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Yearbooks: ITA 1968  The Yearbook Archive

UHF and colour pages 128 and 133

 

The Labour government of Harold Wilson had made the decision that television should be moved off from VHF and on to UHF.  The benefits of UHF were many - larger bandwidth available meant an increase in the line standard from 405 to 625; the UK allocation of spectrum was greater (the UK had asked for room for only one VHF service in the 1930s, and had been granted two; it requested three in the 1960s and was granted four) giving room for all three services (BBC-1 and BBC Wales, BBC-2 and the ITA's broadcasts) on the same system with expansion into either ITV2 (as the previous government had already announced in Parliament) or BBC-3 (as the new government had hinted); the transmitters belonging to the ITA and the BBC would be co-sited, so only one aerial would no be required; and, of course, colour would be permitted on the new system.

UHF, however, did have drawbacks. Firstly, people were to be asked not only to get a new aerial only 15 years after investing in Band III reception, but now a new set capable of 625-line reception.  Secondly, from the point of view of the engineers, a worse problem appeared - UHF signals simply did not travel as far as VHF.  Indeed, the results of UHF testing were very disappointing, revealing that doubling the size of some masts would be required in order to cover only half the previous population.

The cautious ITA map above attempts to avoid telling the public what the ITA's engineers already knew - that it may be years before UHF was available to many of the people VHF already covered, and that some ITV contractors would suffer huge losses of area.

This fact is obscured in the map, but the simple facts can be seen by looking at (4) Emley Moor.  This transmitter's fringe reception under VHF reached from Middlesbrough in the north to Leicester in the south and from Manchester in the west all the way to the Lincolnshire coast in the east.

Under UHF, the transmitter would barely cover the West Riding, while the UHF transmitters assigned to Tyne Tees, (18) Bilsdale, would stretch almost to Leeds, and the transmitter assigned to Anglia, (16) Belmont, would reach practically to Sheffield.

This was to present the ITA with a problem, as the new contractor in Leeds, Yorkshire Television, could face becoming a large regional company, while Anglia could suddenly (to the Norwich-based company's delight) replace YTV as one of the Big Five.

This problem would be put off for a while - the switch-off of VHF was not planned to take place until the 1990s, while adoption of UHF colour sets by the public might take until the mid-80s to become universal (in fact, switch-off was achieved in 1985; there were no complaints, leading many to speculate that everyone had, silently and without fanfare, gone out during the 70s and purchased UHF and dual-standard sets, leaving nobody at all watching the VHF services by 1982.  Colour licences overtook monochrome in 1976-77, although the adoption of UHF colour, as compared to UHF in black and white, is still not complete).

The problems would be rectified at contract renewal in 1974; until them, the ITA kept quiet about the impact UHF would have.

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