More about Great TV Masts of the UK

Why music about TV Masts?

It never would have happened without Emley Moor.

I first saw a strange tower in the distance while driving across the Woodhead Pass between Manchester and Sheffield years ago. Like a lot of people, I was struck by how big it was and its amazing shape. It dominated the landscape but kind of enhanced it. What was it and why did it look like that?

When I looked into its history - it just got more interesting and inspiring. Built in 1969 to replace a steel mast that collapsed under the weight of ice, it's a soaring, elegant concrete structure. It's now Grade II listed and has its own appreciation society on Facebook.

Emley Moor
Emley Moor mast (2015)

Meanwhile, I'd been thinking for a while about music inspired by infrastructure, and after getting nowhere I happened to visit the Yorkshire Sculpture Park - spotted Emley Moor and decided to visit. In a lightbulb moment, this seemed to fit - try and write music about the tower - and the waves radiating out, fizzing with energy, or something like that. I'd also been working on the sort of intermission tunes you might hear in the early decades of television.

I looked through some old cassette recordings and found one of Transmitter Information from BBC2 in the early 1980s. Back then, there were three terrestrial channels and they didn't broadcast all day - but they did show the testcard and BBC2 had regular announcements for the television trade - lists of new transmitters or engineering works. It was full of mysterious terms and of locations I'd heard many times (and some I'd visited):

    Caldbeck, Winter Hill, Sutton Coldfield..
    Caldbeck is on reduced power between 0800 and 1300..
    Horizontal Polarisation....

So the album took on a life of its own - inspired by my experience of analogue television and the technology, the terminology and the tremendous engineering and architecture. And the landscapes - Holme Moss for example.

Pete September 2015

About testcards and tuning signals

Before the advent of 24 hour television, stations would only broadcast programmes during some of the day - and there were only three stations back in 1980.

The day would typically start with the broadcast of a tuning signal before the start of programmes. The Great TV Masts album cover takes its inspiration from the tuning signal that the ITA used to use - the so-called Picasso signal (except back then it wouldn't have been in colour).

If you were bored at home in the 1960s up to the 80s, there might be programmes for schools and colleges on, but the chances were you'd just see a testcard going out for most of the day with accompanying music. These were used by TV engineers to line up sets. Testcard F (featuring the girl and the clown) is perhaps the best known. Engineers were frequent visitors to UK homes as the sets were somewhat unreliable.

In later years you might be lucky and see a selection of pages from Ceefax - the BBC's teletext service. Channel 4's 4-Tel also showed something similar.

Why are these masts on the album?

There are dozens of masts across the UK and many are pretty impressive, but the ones on the album seemed to choose themselves. I've either lived near them, or visited or just heard them mentioned on Transmitter Information.

Emley Moor

Simply stunning engineering and architecture. Taller than The Shard in London and considerably better looking. It definitely needs a visitor centre selling tower-shaped lollies.


I used to live near this in Norfolk and would cycle by from time to time. I can recall one particular evening cycling home on the way back from a pub trip in an unexpected thunderstorm. The Pelican inn is nearby.

Winter Hill

I was brought up on the outskirts of Manchester, so Winter Hill was the local mast. When I visit the area there's something reassuring about seeing it, like returning home. If you want a very long walk, stroll there from Rivington Pike.

Holme Moss

This is up in the hills near Holmfirth. The landscape is just stunning.


I've a distant and fuzzy memory of seeing this through the rain from childhood holidays to the Lake District. It doesn't always rain there - just seemed to when we went on holiday.

The others...

I heard them mentioned on Transmitter Information and the names stuck in my mind. I've occasionally seen them in the distance from train or car journeys.


You can't usually visit the masts as such, they're surrounded by security fencing, but you can get close enough for a good look. Most have a footpath or lane nearby. On rare occasions there are charity auctions for tickets for trips up Emley Moor tower.


Visit the alpha seven pages from Ceefax experience.

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