A temporary transmitter and mast is on its way to Bilsdale, North Yorkshire, in order to restore TV, radio and mobile services in the area.
The temporary mast won’t be as high as the current, 314.6 metre high structure, but it will be high enough to restore coverage to the majority of the 1 million homes who have lost Freeview. However, the reduced height may impact relay transmitters who may not be able to receive a usable signal. This evening, limited FM radio coverage has returned from a temporary set-up.
Damage caused by the fire threatens the structural integrity of the current mast.
Elsewhere, work is taking place to restore services at some of Bilsdale’s relays. The relay transmitter at Whitby Business Park lost its direct feed on Tuesday. It is now switched to a satellite back-up, although viewers will not be able to see their usual regional service.
As a result of the ongoing work to secure the site and the need to erect the temporary mast, Arqiva have been unable to publish a timeframe for the restoration of services.
Freeview is advising viewers not to retune. It has provided guidance on how to access its channels online, including through its online hybrid service Freeview Play. Satellite and cable services are unaffected.
PICTURE: A temporary mast standing next to West Yorkshire’s Emley Moor tower in 2019 during scheduled maintenance work to upgrade the original tower’s antenna. A similar set-up will apply at Bilsdale soon.
Services affected by the Bilsdale transmitter fire
- BBC-A (PSB1), D3&4 (PSB2), BBC-B HD (PSB3), SDN (COM4), Arqiva A (COM5), Arqiva B (COM6), COM7, COMUX (Local) for Teesside.
- BBC National DAB, Digital One, Sound Digital (SDL), Teeside (Bauer), North Yorkshire (MuxCo) [The Bilsdale DAB coverage area is smaller than the TV coverage area. As a result, some DAB services can continue to be heard in some areas from neighbouring transmitters, but the signal will be weaker]
- Radio 1*: 98.6, Radio 2*: 89.0, Radio 3*: 91.2, Radio 4*: 93.4, BBC Tees: 95.0, Classic FM*: 101.6, Capital FM* (North East): 106.4, Heart FM* (North East): 100.7, TFM Radio: 96.6 [Services marked with an asterisk can be heard on alternative frequencies from neighbouring transmitters in some areas.]
- O2, Vodafone, EE, Three [all networks and all of their ‘virtual’ networks, such as Giffgaff, Voxi, Plusnet Mobile, Smarty] – affects a much smaller area covering Bilsdale and the surrounding North York Moors.
What caused the fire?
The investigation is still ongoing. North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue say that there is nothing to suggest criminal activity at this time. There have been reports linking the fire to a lightning strike. However, no lightning strikes were recorded by the Met Office in the area at the time of the fire.
Scheduled maintenance was taking place at the transmitter site this week, which would have resulted in spells of reduced power to allow engineers to work safely.
Has this kind of thing happened before?
Viewers in the North West of England almost faced this problem back in 2018, when moorland fires threated the region’s main transmitter at Winter Hill, surrounding the site. The mast survived thanks to the local fire and rescue service.
In May 2010, the Oxford transmitter mast went off-air after feeder cables caught fire near the top. The reserve antenna further down the mast were activated later, restoring service for some households. It wasn’t until September that full power services were restrored.
On 30th October 2004, the Peterborough radio transmitter collapsed. It took until 10th November before all services could be restored, via the adjacent BT Tower.
In the Netherlands, the Smilde TV and radio transmitter collapsed in July 2011, and was not fully operational again until October 2012.