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Post Office Telecommunications Journal
Summer 1974 Vol. 26 No. 2
By J. Ramsay
The Post Office operates a fleet of specially-equipped vehicles
to investigate complaints by the public of interference to their TV and radio
reception. A new prototype vehicle incorporates improvements suggested by
Interference to radio and television broadcasting services may be caused to some
degree by any appliance or equipment which uses electricity for its operation.
Under the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1949 regulations have been introduced to
control interference from sources such as the motors used in electrical
appliances, refrigerators and the ignition systems in motor vehicles. These
regulations require manufacturers or users, as appropriate, to comply with
conditions designed to protect radio reception.
Prior to 1969 the Postmaster General was the authority responsible to Parliament
for the national control of wireless telegraphy, including the investigation of
interference to authorised broadcasting. When the Post Office became a public
corporation, headquarters control of this radio interference service was taken
over by the Ministry of Posts and
Telecommunications (MPT), but in April 1974 the responsibility passed to the
Home Office. However, day-to-day operation of the service is still carried out
by the Post Office as an agent of the Home Office.
If a member of the public experiences interference to his radio or television
reception he can obtain a form from the Post Office to request an investigation.
Staff are employed in Telephone Areas throughout the country to investigate
complaints, using a fleet of about 275 special vehicles equipped with measuring
and tracing equipment. Their task is to identify and locate reported sources of
Having ascertained that interference is from outside a complainant's premises,
the Post Office engineer can often identify the cause by its characteristics. He
may then be able to easily pin-point the source if it is in the immediate area,
or it may be necessary to use direction-finding techniques if it is more
distant. After the source has been located it is his job to inform the owner of
the device causing interference, and to offer advice on how to have it
For most types of domestic appliance the Post Office can, if requested, install
a suitable suppression component for which they make a charge. Alternatively,
the owner may have his appliance suppressed either by the manufacturer or a
local dealer. If nothing is done to eliminate the cause of the problem, the case
will ultimately be referred to the Home Office.
Radio interference staff are provided with 5 cwt vehicles to carry the tools and
equipment enabling them to deal with the most common and simplest complaints,
such as those caused by domestic appliances. In addition each Telephone Area has
a 10 cwt vehicle fitted with test equipment and a 25ft extending aerial mast to
cope with the more complicated interference problems, such as those caused by
unwanted signals from radio transmitters, or cases which require the strength of
the local television signal to be measured.
The existing fleet of 10 cwt vehicles is nearing the end of its working life and
plans have been made for its replacement. At the time these plans were drawn up
the MPT was the authority responsible for headquarters control of the radio
interference service, including the design of vehicles and equipment. Post
Office Telecommunications Headquarters (THQ), which purchases the equipment on
behalf of the authority, therefore co-operated with MPT (and, later, the Home
Office) in the design and construction of a new prototype vehicle.
Before drawing up a specification for the new vehicle, a questionnaire was
circulated to obtain the views of staff operating the existing 10 cwt fleet.
Many suggestions by the staff were incorporated in the prototype, which has been
shown to and agreed by representatives of the relevant staff association.
Purchasing of 74 new vehicles is under way, and it is expected that the first
replacements will go into service early in 1975.
Assessment of the questionnaires indicated that a larger vehicle than the
existing 10 cwt would be needed, so the prototype has been based on a 15 cwt
Bedford body. This will provide more working space for operating staff and allow
for the later provision of more up-to-date equipment to measure and locate
sources of interference.
Initially it is intended that the equipment used with the present 10 cwt
vehicles will be transferred to the replacement fleet. Normally a vehicle will
carry test equipment to cover longwave, medium-wave and very high frequency
(vhf) radio, and vhf and ultra high frequency (uhf) television channels.
Portable receiving equipment is used to trace the source of television
interference. The operator uses headphones while monitoring the broadcast to
avoid causing a nuisance in the street.
A high frequency communications receiver, used in conjunction with a
roof-mounted whip aerial and an aerial tuning unit, will also be carried to
monitor frequencies used by amateur radio enthusiasts.
A working bench is provided in the operating compartment together with storage
facilities for small components, test leads and tools. The bench is fitted on
anti-vibration mountings to protect the sensitive electronic equipment when the
vehicle is driven on uneven surfaces, perhaps in crossing fields to investigate
interference from power lines. Mounting brackets on the bench secure the
measuring and tracing receivers, and allow them to be quickly removed for
portable use. The operating position in the vehicle body is equipped with a
swivel chair and the permanent equipment is arranged in a semi-circle around the
Most of the measuring and tracing equipment is designed to operate from dry
batteries or rechargeable cells and is fully portable. For example, the
monochrome television receiver can be operated from an associated battery pack,
an external 12-volt DC supply or 240 V ac. To avoid creating a nuisance, the
operators use headphones to monitor broadcasts or interference with the
measuring and tracing receivers outside the vehicle. However, the equipment can
be linked to a loudspeaker unit within reach of the operating position when used
inside the vehicle. To ensure that each item of equipment can be operated to the
limit of its sensitivity within the body compartment, additional suppression has
been incorporated to reduce noise from the petrol motive power unit and other
items of electrical equipment.
Many complaints of interference to television reception are caused by poorly
installed or inadequate aerial systems. A selection of aerials suitable for
different localities will be carried so that demonstrations can be given at
complainants' premises to show the benefits of correct installation. These
aerials can be quickly fitted to a pneumatically-operated mast mounted through
the roof of the new vehicle and extended to a height of 25ft by means of a
compressor which is controlled from the operating position.
A transparent panel in the vehicle roof enables the operator to check the
direction of an aerial on the mast, which can be rotated to the correct position
from the operator's chair. In cases where the vehicle is unable to approach a
complainant's premises the mast can be removed, mounted on tripod legs at a
suitable point and raised by means of a hand-operated pump.
A second roof-mounted whip aerial is provided at the rear of the new vehicle for
use with a land mobile radio transceiver to provide a means of communication
between an operator and his headquarters. The transceiver is not being supplied
as standard, but if Telephone Areas decide that such communication is required,
the equipment can be installed without major modifications to the layout of the
The prototype vehicle incorporates a pneumatically-operated mast
which can be extended to a height of 25ft. It enables the operator to check
television reception without using the complainant's aerial.
All power supplies in the vehicle are controlled from a
distribution panel within easy reach of the operating position. A heavy duty
battery which is charged by the vehicle system together with other equipment
provides an electronically-generated 240-volt ac supply. This supply is
distributed in trunking along the offside to feed standard 13 amp sockets and
can be used to recharge the secondary cells of portable equipment as well as to
operate domestic appliances which require suppression. In addition, 12V DC
supplies are available from terminal connectors, and can be used to operate the
television receiver and any other equipment requiring this form of power supply.
A battery condition indicator near the distribution panel and an ammeter on the
vehicle dashboard show the operator the state of the batteries. An operator may
be required to carry out tests of a protracted nature, for example in cases
where any one of a large number of machines in a factory is causing
interference. Facilities have therefore been provided for an external 240 V AC
mains supply to be connected to the vehicle so that operation can be independent
of its batteries. A mains cable mounted on a drum and fitted with weatherproof
connectors is supplied for this purpose.
Great attention has been given to operator comfort and convenience during
production of the prototype vehicle. Fluorescent lighting is fitted in the
operating compartment, and the windows have darkened glass to cut down glare
from outside and to aid security. Drop-fronted cupboards provide easy access to
stored aerials, and there are facilities for storing wet-weather clothing at the
rear of the vehicle. A heater working from the engine cooling system heats the
operating compartment, and a roof-mounted ventilation fan has also been
Radio interference staff often alternate between the vehicle and
a complainant's premises when making tests. Easy access to the vehicle is
therefore essential, and a nearside door opening into the operating compartment
has been provided, as well as two doors at the rear. A partition with a lockable
door separates the driving and operating compartments. Most of the existing 10
cwt radio interference vehicles are operated by one man, and the new vehicle has
been designed to the same concept. However, seating is available to carry a
passenger for training and similar purposes.
PO Telecommunications Journal, Summer 1974