Map Index

30th October 2004

The major transmitting mast at Morborne near Peterborough caught fire and collapsed on the evening of Saturday 30th October 2004.  This left 1.3 million people without FM radio from BBC Radios 1, 2, 3 and 4, Classic FM and BBC Radio Cambridgehire as well as putting off the air all the local and national DAB digital radio multiplexes and some mobile phone services.

By around 5pm the following day, Sunday 31st October 2004, NTL had been able to provide an alternative sustaining low power service for Classic FM (101.9 MHz) and all DAB digital radio from their Gunthorpe mast, just north of Peterborough.

Crown Castle International, who own the Peterborough radio mast and who provide transmissions for BBC FM radio and DAB digital radio were unable to get the BBC back on the air so quickly and were battling to provide an alternative solution during Monday 1st November and hoped to get some services back on air by Tuesday 2nd or Wednesday 3rd November.  FM and DAB services were eventually restored from temporary aerials mounted on the concrete BT tower at reduced power.  NTL followed the CTI move and subsequently put their DAB and FM services on the same BT tower at a reduced power of 5kw, compared to the usual e.r.p. of 40kW.

The felled mast at Morborne
The mast collapsed across the bulding housing the transmitting equipment
photo: Peterborough Today

This is the story from the BBC website as reported on Monday 1st November 2004:
Some FM radio services in parts of the east of England have been affected after a transmitter caught fire.

The 580ft mast at Morborne, Peterborough, Cambs, caught fire on Saturday, collapsing onto transmitter buildings and neighbouring fields.  Radios 1,2, 3 and 4, BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, BBC digital radio and Classic FM were all affected, along with some mobile telephone reception.

Detectives think the fire may have been deliberate and appealed for witnesses.   Gary Martin of Cambs Police, said: "We have a number of theories and we're not resting on any particular one.

"But we need to know - was there anyone suspicious in the area or were there any bangs or fireworks or rockets flying through the air?
"Has anyone seen where the tower was ablaze - was it at the top of the tower, the middle or the bottom of the tower?"  

Following the fire, an estimated 1.3m radio listeners were without an FM service. 
Broadcasters are working to restore service and it is unclear how many areas are still affected.

The transmitter, which is owned by Crown Castle International, covers Cambs, and parts of Lincs, Northants, Leicestershire, Beds, Bucks and west Norfolk.

BBC photo of the collapsed mast
BBC photograph of the collapsed mast

This story from News:
Radio and mobile communication services have been heavily disrupted throughout the city and the surrounding Greater Peterborough area, following a fire at a transmitter over the weekend, writes Bob Hillier.

A 580 ft radio communications mast at Morborne, Peterborough, Cambs collapsed on Saturday night after catching fire. A police investigation into the cause of the incident is up and running.

Local BBC Radio Station Radio Cambridgeshire, together with some local commercial stations and national Stations BBC Radio 1,2 3 and 4 and Classic FM, have all had their FM broadcasts affected in the area.

Some digital radio and mobile phone services have also been hit. The mobile phone company T-Mobile has stated that 63 of its sites in the Region have been affected.

Scenes of crime police officers have attended the scene and will be continuing with their enquiries today. They are appealing for witnesses to the incident.

Detective Chief Inspector Gary Martin of Cambridgeshire Police said: "It is too early to establish the cause of the fire and it would be inappropriate at this time to speculate on its origin. Nothing is ruled out at the moment. I am again appealing for anyone who has any information on the cause of fire to come forward."

Meanwhile, radio bosses have asked their listeners to tune into medium wave broadcasts if available. It isn't known at this stage how long it will be before the transmitter will be back in service.

Update -David Martin, editor at BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, is hopeful that the station's FM broadcasts will be back on the Peterborough airwaves by early tomorrow morning. 
He said: "By nightfall we expect a mast in some shape or form to be erected by Crown Castle International who own the transmitter. We anticipate our FM programmes will then back by tomorrow (2 November) breakfast time."

1st November 2004

Collapsed Peterborough mast

This is the story as reported in "Peterborough Today"

FIRE: Mast blaze brings radio blackout
RESIDENTS across the city today woke up to a radio blackout after a 580ft transmitter collapsed.
Firefighters and police officers were called to the mast at Morborne, near Stilton, Peterborough, at 10.20pm on Saturday, following a fire on the tower which houses communication equipment worth millions of pounds.

The 200-ton mast, owned by Crown Castle UK, crushed a two-storey unmanned building, and narrowly missed a road.

Hundreds of thousands of people were without radio services.

David Martin, editor of BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, said: "All the main networks have been affected by this. It's going to cause a huge amount of problems."

Mr Martin added BBC Radio Cambridgeshire could be off the air in Peterborough until Wednesday.

Farmer Nigel Rome, who lives at Manor Farm, Morborne, saw the blaze.

He said: "Our electricity flipped out at about 10.10pm.

"I received a phone call from Crown Castle UK asking if the mast was on fire.

"I looked out of my window and I could see a red glow. When I got up there it was already down."

A total of 20 firefighters from Dogsthorpe and Yaxley battled for five hours to bring the blaze under control, pumping 2,000

gallons of water on to the blaze from the turntable ladder.

Today the blackened, twisted remains of the tower were still on top of the building, which fire crews said was close to collapsing under the weight.

Firefighters and police officers are keeping an open mind about how the tower collapsed, but senior firefighter Ray McDonnell, from Dogsthorpe, said it was unlikely the tower had been targeted by arsonists.

He said: "We think the fire started about 80ft up the tower.

"If that's the case there's enough plastic insulation material to cause the severe heat which would compromise the stability of the tower."

Mr McDonnell said the mast had collapsed in a "zig-zag" fashion, missing a country road and the nearby 300ft concrete British Telecommunications tower.

Stephen Arnold, a spokesman from Crown Castle UK, said the mast broadcast BBC Radio 1, 2, 3 and 4, as well as BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, Classic FM, and a number of other commercial and digital radio stations to Peterborough.

The engineers' priority was to restore services – which they hoped to do in the next 24 hours.

This morning he said: "Today we will commence installation of an emergency transmitter on site.

"The site is also used by a number of mobile telecoms operators."

Land next to the site was being made available so temporary transmitters could be put up to re-establish coverage.

Yesterday, digital versions of Vibe FM, Classic Gold and Hereward FM were unavailable.

• Anyone who was in the Morborne area after 9pm on Saturday and has any information about the incident, should telephone police on 08454 564564.
01 November 2004

MORE on  by Mike Brown HERE

How the mast looked in 1987, as photographed by Martin Watkins.

The radio mast is the tall steel structure in the background and is owned by Crown Castle International.  This mast supported the large v.h.f. / FM radio aerials for National BBC Radio, v.h.f. / FM aerials for BBC Radio Cambridgeshire together with aerials for BBC DAB digital radio.  NTL also operate high power v.h.f / FM radio for Classic FM and DAB digital radio for Independent multiplexes, mobile phone aerials and microwave linking aerials for various radio services.

The shorter concrete tower in the foreground the the adjacent BT (British Telecom) stucture. (Crown Castle International used this tower to mount some temporary aerials on to provide DAB coverage while the mast was out of action.)

Peterborough mast by Martin Watkins

BELOW:  Coverage map for national radio transmitted from the Peterborough mast (BBC Radio 1, 2, 3, 4 & Classic FM)

Peterborough FM Transmitter

BELOW: Coverage map for BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, showing the coverage from the Peterborough mast in blue

BELOW:  Coverage plot for FM radio from the NTL mast at Gunthorpe, from where NTL provided a temporary FM service for Classic FM together with DAB transmissions.  These temporary transmissions were subsequently moved to the concrete BT tower.  The Classic FM transmitter had an effective power of 5kW, as opposed to the normal 40

Gunthorpe v.h.f. transmitter at 4kW (ILR Peterborough - Hereward Radio)
(Green area is to 54 dB)

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