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Wireless Relay was started in Northampton around 1940 by William Smethers and Ray Turner snr. Ray Turner jnr. also an engineer, worked under both of them.
William Smethers and his two brothers, Michael and John went to Folkstone to try out a system of transmitting a TV. signal (BBC only) at that time down a cable following a local trial with Syd Betts at High Street in Weston Favell Northants.
Being one of the first towns to try this (3 doors from each other) William Smethers together with Sydney ,Ray Turner snr. and William Bell decided to transmit radio programmes down an open wire system.
A wireless network around the town of Northampton was set up giving 2 programmes to most of the subscribers but in certain parts like the central area around the town centre they could receive 4 programmes.
These were the Light Programme, Home Service, Third Programme and Radio Luxembourg.
The Home Service and the Light Programme were amplified by Brian Savage 1000watt rms audio amplifiers with a 50-volt line output and unlimited amperage.( meaning if a soprano sang a loud top 'c' or an orchestra made a loud sound the amps would give high output). These were originally in a shop window in the Horsemarket not far from Gold Street as there was a showroom there. . Charles Bell joined his father Bill in the 1950's and the system grew together with more staff.
There became 3 repeater stations at: Chaucer Street ,Whitworth Road and Alcombe Road where 1000watt amplifiers were installed Two of the repeater stations became stores for the wiring dept and later one of them, Alcombe Road became the Wiring /Maintenance depot. Later the amplifiers from Horse Market were moved to the cellar St Katherines Terrace.
Testing of one loud speaker system was done on top of the Police/Fire-Station during the war for the purpose of the siren. Testing of such a system was dangerous because of the low frequencies were used and one time someone went in front of it and nearly died because the power it sent out had vibrated the organs in the body.
The control room set up was a panel of 4 columns of 2 pairs of outputs, (Bulgin 2 pin Sockets) and 5 rows hence the 5 Amplifiers being on 24 hours so feeders could be isolated. A control panel for from the receivers, ( Ex-WD, RCA AR88A and others.) was also designed so individual programmes could be monitored and levels adjusted independantly.
One Boxing Day morning a fault occured on the line and Charles Bell called the duty maintenance people, Dave Herbert and Brain Kilby but they were at the local socialising in their best suits, with no time to go home they went out in their Commer and Austin vans, isolated the fault and then returned to their 'local' all wet as it had been snowing all morning
The installation at St Katherines Terrace comprised seven 1000 watt amplifiers and two 90 watt amplifiers. The 90 watt amps fed the 2 extra programmes, the Third Programme and Radio Luxembourg; which fed the central area only. Five of the seven amplifiers were on all the time feeding the town system with two programmes. . The large amplifiers had two MZ 2-200’s output valves which were later changed to V 1505’s, the same valve but slightly smaller. Other valves in this amplifier were RG 1-240A x 4 and EF 37A x 4 and GZ34. The smaller amplifiers had KT 88's in for the output valves not glowing as much as the MZ 2-200's.
From 5pm to midnight each night there was a duty operator on (Control ) checking the programmes and also logging any faults reported by customers so they could be quickly located and rectified. Equipment staff were on standby.
Most of the wiring in the town was open wiring which meant 4 wires stayed on brackets as shown in photo. Gradually these were changed to a quad cable or in the central area, 4 pair cable from the start as there were many flats and three high rise blocks, one ten storey and two eleven storey.
The wireless network covered the majority of the central part of town, St. James area, Abington, Far Cotton, and parts of Kingsthorpe covering approximately 2500 dwellings. The price each subscriber paid was 1s 6d per week; equivalent to 7.5p today. Each subscriber made their payment weekly by going to the showroom with a payment book, which was stamped. The showroom was originally in Gold Street and later moved to 15 The Drapery.
Northampton being in the middle of the country did not have a local transmitter and the nearest was Sutton Coldfield near Birmingham. Therefore masthead amplification of the signals was essential. The channels received were Ch..4 - BBC and
Ch.8 - ATV Midlands; some of the amplifiers were made in the workshop at Horsemarket where Wireless Relay started, and others were bought in from a company called Aerialite.
In the 60's Ch.6 [Anglia] became available from the new transmitter at Sandy Heath in Bedfordshire finally giving us a local station. This, together with the new local transmitter at Boughton Green Rd, Northampton transmitting Ch.3 - BBC meant a lot of tuning of amplifiers as there were 30 sites to replace or retune equipment. Teleng U60CW’s and U40AW’s aerial site equipment made it possible to distribute signals over a large area. Repeater stations were also set up giving these systems an even larger distribution range.
One of the 4 systems set up in the central area had 4 repeater stations using TIS WB3 and WB2, the WB3 was a band III two stage amplifier using 2 ECC2000 valves as output and the WB2 was a band I and II amplifier using the same valves. These valves had 10 gold plated pins instead of the usual 9 pin B9A valve bases.
The Teleng U60 CW was a Band III, 3-input, 5-stage ECC88 valve amplifier with a Band I combiner. The U40 AW was a Band I - 3-input, 4-stage ECC88 valve amplifier, so we had plenty of scope for various signals. Both these amplifiers helped us distribute signals to a large estates.
There was approximately 30 communal sites around Northampton and as the town grew in the 1960's, having just the 2 programmes was insufficient and it became necessity to add extra programmes, so U60CW - 5 stage valve amplifiers and U40CW - 4 valves band II were brought-in with a 2 stage amplifiers for BBC band 1 to distribute the signals via a tapping system in the cable. Sometimes subscribers would try to connect themselves to the system but they always put a short circuit on the system and were found quite easily. The main cable was similar to the RG214 double screened in use these days. Routine inspections took place on a regular basis to keep down the fault rate. We carried a fold up 8 rung ladder, a small case of valves and a signal strength meter. The meter had a TV tuner with an extra fine tuner, being more sophisticated and capable of checking the vision signal as well as the sound level.(the old clunk click tuner with biscuits in) so if one of the signals was high the amplifier in question that was tested could be adjusted. Faults that did occur was sound on vision ,so they were easily adjusted all systems were checked for output .The cost of the service to each subscriber was 1s 6d per week.
Remembering Rediffusion Northampton by Tony Popple Page 1