The IBA’s flying-squad 

30 May 2017

The work of the mobile maintenance teams

From ITV 1974, published by the Independent Broadcasting Authority



The IBA has over 150 transmitting stations spread throughout the United Kingdom – many on remote hilltops and all containing advanced and highly-sophisticated electronic equipment.

At only about twenty of these stations are there engineers on duty in the regional colour control centres. From the start of the 625-line colour service in 1969, all the UHF transmitting stations have been designed for fully automatic and unattended operation.


Two men work on electronics on a desk

Engineers in their base workshops.


A man works at an electronic wall bank

Checking the remote signalling apparatus.


The stations have duplicate equipments and can stay on the air even when – as is bound to happen from time to time – major faults occur in any part of the apparatus.

To keep the unattended stations in good shape, providing both preventive maintenance and rectifying faults, the IBA has established compact teams of mobile maintenance engineers – the flying-squad of the television service – in different parts of the country, usually within two hours drive of any transmitting station.

These teams of two or three highly skilled engineers spend their working lives visiting the stations and checking out the equipment to ensure that it meets the tight specifications that colour television demands. They carry with them in their trim estate cars some £20,000 worth of special test equipment, and only occasionally is it necessary for them to remove some of the transmitter equipment to repair or adjust in their base workshops.


A white estate car with an IBA logo on the driver's door

A mobile maintenance team leaves its base for a transmitter many miles away.


Sometimes there is a change in the pattern of their daily work. A major fault may have developed which, despite all the precautions, has put a station off the air. Thousands of viewers are impatiently waiting for ‘normal service to be resumed’. Routine maintenance is pushed to one side. The team must immediately speed to the ailing transmitter.

Fortunately this does not happen often. Records show that in a twelve-month period, a high-power UHF transmitter is not likely to be off the air for more than about 0.023% of its total broadcasting time – representing about a 2-minute break in 150 hours of television.


Two men unload equipment from a white estate car

Unloading the test equipment at a transmitting station.


Two men work on electronics on a stand in the middle of the floor

All equipment has to meet the IBA’s tight specifications.


A man beside a white estate car with an IBA logo on its door

Another operation over and the engineers head for home.


But faults can occur at any time: and a transmitter off the air is treated as an emergency. It may be during the year’s worst thunderstorm – or the hottest day of summer. The station must be got back on air, if necessary at reduced power.

This could mean changing an enormous multi-cavity klystron output valve or replacing the tiny microelectronics components of the high-grade receiving equipment used to pick up programmes for re-transmission. It may only be a false-alarm due to some quirk of the ingenious automatic signalling equipment that keeps the colour control centres informed of the ‘state of health’ of the stations. It makes a good story afterwards – but it needs a good temperament to rush to a remote and storm-swept hillside when all is well! But more often there’s a real job of work to be done. And the maintenance teams must be ready for anything – they know that viewers expect the station always to be there at the touch of a switch.


You Say

2 responses to this article

Nigel Stapley 31 May 2017 at 5:35 pm

That is the sort of job I would have killed for at 14!

Tony Glazier 13 June 2017 at 9:54 am

That is the job that I was doing.

Not for the IBA though but for the BBC which included the MF and VHF transmitters.

Now following the privatision of the BBC transmission services and a few onward sales, both BBC and independent services are both maintained by one single company.

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