Bilsdale Transmitter: Alternative Arrangements for TV

I’ve held of publishing further updates on the Bilsdale transmitter disruption due to the rapidly changing situation, but as things have started to settle, I’m now confident in being able to provide summaries on the alternative arrangements that are being put in place. This second post focuses on terrestrial TV (Freeview) services, and where possible refers to information published on the Arqiva website (although supplementary information from other sources may be used).

The arrangements for TV are a little more complex that those for radio, but can grouped into four segments. In short, TV coverage is utilising Eston Nab relay in a greater capacity, temporary transmitters at Arncliffe Wood and Sutton Bank, re-activated relays, and a temporary mast at Bilsdale.

The first stage of recovery centred on the Eston Nab relay. Using a temporary mast, this has in effect been turned into a main transmitter, and now broadcasts a full Freeview service (minus the temporary COM7 multiplex). Initially broadcasting to of Hartlepool, Redcar, and the eastern edge of Middlesbrough, further work has seen the power output increased to reach more homes including parts of the Darlington, Richmond and Barnard Castle areas.

A second temporary transmitter at Arncliffe Wood has now entered service, to provide or improve coverage to the Darlington, Stockton, Catterick, Leyburn, Masham and Ripon areas. This is only broadcasting the PSB1, PSB2, and PSB3 multiplexes, providing coverage of the main BBC, ITV, Channel 4, and Channel 5 services. A third transmitter similar to that at Arncliffe Wood has now followed. Sutton Bank provides coverage to the Harrogate, Knaresborough, Pickering, Ripon, Masham, and Leyburn areas, as well as northern parts of York.

If you are in the areas covered by the Arncliffe Wood, Eston Nab, and Sutton Bank transmitters, you will need to retune your TV/set top box to restore services, as both transmitters are using temporary frequencies.

The situation with the existing relay transmitters is a little more complex, but all relay transmitters have been restored. In some cases, these transmitters have been reconfigured to relay the Pontop Pike transmitter, in which case a normal service with full local programmes is being broadcast. These include the Peterlee relay.

Other transmitters are broadcasting from a backup satellite feed. This utilises a permanent BBC satellite back up facility, alongside a temporary facility mirroring the PSB2 multiplex. The permanent BBC back up is allowing all BBC national channels to be broadcast, plus HD versions of ITV, Channel 4, and Channel 5. Local variations, and local radio services are not carried on this backup, so remain unavailable. However, the PSB2 backup feed is carrying full regional variations, to ITV Tyne Tees news and other local optouts is available to these viewers.

All relay transmitters are using their normal frequencies, so unless you’ve already tried retuning, you won’t need to retune. However, if you have previously retuned, you may need to do this again to restore services.

Finally, a longer term temporary solution is the building of an 80m temporary mast at Bilsdale. This will provide a reduced coverage compared to the damaged mast, but will restore Freeview services to more households. Arqiva have now confirmed that construction has now begun, following legal hurdles.

Partial Restoration of Services Following Bilsdale Fire

Some TV and radio services have resumed following the Bilsdale West Moor transmitter fire, from other transmitters in the area.

Alterations have been made to the Easton Nab relay transmitter to allow it to recomence terrestrial (Freeview) broadcasts to Hartlepool, Redcar, and the eastern edge of Middlesbrough. Temporary frequencies are being used, so a retune is required in these areas.

BBC Radio Tees 95.0 FM service has been relocated to the Easton Nab transmitter, which already broadcasts Smooth Radio to the Teesside area. Albeit with more limited coverage, most listeners should now be able access this service, particularly in the north of the normal coverage area. It is unknown whether further FM services will follow.

Further relay transmitters are being reconfigured to operate from a satellite backup link, which should allow more viewers to access terrestrial TV services. However, these may not broadcast the correct regional programmes.

A temporary mast is being transported to the Bilsdale site, to allow more services to resume whilst the damaged transmitter is repaired.

Major Disruption Caused By Transmitter Fire

The Bilsdale West Moor television and radio transmitter is currently off-air due to a fire, causing major disruption to some services in North East England.

The transmitter broadcasts terrestrial TV (Freeview), FM and DAB radio to around 1 million people in the Teesside and North Yorkshire. A further post will follow explaining how these services are disrupted in more detail.

It is understood that problems were caused by a lightning strike, but it does not appear that this is the direct cause of the fire. The fire was first reported by an engineer working at the transmitter site, with North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service sending multiple engines to site.

Arqiva, the operator of the transmitter, are currently working on a temporary transmitter to restore services, but this will take time to complete. The temporary transmitter may need to operate at a lower power output, meaning a reduced coverage area.

BITE Launches in the UK

BITE (or as the author will now type it, Bite), has launched in the UK via Channel Box, a streamed channel on the Freeview terrestrial platform.

Bite specialises in programmes around fresh food, and plans to launch on Rakuten TV and other platforms in due course.

Channel Box can be found on Freeview channel number 271, in the areas covered by the commercial multiplexes, offering coverage to around 90% of the UK population. Viewers will need to have their Freeview box or TV connected to the internet in order to access the service.

Multiplex Change for Shopping Quarter

Shopping Quarter, which as the names suggests is a shopping channel, has switched frequencies on Freeview.

The channel has moved from temporary multiplex COM7 to COM6 (Arqiva B). This expands the coverage area of the channel, and allows users of older standard definition equipment to view the channel.

A retune may be required if your equipment has not detected the change.

Correction: Shopping Quarter was in fact previously on the PSB3 (BBC B) multiplex. Although the move to COM6 has allowed non HD equipment to view the channel, coverage has reduced slightly.

Court TV Ends Freeview Transmission

Court TV, the specialist channel that broadcasts us trials and legal programmes, has stopped transmitting on the Freeview terrestrial platform. Although not publicised, it appears that the brief period of Freeview broadcasts was intended to showcase the Derek Chauvin trial, and transmissions on Freeview have ended as planned.

Court TV was broadcast on the temporary multiplex COM7, which only offered coverage to around 70% of the UK population. The frequency used to broadcast COM7 will be taken over by EE for 5G mobile phone services, although the date for this has not been confirmed.

Court TV continues to broadcast on satellite, via Freesat on channel number 177, and Sky on channel number 179. A live stream and on-demand content is also available on their website. An information slate now appears on Freeview channel number 89, ahead of final removal on the 22nd June (2021).

At the time of writing, Court TV are yet to remove references to the Freeview service from their website and social media feeds.

Channel Numbers Confirmed for GB News

The full set of channel numbers for GB News has now by confirmed.

On the Sky satellite platform, GB News will be on 515, aquiring that number from Nigerian news channel TVC News. On the Virgin Media cable platform, GB News will be on number 626. This is in addition to the already confirmed channel numbers 216 for Freesat, and 236 for Freeview.

On Freeview, GB News will be in standard definition, while on all other platforms the channel will be in high definition (HD) only. For satellite viewers, this means users of non-HD devices will be unable to watch GB News.

The channel will launch on Sunday 13th June at 8am, with special programming to mark the launch.

Now 70s and 80s Switch Places

Music channels Now 70s and Now 80s have swapped frequencies on the Freeview terrestrial platform. Now 70s has switched from the Greater Manchester (GMan) multiplex to the COM6 (Arqiva B) multiplex, with Now 80s making the opposite move.

As a result, Now 70s has increased its coverage area to most of the UK, with Now 80s restricted to the Greater Manchester area only.

The channel numbers have also changed, with Now 70s now on channel 76. Now 80s occupies a slightly higher position on the EPG, and can now be found on channel number 75.

GB News Channel Numbers

GB News, the upcoming new news channel, has now confirmed its channel numbers for Freesat and Freeview.

On Freeview, the channel will be on 236, below the current news channels, and is the COM6 multiplex which offers a coverage area of around 90%. The channel is broadcasting an information slate ahead of launch.

On Freesat, the channel will be on number 216, and will broadcast in HD. It is unclear whether a standard definition (SD) simulcast will be offered for those with older equipment. Like with Freeview, GB News will appear below existing news channels on the EPG.

Sky and Virgin Media channel numbers are yet to be confirmed. For Sky, GB News has the option of buying a channel number from an existing broadcaster, so may appear in a more prominent position on the EPG.

That’s 60s For Valentines

Apologies for the delay in this post due to personal commitments.

Over the Valentines weekend of February 13th/14th, music service That’s TV re-branded as That’s 60s for the occasion, temporarily flipping to an advert free format of 60s music.

Traditionally showing music videos from the 1970s and 80s, the channel is introducing music from the 40s, 50s, and 60s for the first time, alongside local news provision.

Localised versions of That’s TV are available in some areas on Freeview channel 7 or 8, with national streamed version of the channel available on the Vision TV portal on channel number 264.