Radio Botswana starts to SHOUT
On my return from leave in 1980 it was time to get down to work on Radio Botswana's awful reception. Don finally retired gracefully to his shop and we welcomed an expatriate Scot,
Kinnear MacDonald, as his replacement. Kinnear had previously run the BBC's Far-Eastern relay station. His great experience and knowledge made up for what I lacked.
After a fairly lengthy tender process, we awarded
the contract for supply of three new, high-tech shortwave transmitters to Siemens. (If you're interested, they were a high efficiency pulse-duration modulation model, running 50 kW output.) The wideband log-periodic
aerials came from TCI, a specialist US firm. I remember flying to see some similar aerials which had been installed in Namibia (then South-West Africa) for SABC. This was a delicate matter, since we were not on good
terms with the apartheid regime and the visit had to be arranged "unofficially".
Quite a Gamble
My travelling companions on the flight were the directors of the rigging firm we expected to employ
to erect the aerials. It became clear as the flight progressed that they were likely to get through more than one bottle of Scotch each. By the time we'd seen round the aerial installation they were well away and during
the afternoon, while we waited for the plane to return for us, they insisted on visiting the nearest pub with a slot machine. I watched dumbfounded as the equivalent of about US$3000 was fed into the hapless one-armed
bandit. The owner must have thought all his Christmases had come at once. My companions shrugged off their loss quite casually - they'd enjoyed the afternoon. Perhaps it was a reaction born out of regularly climbing
hundreds of feet up steel masts. Riggers are a funny breed . . .
Siemens invited Ted and myself to Germany to see the transmitters being constructed and to visit a mediumwave installation of a similar type. Whilst
the experience was fascinating and rewarding it started to emerge that Siemens hadn't actually managed to get the shortwave version working to full specification, despite pre-selling several units. Soon afterwards, they announced, very embarrassed, a price
hike and a delivery delay of over a year. As compensation, they offered us - for nothing - a fourth, older technology, transmitter made by their Yugoslav subsidiary, RIZ. This
unit was apparently part of a frustrated order sitting on a quayside somewhere in West Africa and could be delivered within a couple of months.
We were faced with a dilemma. We really didn't need a fourth transmitter and it would cost quite a bit to extend the new building to accommodate it. Because it was old technology it would be only about half as efficient
as the new models. But a delay of a year for the original three was alarming. After a lot of discussion and very serious re-examination of other manufacturers we reluctantly agreed not to cancel the contract:
Siemens's sigh of relief was almost audible in Botswana. A few months later dozens of enormous boxes labelled with Cyrillic text arrived at the transmitter site. Soon afterwards, we moved into the 1980's with five
times more broadcast power than we'd ever had before. State-of-the-art audio processors were bought to breathe a final gasp of life into the old 10
kW units as well and at last we started to get reports of good reception all over the country. It was necessarily patchy, but a considerable improvement on what had gone before.