Equipment in the 1930s

Belfast Control Room in the 1930s, remembered by Les "LG" Smith.

S.B. System
Simultaneous(ly) Broadcast System - The linking of two or more transmitters by telephone lines for the purpose of broadcasting the same programme. Initially, the eight BBC stations provided all their own programmes but from August 1923 news bulletins from London were "SB to all stations". Soon this and similar phrases such as "SB from Belfast" appeared under programme billings in Radio Times. By the 1930s it had become very much an internal BBC abreviation.
Engineer in Charge.
Private Branch Exchange.
The Post Office
The General Post Office was responsible for telecommunications systems at this time. British Telecom was created in 1980, still as part of the PO. The following year an act of Parliament transfered telecom responsibility away from the PO and created two separate corporations.
I had many visits to Belfast during the 1930s and found the Control Room and staff the most friendly of all Regional Centres. Being at the end of the S.B. system and the journey there, by boat, across an invariably rough Irish Sea, it was rarely visited by Head Office staff and was the last Control Room to be considered for re-equipping with the 'grey' apparatus bays, control positions and S.B. desk, following the London Broadcasting House eighth floor Control Room.

The staff came from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales and, under the E.i.C., Mr. J. B. Basébé, were a most friendly crowd often coming in to the Control Room when off duty for a cup of tea, joined by the two Irish sisters who operated the P.B.X.

The S.B. line feed to Belfast was from Glasgow via a Post Office submarine cable and the feed was frequently lost. To cover this, the Belfast staff used a frame aerial on a vertical shaft outside the window of the Control Room. This raised the aerial above the roof of the building and a car steering wheel on the bottom of the shaft provided a pick up of programme from either the Scottish or the North of England Regional Transmitter. In this connection, Mr. Basébé would sometimes come into the Control Room and with his hand on a connection block on the distribution frame, arrange for the ring on his finger to "short out" the Control Room loudspeaker. This was his way of checking how efficient the staff were, who assumed the line from Glasgow had "gone down". They restored programme by switching to the radio feed from the appropriate Regional Transmitter.
The main desk in 1936. left to right: Reg Bullen, 'LG' Smith and unknown.

photographed on the 8th March, 1936

Tired of waiting for new equipment after all the other regions had got new control rooms, this desk was constructed by control room staff under the E.i.C. Mr Basébé. Built on an office table and using components removed from an O.B. four channel fade unit, the whole desk was finished in warship grey by courtesy of Harland and Woolf.

The Control Room was equipped with two rows of bays, one on the left of the main desk with line termination and test equipment and the other row (right) to the right of the desk. This was made up of about eight bays, some "standard" bays, some made of angle iron. The fuse bay consisted of a sheet of metal fixed between two other bays and containing fuses for all the Control Room equipment. Much of the wiring was taken direct to the jackfields, etc, without going via mounted terminal blocks. During the summer of 1936 this row of bays was replaced by standard equipment occupying the same position.

Rear of bays
This work was made particularly difficult because there was only about 18" between the rear of the equipment and the wall of the Control Room. This was not really sufficient space in which a wireman could work. In addition, the amplifiers and jackfields were in constant use for live programmes. Bays carrying live programmes had to be removed from the plinth and leant against the back wall to allow new bays to be erected on the plinth.


Belfast transmitter

Right: A view of the Belfast transmitter. This was in the East Bridge Power Station with the chimney used to support the aerial.