British Eastern Relay Station

The BERS was vital to British interests and the government was extremely anxious that it be maintained both to transmit the news and as a receiving station for GCHQ.  Any interference with it’s functioning would be regarded as catastrophic. It was important to keep the sultan “sweet”. RAF Masirah, unlike RAF Salalah, was critical for the British whilst Salalah was critical for the sultan. The Brits were “on the hook” and shouldering the cost and management of Salalah probably ensured our continued presence on Masirah.

In the years immediately following WW2 It was government policy to promote the BBC World Service.  In an era where there was no  World Wide Web and no domestic satellite communications the news was broadcast by large land based transmitters of huge power which depended on ionospheric reflection and of limited range which varied by day and by night and a new site was sought.

The first transmitter to  broadcast the World Service to the Middle East and to places such as Pakistan and India was set up in Berbera in 1960. Political unrest after Somaliland became independent meant that it had to be moved to Perim Island, a former Victorian coaling station, in the Bab el Mandeb Strait which was considered secure whereas that was not so in Aden where there was increasing unrest. Unfortunately there was a fire which burnt the whole place down in 1966.

The BBC needed in excess of thirty acres. There had to be room for a series of tall towers to support the antennas. There had to be buildings to house the equipment and there had to be a separate site for the satellite downlink some miles distant from the transmitters.

Most importantly there had to be power. The transmitters had four 250Kw valves and four 50 Kw valves. These grounded grid monsters had consumed so much energy on Perim Island that the Napier Deltic Diesel engines that provided it had burst into flames. Bizarrely on Masirah the fuel for the generators was floated ashore in oil drums by airmen in swimming trunks and pumped around the north side of the island in an above ground pipeline to the BERS site.

In time the Masirah site closed and the BBC World Service for South East Asia was transmitted from the mainland of Oman from a site near Al Ashkharah and from a site in Singapore at Kranji. There is still an audience that relies on these old-fashioned transmitters who do not have either the Internet, FM or satellite services.

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