Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Pontop Pike (NZ148527)

In the days before Sky and Virgin Media, a healthy majority of TV aerials in the North-East pointed squarely towards the famous Pontop Pike transmitting station, near Dipton, Co.Durham. It is a largely unloved regional landmark, but it is responsible for enlivening and enriching all our lives these past several decades – and it has one or two notable historical facts linked to it, too.

The mast isn’t difficult to spot at 149m (489ft) in height, being visible for tens of miles in every direction. It was built in something of a hurry in 1953 so that we could all gawp at Her Royal Highness during her coronation. The very first TV programmes were transmitted via the station on 1st May, and the royal extravaganza followed a month later.

Initially, we had to put up with substandard black and white VHF signals, but this was joined by UHF colour in 1966. It has, of course, also carried radio signals – most notably being one of the UK’s first FM transmitting stations in 1955. Its lengthy period of service continues to this day with digital services, though it formed part of the last-but-one transmitter group in the UK to shake off the old analogue service and complete the digital switchover in autumn 2012 (Northern Ireland was the last). It remains the main broadcasting transmitter in the North-East of England, covering Tyne & Wear, Co.Durham, Tees Valley, most of Northumberland and even extends into parts of North Yorkshire – with a population coverage of around 2 million.

Harking back to that very first evening of broadcasting, 1st May 1953, here’s a review of the night’s viewing from the local press (culled from the Test Card Circle website):

Your first evening offered first class entertainment. The visit to the Severn Wildfowl Trust Sanctuary must have been delightful to nature lovers and was excellently produced, the close shots of the birds being particularly fine. The Boys Brigade display from The Royal Albert Hall, London, was another good outside broadcast, and had an efficiency worthy of Horse Guards Parade. The programme "In The News" is usually well worthy of attention; last night's discussion of the M.I.G. reward offer was given many interesting angles. "Kaleidoscope" is a show for the family. It aims only to please, and while it does not always do that, it did so last night after having had an overhaul. The short play-story however, was rather childish.


Note: In case you’re wondering, the nearby Burnhope transmitter was originally an ITA/ITV effort, and has, generally speaking, relayed commercial TV and radio signals since its construction in 1958.

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