Radio Apocalypse: The BBC Radio Program That Could(n’t) Have Started WWIII

Here’s a question for you: if you’re the commander of a submarine full of nuclear missiles, how can you be sure what not receiving a launch order really means? If could — and probably does — mean that everything is hunky dory on land, and there’s no need to pull the trigger. Or, could radio silence mean that the party already kicked off, and there’s nobody left to give the order to retaliate? What do you do then?

One popular rumor — or “rumour,” given the context — in the UK holds that BBC Radio 4, or the lack thereof, is sort of a “deadman’s switch” for the Royal Navy’s ballistic missile subs. [Lewis (M3HHY)], aka Ringway Manchester¬†on YouTube, addresses this in the video below, and spoiler alert: it’s probably not true.

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Portrait Of A Long Wave Station In Its Twilight Years

There’s a quirk of broadcasting in Europe left over from the earliest days of the medium, which our American readers may not have encountered. As well as the familiar AM band, Europeans and Africans also have a so-called long wave band, on which you’ll find AM broadcast stations between about 150 and 280 kHz. Long wave transmissions were an ideal solution in the 1920s and 1930s to the problem of achieving national coverage from a single transmitter, and were widely used by state broadcasters. In an age of digital streaming they are increasingly irrelevant, and [Ringway Manchester] takes a look at one of Britain’s last long wave transmitter sites at Droitwich not too far from Birmingham.

The site covers around 50 acres, and is home to a variety of both medium wave (AM, for Americans), and a single long wave transmitter carrying BBC Radio 4 on 198 kHz. As he takes us through its history in the video below the break we hear a rundown of most of the major events in British broadcasting, while few Brits will have visited this unassuming field it’s likely most of us will have listened to something sent from here.

The long wave antenna is a T-shaped affair strung between two masts. We’re guessing that the radiator is the vertical portion, with the bar of the T forming a capacitance with the ground to make up for the radiator being a fraction of the 1515 meter wavelength. The video is something of a tribute to this once-vital station, as the Radio 4 transmissions are likely to stop in 2024 and the medium wave ones over the following years. We have to admit to catching our BBC transmissions online these days, but we still have to admit a pang of sadness at its impending end.

This reminds us, we’ve taken a fond look at AM radio in the past.

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Keeping Clocks On Time, The Swiss Way

Could there be a worse fate for a guy with a Swiss accent than to be subjected to a clock that’s seconds or even – horrors! – minutes off the correct time? Indeed not, which is why [The Guy With the Swiss Accent] went to great lengths to keep his IKEA radio-controlled clock on track.

For those who haven’t seen any of [Andreas Spiess]’ YouTube videos, you’ll know that he pokes a bit of fun at Swiss stereotypes such as precision and punctuality. But really, having a clock that’s supposed to synchronize to one of the many longwave radio atomic clocks sprinkled around the globe and yet fails to do so is irksome to even the least chrono-obsessive personality. His IKEA clock is supposed to read signals from station DCF77 in Germany, but even the sensitive receivers in such clocks can be defeated by subterranean locales such as [Andreas]’ shop. His solution was to provide a local version of DCF77 using a Raspberry Pi and code that sends modulated time signals to a GPIO pin. The pin is connected to a ferrite rod antenna, which of course means that the Pi is being turned into a radio transmitter and hence is probably violating the law. But as [Andreas] points out, if the power is kept low enough, the emissions will only ever be received by nearby clocks.

With his clock now safely synced to an NTP server via the tiny radio station, [Andreas] can get back to work on his other projects, such as work-hardening copper wire for antennas with a Harley, or a nuclear apocalypse-Tweeting Geiger counter.

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