Bilsdale Transmitter: Alternative Arrangements for Radio

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 post focuses on digital and analogue radio services, and where possible refers to information published on the Arqiva website (although supplementary information from other sources may be used).

Most radio services have been relocated to the Eston Nab transmitter, which has been upgraded using a temporary mast. Joining Smooth Radio which permanently broadcasts from this site, are national stations Capital and Heart, local BBC station BBC Radio Tees, and network station TFM. These are broadcasting on their normal frequencies, so there is no requirement to retune your radio. All stations have RDS (station name display) output, and should be available to most places within their normal coverage area.

For DAB, the D1 National and SDL National multiplexes have also been added to the Eston Nab transmitter. As these multiplexes operate on a single frequency network, there is no need to retune. These join the BBC National and Teeside local DAB multiplexes which permanently broadcast from this transmitter.

A further article on TV arrangements will follow.

Bilsdale Transmitter: Services Affected

The Bilsdale West Moor transmitter broadcasts terrestrial TV, FM radio, and DAB digital radio to the North Yorkshire and Teesside areas. These services are impacted in slightly different ways, but all are facing major disruption.

The transmitter is a main terrestrial TV (Freeview) transmitter, broadcasting all public service broadcaster (PSB) and commercial multiplexes, including temporary multiplex COM7, and the local TV multiplex. The transmitter also provides the provides the feeds for the PSB relays in the area (excluding Scarborough). As a result, all Freeview services from these transmitters are off-air. If you can, repositioning your aerial towards Pontop Pike to North, or Emley Moor to the south may be an alternative.

For FM, the Teesside frequencies of national stations Capital, Classic FM, Heart, and BBC Radio 1 to 4 are off-air. Additionally, local station BBC Radio Tees and network station TFM are also off-air. For most national services, signal from another transmitter should be available, although as Classic FM uses a network of fewer but larger transmitters, this may not always be the case.

Local FM services are facing more disruption. The BBC Radio Tees relay at Whitby should still be operating, but otherwise there is no FM service for BBC Radio Tees. TFM has no relays, and is off-air completely on FM. In the north of the area, Capital and Heart may be available on frequencies from Pontop Pike, but are otherwise off-air completely.

DAB is likely to be the least impacted by the disruption, as the Bilsdale transmitter is one of a number within the networks. National multiplexes BBC National, D1 National, and SDL National are broadcast alongside the Teesside and North Yorkshire local multiplexes. For BBC and D1 national services, other transmitters in the area should provide some service. SDL National listeners will face more disruption, as this network uses fewer but larger transmitters.

Local DAB should still be available to most listeners, with listeners in northern fringe of the North Yorkshire multiplex most like to be affected. For all multiplexes, DAB transmitters broadcast using single frequency networks. As all transmitters use the same frequencies, your radio should automatically pick up the signals from other transmitters if signal is available.

This list is not comprehensive, and there may be other alternatives for receiving TV and radio, such as cable, satellite, and online.

Love Sport Fails to Score

Love Sport, the DAB station which broadcast initially to London, has now left the SDL National DAB multiplex. The station had broadcast on both MW and DAB in London, before expanding nationally using DAB+ with some of the capacity vacated by Panjab Radio.

The closure of the station was blamed on reduced advertising revenue due to Covid-19. However, with only 762 page likes on the station’s Facebook page, it would appear the station has struggled to compete with Talk Sport and sports coverage on BBC Radio 5 Live.

For much of 2019, the station was mothballed, broadcasting rock music and a recorded message from the station founder. The station ceased its separate DAB broadcast in London earlier in the year, before handing over the North London MW frequency to Asian FX.

DAB Highlights

A number of DAB changes took place towards the beginning of December (2020), and here’s a run down of the main stories.

Around the 1st, Great Yorkshire Radio migrated from the North Yorkshire local multiplex, to the Lincolnshire multiplex. The latter has some over spill into parts of North and East Yorkshire, and the station appears to be refocusing to become a larger regional service for Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. DAB+ at 32 kbps is still used.

York Mix (initially as festive service Xmas Mix), has now joined the North Yorkshire DAB multiplex. The station is targeting the area previously served by Minster FM, which closed earlier this year. Similar (but unconnected) service This Is The Coast is also on the North Yorkshire multiplex, targeting Scarborough, Bridlington, and Whitby, all left un-served when Yorkshire Coast Radio closed. Both are using stereo DAB+ at 32 kbps.

On the Central Scotland multiplex, Scottish Sun Chill has replaced Scottish Sun Greatest Hits. The new service has an easy listening/pop format, and retains 128 kbps of joint stereo normal DAB. No other changes have occurred on this multiplex since Sunoh Radio left, but Central FM has been run in varying configurations.

Lastly, and perhaps the biggest change, is the launch of Union Jack Dance and Union Jack Rock, which took place on Friday 11th December. Both follow the same format of British music and comedy, with listener controlled playlist as Union Jack, but with dance music and rock music respectively. The same 32 kbps stereo DAB+ parameters are used, with Union Jack Dance replacing Jack Radio, and Union Jack Rock filling the vacant space on the SDL National multiplex.

DAB+ for Talk Sport 2 and Talk Radio

Both Talk Sport 2 and Talk Radio have switched to DAB+ transmission on the SDL National DAB multiplex. Talk Sport 2 has made a direct switch, meaning some older DAB radios can no longer receive the service

Talk Radio has begun a period of dual transmission, with the new DAB+ service identified by a ‘+’ at the end of the station name. Dual transmission ends on 26th June, allowing some time for listeners to upgrade their radios if required.

Both stations have switched from 64 kbps mono, to 32 kbps DAB+ stereo. The use of stereo is unlikely to be of benefit as both services are talk based, but the changes free up additional space for new services, including the forthcoming Times Radio. Unlike some other DAB+ services which suffer from poor sound quality, Talk Radio and Talk Sport 2 do not appear to be affected in the same way.

Talk Radio, Talk Sport 2, and Times Radio are all operated by News UK’s subsidiary Wireless Group, who alos hold a 30% share in the SDL National DAB multiplex. SDL stands for Sound Digital Limited.