A comment attributed to Dr Samuel Johnson (1707 to 1784). Well, he might have written it had radio been known in the Eighteenth Century.
I think he may have been thinking about radio when he referred to London. Most things I hear seem to relate to radio.
Oh dear, am I becoming radio-obsessed?
I have been feeling out of sorts. As I have said before on this blog, I have a love/hate relationship with radio. Sometimes I cannot get enough of it, and then minutes later I want to give it all up, go QRT and take up quilting instead. Making quilts seems like a more restful hobby.
Usually some challenge will make me perk up. I have several challenges underway right now, for example two projects to improve the performance of my 2m and 70cms stations. These are also part of the "simplification" strategy which seems to involve getting more gear, but anyway ....
For some reason all these plans have failed to lift my gloom. Perhaps a break away would help. Mrs FVM was also enduring a bout of indecision. Hers was in case we might go away and find that Brexit had been resolved while we were away and we found ourselves locked out of the country when we tried to return. However, as it became clear that waiting for Brexit to resolve might take longer than the Summer (not saying which year) she decided to take me to Portugal for a week, with some help from the fine people at Jet2.
All this lack of enthusiasm for radio brought about a ground breaking decision. For the first time in my life I would leave these islands for a holiday without a radio. OK, I know my phone is a radio, as is the wi-fi on my tablet computer, but you know what I mean. The faithful Roberts stayed stored away at FVM Towers. This was to be a radio-free holiday.
After a 03:00 start from a cheap hotel in the Northumberland tourist trap that is Ashington (rugby events in Newcastle having raised the airport hotel rooms from £50 to £300 a night), we were pretty groggy by the time it came to navigating a hire car out of Faro Airport. Mrs FVM asked "Are you sure this is the right road?". "Yes", I replied "I recognise that mast", pointing to an amateur's Earth-Moon-Earth capable array which I had noted several times before.
So it was that type of "no radio" holiday: the sort that spots every antenna, hand portable or reference to radio.
As a holiday it worked well at every level, with 33C temperatures and clear skies for the whole time. Excellent food and even a little drink. Those plus points even got me onto a cliff top - well if you call a crumbling bank a cliff. It was nothing like the local cliffs at Burnmouth.
|GM4FVM above Falésia Beach (that is what passes for relaxed looking).|
|"Cliffs" on the Algarve near Villamoura|
|TV reception antennas in Portugal|
Also worth considering is that because the UK did not go for cable TV (who remembers Associated Rediffusion which started out in the 1920s as a cable radio network?) we did not have existing TV cables on which to build up a fibre internet network. Apart from what became the geographically limited Virgin Media network, we have had to rely on the copper twisted pair in the telephone system.
It wasn't always that outdoor antennas were unusual. I well remember the time when just about every house had a 50MHz beam on the chimney to receive 405-line VHF television signals. Even though Band 1 transmissions ended here 30 years ago, and they were largely ignored long before that, there are still a few of those old behemoths stuck on local chimneys.
One of my earliest childhood memories is the arrival of "UTV" in the late 1950s, which was the local Independent Television ("ITV") service. I was only a child at the time, but I remember the brand new TV which arrived to receive it, with the unusual device, a channel selector. Our previous set, which only had Band I, and thus only BBC reception, was transferred to my Grandmother's house and became here first TV. Later she was given a down converter which went into the antenna downlead and came with a switch to select Band 1 (BBC ~50MHz) or Band 3 (ITV ~ 174-230MHz). Needless to say receiving on two bands required multi-band antennas and the ironmongery on the rooftops got even heftier.
The earlier arrival of Band I TV saw the installation of many 50MHz yagis and crossed dipoles. These were particularly conspicuous where the signal came from a repeater station as these were (and still are) usually vertically polarised. By comparison my radio antennas are small beer, especially if they could be set alongside the TV masts and antennas of rural Ireland. There it was not uncommon to see 100 tall foot guyed masts topped with yagis, log periodics, dishes and all sorts of things, pointing to GI or GW in order to receive UK broadcasts. Where we lived in GI we had a local main transmitter, but we still had both Band I and Band III yagis on the chimney.
When we moved in 1962 we had to update the TV antennas on the chimney of our new house. My father was scathing about the radio antenna, which most houses had pre-War (our house was built in 1937). We found a neat Belling-Lee socket by the living room window frame, through which an "Inverted L" wire antenna rose to the chimney and across to a tall mast down the garden. My father took great glee in chopping down the mast with a hacksaw, now that modernity had arrived in the shape of our 405-line black and white TV. I later wished he had left it. The cable of the radio antenna, carefully fed through the window frame but now cut on either side of the frame, was still there 40 years later when the house was demolished.
The fact that houses had tall, long, wire receiving antennas and masts before TV arrived is often forgotten these days.
Later we got a multi-standard TV for the new 625 line BBC 2 standard, and I remember at some stage taking it apart to convert the 405 line BBC 1 and ITV reception to 625 line. This brought congratulations from my father who immediately noticed the improvement in sound quality (405 line TV had AM sound) and picture resolution. Some years later that TV did what so many of them did in those days - it caught fire helped by the hot valves, and set fire to the curtains behind it. Luckily we put the fire out.
Anyway, the point I am getting at is that here in the UK was have moved from a world where antennas were large, high and commonplace, to a place where such things are unusual. Nowadays our Town and Country Planners frown upon antennas (except domestic satellite dishes which are largely exempt from the Planning laws!).
In the UK planning is administered by local authorities (i.e. municipalities).There are 343 "Councils" in England, 44 in Wales, 32 in Scotland and 11 in Northern Ireland. Most of these have planning powers. If that wasn't enough, in general they consult lower tier institutions about planning issues, such as "Parish Councils" in England and "Community Councils" in Scotland ... and so forth.
It is hardly surprising given the complexity of the local government system that what constitutes a reasonable development, and what is a blot on the landscape, varies enormously. If you happen to live in a conservation area, like an ancient town centre, the planning authority is likely to regard whatever antenna you plan to put up as an insult to local aesthetics. Elsewhere, some councils would not regard some antennas as subject to planning at all. Many councils do not want to get involved with minor issues, preferring to get them resolved locally. At the other extreme some local councillors, eager to get re-elected, will take personal umbridge at any pimple on the roof line. I recall a case where a councillor assured the amateur that he would make it his personal goal in life to get the antennas removed, and so he did.
There is no common definition as to what is a "structure". Sure, everybody knows that a new house is a structure, but is a shed or a greenhouse? Is a pole for a clothes line different from a mast? Is an antenna a structure at all? Well, it depends on which council area you live in. It also depends a lot on whether your neighbours object to it. It is generally accepted that a wire antenna is not a structure for this purpose (there the agreement about antennas ends). Some councils are not concerned about modest antennas attached to houses, or those which are less that a certain height about the roof line. Very much "it depends".
Some councils are very keen to run a side-line in issuing "letters of comfort" to anyone who has something like an antenna which the council has decided (often because the antenna has been in place for four years or more) is not subject to the planning rules. They charge sums like £60 for these - I know I bought one at a previous house. What a nice earner for the council who did not even come to look at what it was they were granting me comfort for.
So there is no simple answer. I have heard of several UK amateurs who have had to process expensive and slow planning applications for 2m and 70cms antennas which are no more noticeable than a television antenna. On the other end of the scale, some have put up free-standing lattice towers with HF beams and had no trouble at all. The variation is caused by the fact that they live in different council areas or are covered by different planning authorities (and they have different neighbours).
The Radio Society of Great Britain runs a service to help amateurs deal with planning problems. I have not needed to use it (yet!) but it gets good reviews. National radio societies do have their uses, and this is a good one.
My Portuguese antenna-spotting trip is now over. I think it is clear that the planning rules in Portugal seem to allow these things, or that permission can be granted. Here, we used to have so many antennas that we stopped noticing them. Now we have so few that any amateur antenna at all seems to attract local objections.
If you look up "TV antenna" on Wikipedia you get an article and this photo of a multi-band set-up.
|"Antenna" - by Yonatan Horan - Own work, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1642466|
In the UK power and telephone cables are buried in all new urban construction, and this provision has applied for many decades now. It is now normal to see UK town skylines looking very uncluttered. Only old-established town centres have above ground cables (thankfully, given the radio noise they emit). People are beginning to view anything above ground as abnormal.
What the future holds, I dread to think.
I am back now, refreshed and still a bit fed up with radio. Perhaps some radio operation would help.