You will not be able to get BBC television on Ascension Island but rather surprisingly you will use BBC electricity and drink BBC water and drive on BBC roads. The Beeb, as it is affectionately referred too, also used to run the school, the hospital and a farm.
For those unfamiliar with the BBC – it is the British Broadcasting Corporation which normally limits itself to the provision of radio and television services with a bit of ancillary publishing and related services.
This range of services offered on Ascension Island probably has UK readers scratching their heads, or worse, wondering how the BBC is spending their TV license money. I hasten to add that I actually have no evidence that TV license fees are being spent building or maintaining roads, power or water plants on Ascension Island. Such expenditure may be coming from some other funding sources.
Anyway I need to explain my first sentence above and let you know the role of the BBC on the Island.
In the 1960s the BBC determined Ascension Island to be a perfect location for the transmission of the BBC World Service (radio) into Africa and Latin America and accordingly World Service transmitters had to be, and were, set up at English Bay – the BBC Atlantic Relay Station – and commissioned in 1966. Reversible antenna arrays permit transmission to Africa during the day and Latin America at night (Ascension Island times). Program feeds, from London, could now arrive via satellite replacing pre-recorded tapes previously sent out.
In setting up the Relay Station, the first issue was that roads were required to access the chosen location. The BBC built them and continue (via contractors) to maintain them.
World Service transmitters have a huge appetite for electricity to the extent that the BBC were and remain the Island’s largest consumer of electricity. Given this situation it made practical sense that the BBC build an electricity generation facility and so it did and it now supplies electricity to the remainder of the Island excluding the US Base (the US base is self sufficient in electricity and water). Some of the islands fuel fired generators have recently been replaced with wind turbines – seeing very significant reductions in fuel costs –a factor which may have saved the closure of the whole BBC set up in a recent austerity drive in London. The wind turbines blend in nicely with all the other antenna’s, dishes and communications paraphernalia which pepper the island.
Given that the BBC had the power it “naturally” fell upon it to use some of that power to set up and run the islands desalination plant – necessary to ensure an adequate supply of fresh water to islanders, the rainfall here being insufficient to ensure a steady fresh water supply. The water is of very high quality on the Island – no need to buy bottled water here.
How the BBC had to develop to a state of self-sufficiency on Ascension really does make one realise just how remote and helpless this place is or would be if left to its own devices.
There you go – not only is the BBC the world’s best broadcasting service it serves up a bloody good glass of water too!
Address: Mainly around English Bay