobra Mist and Radio Caroline to ensure that the right insurances and technical paperwork were in place before any work started on site. At times when it looked like everything was ready, disappointment followed due to paperwork tecnhnicalities.

Finally, with all the correct paperwork in place, the only unknown was where in building the new transmitter would be situated - and the logistics of connecting power supplies and antenna cabling. And so began the installation phase.

22nd September 2017

The first visit to Orfordness was purely to survey the site.

Arriving on the Orford Quay at 8am, a short journey across the River Alde by fishing boat and a 10 minute bumpy ride in the Cobra Mist landrover across the Orford Ness marshland, and we're now up close to the imposing former miltary establishment.

The proposed location of the Radio Caroline transmitter had already been determined by the buildings owners, ironically in a plant room adjacent to the former BBC World Service Transmitter Hall - in close proximity to the BBC 648 standby feeder connection point, and with a local three phase supply available .... perfect !

The existng electrical installation was exactly as expected, a mixture of 70's HV & LV installed to a high standard, but clearly showing its age. After successful earth tests were carried out on the panelboard that was to serve the Caroline transmitter, and notes made for Risk Assessments & Method Statements, it was time to take a short drive out to the BBC omnidirectional standby antenna to take survey photos for the transmitter engineers, (as above). You can see from the photos the area is a great place to visit when the weather is good (*) .... not so nice when the weather is foul - as we were to find out on our last visit to the site.

27th October 2017

Friday 27th October, and another early drive from South London to the back of beyond for another 8am departure from the Orford Quay.

Unlike the last visit, this time we arrived with four teams to carry out the installation. On the Transmitter installation were Peter Chicago & Alan Beech .... for the Electrical installation - myself and three accomplices ... for the Mast Repairs, 2 x Maxxwave engineers - and waiting in the wings the Ofcom Engineer, Dave, who I suspect was hoping this would all be wrapped up in one day.

The installation day went well with everyone doing their bit - electricians installing a dedicated distribution board to accomodate the three phase Nautel transmitter and single phase audio rack - Alan Beech and one of his employee's installing the transmitter .... Maxxwave carrying out minor repairs to the omni mast [ yes, they were the leaked 648 photos on Digital Spy ] - and Peter Chicago, surrounded by a plethora of oscilliscopes, doing his bit ( god knows what he was up to - but it looked impressive and I'm sure it was important )

At 5:30pm, when the installation was as good as 30 minutes away from being energised - the rug was pulled away from the installation team by the site owners Cobra Mist, and we were told to depart the island at 6pm. Disappointments seem to be abound on this project.

11th November 2017

The final visit to Ofordness consisted of Alan Beech, myself, an electrical test engineer and Dave, the Ofcom Engineer.

As is often the case, 30 minutes work turned into 2 hours work, but just before 11am the 648 transmitter was ready to start broadcasting. Alan noted that today was Rememberance Day and it was decided to delay the switch on until after the minutes silence at 11am. Minutes silence observed and the Caroline 648 transmitter was switched on, with a pre-recorded playlist of Ray Charles tracks dedicated to Radio Caroline founder Ronan O' Rahilly.

And the rest as they say ..... is history.

For More Information on Orfordness - History of Orfordness
Nautel Transmitter Overview - Nautel Ampfet ND2.5

(*) - Please note that the Cobra Mist facility at Orfordness is a private establishment and is not open to public viewing. Whilst it can be viewed from the shingle spit across the River Alde, the site owners take their privacy seriously and deal with trespassing accordingly.