Colin Pierpoint blog 9 – SB Switches

copyright resides with the original holder, no reproduction without permission

copyright resides with the original holder, no reproduction without permission









SB Switches

At this time [late 1960s] there was a complicated way of getting the network to the transmitting stations on the Home Service (later Radio 4). It needs a bit of explanation, so here it is. Each region had its own Home Service, and I had worked in the Welsh Home Service continuity suite in Cardiff on many occasions. In fact I used to love that job.  Every region had the right to opt out of the London originated Home Service as part of their programme schedule. That was the easy part. The complications arose when other regions were to take a network from another region, and they were complicated for this reason: at the time the lines used to send programmes (called “Music Lines”) were of good quality, but when you added several of them together the high frequency loss became very noticeable. So, If a region was to contribute to the whole Home Service network, sending the signal to London and through the Home Service Continuity was not acceptable because, for example, an orchestral concert from Scotland would travel the length of the British Isles and back again to get to the Scottish transmitters. Even worse from Northern Ireland.

So, what used to happen was that there was an SB switch. Remember that SB stands for Simultaneous Broadcast. After the previous programme had ended there was a switching pause of 5 seconds. In that time, the previous distribution network was broken down and another network set up with lines which radiated out from the region of origin. So, in the example I gave of a Scottish concert, the Outside Broadcast would go into the Scottish Home Service continuity in Glasgow, and then straight to the Scottish transmitters. Another  feed of SHS would go to Northern Ireland on the same line that they received the previous programme; but the North of England would switch over to a line from Glasgow. In the Midlands, we switched the Midland transmitter network (the Midland Home Service) to a line from Manchester. In this way London became a region on the end of the chain. So each region’s transmitters got the shortest line possible from the origination region, and therefore the best quality available. I hope that I have explained that consistent with my experience as a Lecturer!

Of course, the opportunity for cock-ups was endless! There was no talkback with a cue, as would be done in television, the whole thing relied on accurate timing, and it only needed a few seconds overrun to make some regions switch on time, and others switch a few seconds later. So what? I hear you ask. Well, if you don’t break down the first network, before setting up the second one, you get a loop, and the chance of a howl round. In fact, because Birmingham normally fed Bristol with the Home Service for the West of England, there was one type of SB switch which almost guaranteed a howl round! I used to love it. I remember on one occasion Northern Ireland had told us they would overrun, so we all agreed to delay the SB switch. After several minutes I rang Belfast to ask when they were going to finish and they said “We have already finished!” About a minute ago apparently. So I switched back to London who had already started the next programme. Because we were switching after the continuity, if we missed a switch, there was only silence going out to the transmitters until we put it right.

There was also one daily switch at half past three (1530) in the afternoon. Unfortunately this was also the time of our shift change in the Control Room. It was at the start of a programme called “Home this Afternoon” which I think came from a different region each day. One day we missed the  switch in Birmingham, so at the end of the programme the announcer apologised and said “We hope you don’t miss it tomorrow because we have on the programme a special guest….). The next day we missed the switch again! On another occasion at the shift change, someone was taking over from George on the day shift. The operator coming on shift said “Are there any switches?” and George suddenly spun round and switched the Midlands and West of England to the North!

Colin Pierpoint



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.