Marconi and Towyn

Tywyn is a small, ageing seaside resort on the shores of the Irish Sea in the southern Merionethshire part of present day Gwynedd. There are very many varied spellings of the place name and it has the same root as the Cornish word Towan for sand dunes. In steam railway days, large numbers of excited holiday makers would each summer be disembarked from long loco-hauled trains. Although the census figures have hardly altered over the past century, today it still retains as regular visitors and semi-permanent inhabitants many times its core resident population of just over 4,000 by way of people travelling via the long-outdated, dangerously twisting roads from the Midlands and elsewhere to locally owned caravan, camping and chalet parks dotted around the vicinity. There is also a tourist trade based mainly on the preserved Talyllyn narrow gauge railway, one of several on the train enthusiasts' round-Wales loco outing.

In the 19th and 20th centuries slate was quarried from inland and transported to the coast by the narrow gauge railway to the main line, but after the industry failed much of the workforce and all those dependent upon them moved away from the region to work elsewhere, either in coal mines further south or other trades.

Without the weekly summertime rail influx to fall back on, which had grown substantially by the mid-20th century, and which had contributed to the area's social vitality, housing developments, healthcare amenities and economic prospects, plus various military encampments which had fallen into disuse, Towyn became a quiet, semi-remote, and predominantly English speaking anomaly bounded by the rural Snowdonia National Park. Together with its adjacent smaller but picturesque harbour village of Aberdovey (Aderdyfi) the locality is now a destination for weekends or short breaks and offers its immediate hinterland the convenience of its small local shops.

Medium Wave

Close to the sea front and previously duned locality of Bryn y Mor (grid ref: SH581004) there is a BBC medium wave transmitter site dominating the skyline, currently run by Crown Castle, with sheep grazing around the two giant steel guyed mast bases. It contains a 5kW sender for the 882kHz (340.5 metres) BBC Wales (previously Radio 4/Home Service) repeater, infilling the Cambrian Coast area for the main transmitter which cannot properly service this distance from the principle site at Washford in Somerset on the same frequency. This had originally been announced in 1951 by the Postmaster-General as one of 12 low power stations planned to improve Home Service coverage and was to have been sited at Pwllheli.

Additionally a 1kW sender on 990kHz acts as local repeater for Radio 5 (previously this was used for Radio 2 before its national migration to vhf). There were also mediumwave transmitters for Radio 1 (1214kHz until 1978 when it was moved to 1089kHz) and Radio 3 (.5kW) which were decommissioned in 1994 when Blaenplwyf near Aberystwyth took over service for Ceredigion and SW Gwynedd as transfer of these networks was moved to vhf. The Radio 3 transmitter was not, unusually, recommissioned at this site for Virgin Radio.

Early radio holds a strong historical Marconi connection with Towyn - as it continues to be known and spelt by many, although it is recorded on recent maps as Tywyn.

Irish National Liberation

The war for Irish national liberation had resulted in the transatlantic telegraph service which had operated from Clifden in County Galway, on the west coast of Ireland, being eliminated. For 15 years, Clifden's 20 kV generators' spark-induced blue flashes had sent tens of thousands of wireless messages across the Atlantic to its North American counterpart station at Table Head in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. The service was transferred to just 60 miles north of Tywyn, at Waunfawr near Caernarfon, where in early 1914, the Marconi Company built a large, high power long wave wireless telegraph transmitting station (callsign MUU) on the lower slopes of Cefndu. *

Its associated receiving station was installed by the Marconi Wireless Company on the southern edge of Tywyn on property obtained from Roger Corbett, just inside what is now the Snowdonia National Park. The two stations formed the British telegraph link between London and New York, with landlines running from Tywyn to the Central Telegraph Office in Fenchurch Street, London, and later on to the larger Radio House in Wilson Street, where typists read off the messages from tape and transferred them to telegrams for delivery.

Marconi's primary antenna was a horizontal directional type supported by five 300 foot lattice steel masts running west to east for 3km aligned with New Brunswick, with the final mast 1,400 feet above sea level. There was also a parallel reserve antenna system supported by 36 wooden 30 foot high masts. To enable duplex working, Towyn used a system of balancing antennas 80 feet high, at 90 degrees to null out unwanted emissions from the Waunfawr transmitter picked up on the first antenna.

World War I

Tests were conducted between Tywyn and Caltano in Italy, and transmissions followed to and from Glace Bay, New Brunswick and New Jersey on 27kHz. During World War I, the Marconi Company transatlantic stations at Towyn and Caernarvon (more recently Tywyn and Caernarfon) were operated through the British Post Office for the Admiralty, with Tywyn receiving station being guarded by soldiers from Newtown. Wartime activities at Tywyn included regular transmissions for Egypt and Russia. The Admiralty requisitioned for war production or service all company sites and Marconi's Head of Training was seconded to the War Office to organise the army wireless school. The Company was expected to provide operators and instructors from its reserve of human resources built from encouraging radio amateurs to learn Morse code. Due to Italy's neutrality during the early part of the imperialist war Marconi was declared an 'alien' and the subject of shortlived suspicion.

C.S. Franklin developed an improved anti-interference antenna design in 1920 utilising two Bellini-Tosi loops held aloft by four 100 foot wooden masts installed in a field behind the Gwalia which replaced the five masts then at the station.

Marconi Sails In

Guglielmo Marconi visited Towyn receiving station in 1918, sailing into Aberdovey (Aberdyfi) Harbour in his luxury steam yacht Elettra, the name he gave to his daughter. The yacht was a floating radio and electronics laboratory equipped with short and longwave equipment installed to conduct tests across the sea. Transmissions were monitored from the Isle of Wight and Poldhu in Cornwall, where transatlantic experiments had been successful for the first time ever in 1901 with St. John, Newfoundland at a distance of 3,862km using the historic Morse code signal "S".

Radio School

In 1916 a school was opened for female telegraphists to go on a six month training course. Eight were appointed to Towyn, where they pioneered the concept of a 24-hour shift system in Tywyn station wireless operating room. The receiving operator on shift would sit next to the transmitting operator who had remote control of the transmitter at Waunfawr.

Eight postwar bungalows were built for station staff and families. They are still there, privately owned, and known as the Marconi Bungalows. Further up the hill and behind is the original station building, now converted into two houses, at Hafod y Bryn. The remains of the base of the 300 foot radio mast are also visible at the top of Escuan Hill, which used to be a popular walk in tourist times but is now closed, awaiting legislation to make it accessible once more.

Full duplex commercial service commenced on March 22, 1920. A message destined for the United States would be handed in at a Marconi London office and, using Morse code, punched on to paper tape. On receipt via landline at Towyn it was automatically reproduced on punched tape, and passed on, still via landline, through the Wheatstone transmitter which controlled the signal keying switches at Waunfawr, sending the message at a speed of up to ten letters per second across the North Atlantic. The first transmissions to Australia passed via this route. Service was discontinued on 26 March, 1923 and transferred to Brentwood in Essex, using the huge Post Office station at Rugby for incoming reception, although the transmitter at Waunfawr continued in use until 1939 when the Marconi Company shortwave service replaced it. During World War 2 Marconi, now back in Italy, publicly supported the fascist war effort. British radio amateurs annually reactivate a commemmoration at Waunfawr on International Marconi Day.

The BBC operated Towyn station for many years after closure and this is possibly one of the reasons giving rise to the locating of the existing BBC Tywyn transmitters. The Tywyn tourist office which closed used to have a fine display of historic pictures of the Marconi radio station, but where are they now?


Titanic

* There is a story that an operator at the Towyn Marconi Radio Station came to work there as a result of tossing a coin, his friend going on to become one of the two Marconi Telegraph Company-employed Wireless Operators onboard the fated maiden voyage from Southampton of RMS Titanic, callsign MGY, which struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic and sank. We are seeking confirmation of this.

The Morse spark gap signal they transmitted from Titanic's Marconi Room late on April 14, 1912 was CQD. "CQ" derives from French, the official international postal language, sécurité (safety or pay attention) and not, as many believe, "seek you", to which Marconi added a "D" for Distress. Sécurité is still an official international maritime call for attention.

Callsigns beginning with the letter M for Marconi were originally allocated by the Marconi Company to their own ships and land stations. After the 1912 London Radio Conference countries were assigned their own international callsign prefix letters, M (and also G) thenceforth established British identification. It is believed that the Towyn station was assigned the call letters MUV.

Of the two radio operators on Titanic, Jack Phillips, aged 25, died of hypothermia before any rescue boats arrived. Harold Bride continued for some years as a Marconi operator, and lived until 1956.

A radio amateur living at Gelligroes, Monmouthshire reported hearing the Titanic distress message to the local police who were sceptical. Marconi subsequently visited Mr. Moore at Gelligroes in person to see the equipment he had built and decided to employ him.

William James Cotter was the Marconi operator on the Virginian when the Titanic sunk and received the final message from the Titanic. In 1913 he transferred to the Clifden station in Ireland and during WW1 to Towyn.

Amateur Radio

Telford & District Amateur Radio Society regularly celebrate the annual International Marconi Day by operating a radio station using the special callsign GB8MD from a field next to the original surviving buildings of Towyn Marconi Receiving station. TDARS repeated their "Towyn Expedition" in April 2012 and 2013 for the centenary of the Marconi receiving station at Tywyn, with the additional special commemmorative callsign GB100TMD.


VHF and Television

The Blaenplwyf transmitter site, 25 kilometres from Tywyn and currently run by Crown Castle, has a single mast at 123m agl (300m aod), from April 24, 1957 replaced the vhf tv service radiated from the 1,000 foot Arfon mast at Nebo, near Pwllheli (itself a relay of the Preseli station at Foel Drych in Pembrokeshire, 81 kilometres distant), and also the medium wave BBC programmes which had been broadcast from Tywyn. Today this unstaffed station broadcasts:

250 kW (max erp) mixed polarisation vhf fm
BBC Radio 1 98.3 MHz
BBC Radio 2 88.7 MHz
BBC Radio 3 90.9 MHz
BBC Radio 4 104.0 MHz
BBC Radio Cymru 93.1 MHz
BBC Radio Wales 95.3 MHz 120 KW
INR Classic FM 101.1 MHz 10kW
ILR Radio Ceredigion 103.3
100kW Television, group AH, NICAM (superceded 2010)
BBC1 Ch 31
BBC2 Ch 27
ITV Ch 24
S4C Ch 21
Channel 5 56 W
and DTT

NB This single coverage area was the only UK main station deprived of Channel 4 UK Television until 2kW Digital Terrestrial TV Broadcasting (restyled Freeview following the BBC acquisition) became available in recent years. Mainstream public service television from this national resource was not allowed in Wales, substituted locally with S4C, filling unrequired programming outside its short span of primary viewing hours with material provided by Channel 4 UK, regularly on at least a week-late basis. However, programming was generally available in other areas by one means or another, usually by retuning and/or reorienting rooftop antennas. Channel 4 is also available via satellite although, depending on package and viewing card, may be subject to additional subscription costs - which for a British national public service broadcaster seems contrary to purpose. When analogue terrestrial is closed down, S4C will take over the present little-watched S4C-Digital channel and the choice of it or Channel 4 will at last become permanent (as much as anything in broadcasting can be said to be "permanant").

"Digital"

The digital switchover of the Blaenplwyf transmitter near Aberystwyth, affecting Towyn / Tywyn, and its 14 relay transmitters was scheduled over two stages during spring 2010.

Stage 1 - February 10th, 2010:

BBC2 went "digital", permitting additional digital channels becoming available.

Stage 2 - March 10th, 2010:

Freeview power increased from 1666W to 25kW, 15 times stronger. BBC1, ITV and the remaining analog S4C channel finally switched off, with the final remaining digital channels becoming available, requiring another re-tuning of receiving equipment. No more analogue - but don't discard your old set in case you yet find other uses for it! The broad feeling of waste, profiteering, unnecessary grief and, for many, hard to finance additional expense over this entire undertaking is palpable.

HDTV high-definition television is available from Freeview using a so-called HD-ready receiver equipped with a DVB-T2 tuner or a set-top box. The BlaenPlwyf mast is not one of the extended Freeview HD transmitters and does not provide all the high definition (HD) channels, so use is required of a satellite (Freesat or Sky) to access all British regional television, and on the local Freeview system simply rearrange the search order so that Channel 4 is listed as the fourth channel at the fourth button press. HDTV is available from Freesat with an HDTV Freesat receiver and a 1080i television set. Freesat boxes have an Ethernet socket to facilitate "on-demand" programmes.

The Preseli digital switchover date was August 19th, 2009, as was the Dolgellau relay. Some parts of the Tywyn area may be better served via Preseli.

It was the tendency for viewers on the northern and southern coasts of Wales who preferred to watch neighbouring English regions to avoid Welsh language programmes from the BBC and ITV altogether, in much the same way as viewers in the Irish Republic also watched British television stations in addition to RTE. Nowadays choice may be pursued by utilising satellite and selecting any UK region of preference, thus alleviating the otherwise peculiar restriction on being confined to "local" news. Consequently the population may, at last, participate in the full range of schools & educational television broadcasting which was always available across the rest of Britain. It was considered strange that Gwynedd Council's Website provided a link to Channel 4 Television because of the schools content available but failed to promote the actual broadcasting of the full range of programmes within its vast geographical domain, presumably because of language policy. It is possible to watch all BBC/ITV variations via satellite and not be deprived now of regional content and language from other parts of the country. Viewers from other parts of the country may see what is being shown on the Wales digital transmitters, although there continue to be analogue-digital discrepencies still to annoy if your regular programme has been disrupted by something the regional programme manager chose to show for what may seem obscure reasons. For example, on the anniversary of the historic and far reaching Dunkirk Evacuation, despite its importance and relevance to much of the population, local television did not broadcast the 3-part commemoration owing to the manager choosing to show something unimportant to the national audience. It was eventually shown some months later - as it was elsewhere but as a looked forward to repeat.

D.A.B.

Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB on Band III 217.5-230MHz) is available on BBC UK and Digital One multiplexes from the Blaenplwyf (National Grid ref: SN569756) and Preseli (National Grid ref: SN172306) transmitters. It is possible that the proposed DAB2 standard will make existing DAB receivers obsolete. Meanwhile the capitalist recession simply adds to DAB's woes across Britain.

In February 2008, Ofcom announced an area described as North Wales, covering Gwynedd, Anglesey, Conwy and most of Denbighshire available for a licence application, but the achievable coverage is likely to be significantly constrained until mid-2015 under the terms of international spectrum agreements (i.e. with the Republic of Ireland). Ofcom has licensed Mid & West Wales to the sole DAB applicant who immediately announced proposals to broadcast to only one of their two frequency planning allocations: they will operate using two transmitters at Presely and Carmel from early 2010, adding two more at Fishguard and Llanelli within two years. Licence winner MuxCo stated it had not identified a commercially viable way of serving the other half of the licence area, namely Ceredigion and Powys. There is a chance, depending on orientation of the transmitter at Presely and other considerations, of a signal reaching parts of Towyn (Tywyn).

Satellites

BBC National and other digital radio programming could be accessed via satellite or digital terrestrial television, but this is not viable whilst travelling, or in most portable situations, and almost all cars are not equipped in any case other than by user after sales option. OFCOM confirmed in February 2005 that the region will be among the first to terminate analogue television, a national process now underway. For some budding "entrepreneurs", this is a golden business opportunity to set up as antenna installation "specialists" - they may already have been knocking on your door - although a replacement antenna (either outside or in the loft space) is far less likely to be a required purchase than a replacement quality coaxial cable downlead, flylead and/or shielded wall socket - if at anything at all.

The formal go-ahead to develop and launch "Freesat", a guaranteed free-to-view satellite proposition was given in April, 2007 and increasingly includes HD (High Definition) programming to provide service to areas where there is now, and might continue to be, a low strength signal. This new service must not be confused with Sky TV's so-called Freesat from Sky which is broadcast through the same group of Astra satellites at 28 degrees East. Channel 4 is, at long last, available via the Sky-box via the add channels selection at no subscription cost since early 2008.

BBC management's proposition to launch a national free-to-view satellite platform known as "Freesat" was realised in May 2008 with standard and high definition receivers available through major stores. "Freesat" provides guaranteed subscription-free access for licence fee payers to digital services, including the BBC's digital television channels and radio services. It is offered on the basis of a one-off initial payment only, to cover the cost of equipment and installation - no subscriptions, no packages and you can almost certainly use your old Sky dish - add a quad-LNB to use both sets. The service will be future-proofed, through the designing in of high definition and personal video recorder compatibility, red-button services, etc., and would be marketed through retail outlets and via the Internet.

The "Freesat" consortium (BBC/ITV) has made available for purchase their own "Freesat" satellite receivers - which provide Channel 4 and Five, plus many more digital channels incrementally. An alternative way of using Freeview to transmit HD content by using spatial multiplexing techniques remains in the background.

Local Radio

Local commercial radio (there are no local BBC stations in this low population part of Britain and no regional opt-out from BBC Radio Wales) is represented in the area by GMG Radio, part of The Guardian Media Group plc.

GMG launched what it called "Wales' first national commercial radio station" on January 4, 2011, with the additional of North and Mid-Wales to the South Wales based Real Radio.

Transmitters with potential in the Tywyn area, along along the coastal strip and higher ground within line of sight are:

  • Blaenplwyf on 107.7MHz (10 kW)
  • Arfon on 107.2MHz (2.5 kW)
  • Preseli on 105.7Mhz (9.4 kW)

Would that they provide even vaguely up to date announcements (you know, the sort of thing local radio everywhere else does fairly well) concerning when the bridge at Machynlleth is closed due to flooding or bumping - as without going there nobody knows - at which point it may be too late for your visit to hospital, journey to school/university, run to (or back home from) work....! As every long distance courier knows: "Tywyn in Mid-Wales, what, get stranded".

If finances were to be found an application would be possible for a community station - Radio Tywyn - or Radio Towyn. If you've that cash, let us know about it!

Please notify us of any additional news or archive information which will assist maintain the currency of this page.


Radio comes to Tywyn

BBC MW transmitter site showing one of the two masts and automatic lawnmowers (sheep) at Tywyn - 2004 Photograph of Memorial Hospital and Marconi Station, Towyn

Memorial Hospital and
Marconi Station, Towyn

Photograph of Towyn Memorial Hospital Tywyn BBC transmitter site undergoing mast maintenance - 2009

Mast Maintenance with the team from RJC UK, September 2, 2009 in the filthiest of weather, right on the edge of a storm and not for the faint hearted!

Towyn mast maintenance rigger from RJC UK right at the top in filthy weather - 2009 GB8MD Amateur Radio Station Antennas - International Marconi Day, 2011

Telford & District Amateur Radio Society celebrate International Marconi Day

GB8MD Amateur Radio Station - one of a number of transmitters on the air on International Marconi Day, 2011 from the site of the original Towyn Marconi station

Tywyn Radio


Tywyn rocks

Tywyn coastal defence works during 2010 provided a radio experience with several vessels owned by Finnish company Sillanpaa Shipping and registered variously in Finland or The Netherlands, delivering rock and remaining offshore, sometimes for several days at a time.

Marine Band channel 77 (156.875 MHz fm) was used for inter-ship and ship to shore communications.