Eyes in the Sky: Tameside’s Mighty Towers of Power

A (as much as possible) rough guide for non-geek types to the radio and television transmitters covering our area

If you tune in to your local radio station or switch your Freeview box, there’s a great chance you’ll be getting your TV programmes from Winter Hill, or your radio station from Harrop Edge. Given how far Winter Hill is from Tameside (about 20 miles or so away), you will find that it is supported by a number of relays.

A relay repeats signals from its main transmitter, using a direct line of sight. Given that Tameside is well and truly in Granadaland, our TV signals come from Winter Hill which is just outside Bolton. Besides Winter Hill and its relays, Tameside and surrounding area has a number of radio transmitters. Some of which are not only for tuning in to BBC Radio Manchester or the like, but also police radio and amateur radio.

Some of the UK’s television and radio transmitters were formerly part of the Independent Broadcasting Authority, which also had responsibilities for independent local radio. The BBC’s were owned by Crown Castle and now owned by the National Grid. After being transferred to NTL, IBA’s transmitters were sold to Arqiva, its present owners.

Today we may take them for granted, but without them, how on earth do we catch up with our favourite programmes?

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Transmitter Gazetteer

1. Ashton Moss:

  • Height: 30m;
  • Type of Transmitter: tower;
  • Frequencies: 1152kHz (Piccadilly Magic 1152), 1377kHz (Asian Sound Radio), 1458kHz (Gold);
  • Power: 1.5kW, 0.08kW, 5kW;
  • OS Grid References: SJ9146698517 and SJ9235299412.

Ashton Moss’ installation was erected in 1974 to cater for medium wave stations. Its quartet of towers were constructed for BBC Radio Manchester’s and Piccadilly Radio’s Medium Wave frequencies. On giving up its 1458kHz in favour of an FM only service, BBC’s transmitters were handed to Fortune 1458 AM. Today, that belongs to Capital Radio’s ‘Gold’ station. Piccadilly Radio’s MW service became Piccadilly Gold, then Piccadilly 1152 before adopting its present name of ‘Piccadilly Magic 1152’. A low powered transmitter, at 0.08kW is Asian Sound Radio’s.

2. Harrop Edge:

  • Height: 12.2m;
  • Type of Transmitter: guyed pole;
  • Frequencies: 103.6MHz (Tameside Radio);
  • OS Grid Reference: SJ984964.

The Harrop Edge site has seen recent expansion since Tameside Radio began broadcasting in 2007. Prior to then, it was a favourite location for local pirate radio stations Aquarius and Andromeda. Tameside Radio’s transmitters are also shared with amateur radio services. Given its topography as well as its powerful, Tameside Radio’s signal can be picked up as far as Chadderton and Altrincham.

3. Mottram:

  • Height: 17m;
  • Type of Transmitter: tripole;
  • OS Grid Reference: SJ987962.

The rise of digital television has seen a number of smaller digital transmitters appear. One in Mottram, just south of Harrop Edge serves as a sub-relay to Glossop’s relay with Winter Hill.

4. Saddleworth:

  • Height: 45.7m;
  • Type of Transmitter: tower;
  • Analogue Radio Frequencies: 89.8MHz (BBC Radio 2), 91.9MHz (BBC Radio 3), 94.1MHz (BBC Radio 4), 99.3MHz (BBC Radio 1), 103MHz (Key 103), 104.6MHz (BBC Radio Manchester);
  • OS Grid Reference: SD98700500.

Most of Tameside’s radio and televisual requirements are serviced by the Saddleworth transmitter. It relays the borough’s FM radio frequencies, such as Key 103 and BBC Radio Manchester. It is also a relay for digital terrestrial television services, relaying the signals from Winter Hill. BBC’s national radio stations are relayed from the Black Hill transmitter, between Woodhead and Holmfirth.

5. Werneth Low:

  • Height: 33m;
  • Type of Transmitter: square lattice tower;
  • Frequencies: unknown;
  • OS Grid Reference: SJ96549289.

For several years, the transmission masts on Werneth Low have remained the preserve of the emergency services. Today, Greater Manchester Police are among its main users, with their transmitter upgraded to accommodate the digital TETRA system. This uses similar frequencies to cellular phones and was the source of most headaches suffered by police officers.

S.V., 10 February 2013.

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8 thoughts on “Eyes in the Sky: Tameside’s Mighty Towers of Power

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  1. I’m also a geek for these things, TV transmitters!
    I just thought I’d say though the transmitter on Black Hill is more well known as the Holme Moss transmitter. It’s odd when you think 93.7 (BBCR4) from Holme Moss/Black Hill for example can be heard as far as North Wales and beyond the East Coast … yet our local Pennine Hills seem to provide a dark spot for signals from that transmitter!

    I’d also point out incase you didn’t know, there is a tripole transmitter located at Brook Bottom in Mossley which relays the signal from Winter Hill (but via Saddleworth) for Digital TV multiplexes.

    It is located in a field above Greenway Drive and provides coverage across the whole of Mossley (although of course most of the town uses the feed directly from Saddleworth).
    The Brook Bottom transmitter proved a blessing for residents to the left of Quickedge road and indeed the Waterton Lane estate at the bottom of the valley which is shadowed slightly from the Saddleworth transmitter (since the digital switchover however I’m sure any aerial install in these areas would happily receive a signal from Saddleworth).

    Anyway, a brilliant article and it just goes to show how much these hilly locations (in this case the South Western Pennines) take for granted these small relay transmitters for local radio and national TV.

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    1. Hi Harry,

      I was going to mention Brookbottom, but it came to me shortly after I finished the article. Also, the transmitter is referred as ‘Brook Bottom’ which is the incorrect spelling (should actually be one word).

      I alternately refer to the Black Hill transmitter as either Holme Moss or Black Hill, and it doesn’t surprise me about the reception problems Tameside residents faced. In the old analogue days, my late Nana who once lived in Mossley, had some problems getting Channel Four. Sometimes, from Chez Vall, we could also get analogue UHF signals from Wales and the Midlands. Sometimes, S4C reception was just as clear as Granada; even on a portable black and white TV, I could on odd occasions pick up Central.

      Also missing the final cut last night, is a seventh one to the list: Broadbottom. Again another relay to Winter Hill, via Glossop, carrying digital TV signals.

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

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      1. I suspect the HTV Wales and S4C is interface from Moel Y parc in North Wales, the reason for this is that the Saddleworth transmitter also uses the same frequences on freeview as Moel y Parc to otherwise bring strong Welsh TV signals across Greater Manchester and Cheshire (less so in Saddleworth itself because of the hills).

        I remember when I lived in Diggle our aerial pointing to the Saddleworth transmitter would also receive off beams from Winter Hill and indeed as you say Central ITV (The Wreckin most likely).

        I mention North Wales, the same principles apply for radio reception in the Greater Manchester Area, for example BBCR2 in large parts of Greater Manchester can be heard on 89.8 (Saddleworth), 89.3 (Holme Moss) and 88.9 (Langollen in North Wales).

        I have always found it very interesting the cross over coverage of Welsh TV and radio signals in the Greater Manchester and Cheshire areas (and indeed the other way around), for example Key 103 can be heard well into North Wales.

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      2. Hi Harry,

        Most definitely Moel-y-Parc. It is stated that Moel-y-Parc’s pictures can be picked up as far as Blackpool, as well as in Greater Manchester. You too are bang on about Central Independent Television’s pictures coming from the Wrekin. I too have noticed being able to get BBC Radio 2 frequencies from other transmitters.

        Bye for now,

        Stuart.

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  2. I know this post is quite old but I have found some more information on the Saddleworth transmitter.
    It was erected in 1969 when origionally it was planned for telephone communications only (BT) however it was soon well established that, with the invent of analogue TV as we know it, it would relay signals from Winter Hill primarily to Saddleworth (excluding villages immediately West of the transmitter), and down the Upper Tame Valley. BBC 2 was first transmitted on 2nd February 1970 with BBC 1 NW and Granada television added on 28th June 1984. I would strongly expect the frequencies were all the same up until analogue closedown in 2009 (c42 – C4; c45 – BBC 2; c48 – Granada TV; c52 – BBC1 NW).

    Picadilly Radio launched on 2nd April 1974 on 97.00 FM from two highly directional areals narrowly beaming towards Manchester at 2.0 Kw, giving reception to most of Greater Manchester and into Cheshire but not so much in Northern areas e.g Rochdale, Littleborough and Bolton. In 1988 it became known as Key 103 but I am under the impression that the frequency was changed from 97FM to 103 FM some years previously. Also, I’m not sure when, but the 2 Kw aerial system was replaced with a 4 Kw system using 4 directional aerials towards Manchester. Quite odd as the most drastic change was an extension of the narrow beam into Cheshire and North Wales (although I suspect signals from the side beam i.e North and South were improved to). Not to sure when this happened but may well have been when the frequency changed to 103 FM in the 80’s.

    In 1991 when BBC’s operation of the FM band for national stations became what it is now (with the invent of BBC R1 in the previously unavailable 97-99 FM slot), a various chain of relay transmitters were put in place (mostly on existing TV transmitters). This included Saddleworth which received BBC R1-4 on the frequencies used today. This meant coverage in Saddleworth and the Upper Tame Valley was improved (signals from Holme Moss are hissy especially using stereo sound indoors). In 1996, BBC GMR was added on 104.6 FM meaning the BBC local service coverage was improved to.

    1997 saw the biggest change and a full transmitter facelift with the addition of DTV, one of 4 other relays in the Winter Hill region to receive such services. It proved a blessing for viewers of the Saddleworth transmitter and something very much taken for granted. Coverage was also improved to with this addition – the poor and watery analogue signals in Delph and Mossley (Brook Bottom) could be avoided using a decent aerial pointed to Saddleworth and a digital television set top box (although to this day, there are a few spots on Denshaw Road in Delph that struggle with digital TV from Saddleworth).

    Not much changes, if any, at switchover time except for the re shuffle of digital TV frequencies.

    It’s always had an ununsusl radiation pattern. It transmits to beams of equal power towards the South (down the Tame valley to Stalybridge and beyond), and North towards Denshaw and Diggle although large green Pennine hills mean signals don’t travel much more North from there). No beam going East although this isn’t needed because of the Pennines to the East, but it’s the West which is the oddest of them all as no television output is beamed West towards Oldham and Manchester (even parts of Austerlands only 2 miles away receive poor signals). Reasons for this is because the whole area West can receive Winter Hill comfortably, but the most important reason is to avoid interface as much as possibls from Moel Y Parc in Wales (less of a problem nowadays but there are still instances!) Yes, that dreaded S4C has been a common feature over the years in Greater Manchester. There are a few, but very limited areas West of Saddleworth that use the transmitter, Clarksfield area and parts of Lees and Glodwick use it, perhaps there is a small beam towards these villages which are shadowed from both Winter Hill and too far away from Lees).

    I believe it’s a planned DAB transmitter in the future, if that happens coverage will be similar to BBC FM (although I think DAB is available in the lower Tame Valley much more so than Saddleworth and Mossley).

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  3. Hi Forgotten Tunnel,

    Thanks for your comprehensive comments. It is great when people return to older posts within East of the M60, to add to existing content or make suitable updates. Interesting to find out about the Saddleworth transmitter’s early purpose, which I would assume could have been a relay for Heaton Park (via the ‘Backbone’ network).

    I do remember Piccadilly Radio going towards 4kW transmitters. That I would say was 1986 when its FM service moved from 97.0 to 103.0 FM. You may have a few editions yourself, but the IBA’s annual Television and Radio Guide [1972 – 1991] used to be a great source for transmitter information. It was in a 1987 edition where I knew about Piccadilly Radio’s 4kW transmitters.

    Before 1986, FM frequencies from 97 – 108 MHz were the preserve of the emergency services and taxi radios. Therefore, the shift of these services to higher VHF frequencies freed the 97 – 108 MHz frequencies for ILR and BBC Local Radio stations. As a consequence, most radio sets manufactured before the 1970s didn’t go beyond 98 MHz.

    It is through the unusual radiation pattern as to why my humble abode has struggled a bit with analogue and digital terrestrial signals. In the analogue era, we could get good Granada signals from Winter Hill and – sometimes – HTV Wales or S4C from Moel Y Parc. On odd occasions, even Central Independent Television – and their signals could have been picked up by the loop aerial of a portable black and white television we had! Our aerial was unable to receive Channel 5 with satisfactory results, so since 1997, the core of our viewing has been by satellite.

    Where I live, there is a dead zone between other dwellings which restricts our terrestrial signals. We looked at Freeview, but looking at our postcode meant the limited service from Brookbottom (this was back in the OnDigital era, where you could check your postcode against a laminated booklet in Woolworths or Argos).

    I’ve had a DAB receiver since 2005, still works very well and – often to the dulcet tones of Nicky Campbell on BBC Radio 5 Live – my main alarm clock. No such problems with the signals, so long as the aerial’s at full belt. I still have an old school proper radio receiver which has nine SW bands. Though a little scuffed (top of aerial chewed off) it still works, and outlived the store chain I purchased it from back in November 2000.

    Bye for now,

    Stuart.

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  4. Thanks for getting back!
    I think here in Saddleworth I could get a satisfactory DAB reception with a rooftop, although I’m pretty sure the governments aim would be to achieve 98-100% coverage indoors, as opposed to rooftop coverage (like BBC national FM).

    I’m really not up to speed with the network of DAB though, of course the transmitter layout is quite different from BBC FM. I’m not too sure where my patchy DAB coverage comes from … Manchester, Winter Hill seem too far away and I’m pretty sure Holme Moss only radiates towards Yorkshire for DAB (although I could be wrong).

    Perhaps it comes from Mow Cop or Alsagers Bank to the South.

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