A piece of Belgian broadcasting history

On the border of two municipalities, two provinces and two regions stands a transmitter site that brought television to a large chunk of Belgium and radio to Belgium and beyond. The Wavre-Overijse transmitter has over the years analogue television, AM and FM radio and shortwave radio for both the forerunner of the VRT, the BRT(N) and the Francophone public broadcaster RTBF.

The VRT now only uses the site for DAB radio broadcasts. It is currently used by RTBF for its FM broadcast to Walloon Brabant, Digital terrestrial television, DAB and until the end of this year for the AM broadcasts of its information station La Première.

Once La Première’s 621 AM frequency goes off the air it will spell the end of AM (better known to some as medium wave) broadcasting in Belgium. The VRT switched off the last of its AM transmitters, including Wavre-Overijse in 2011.

As with many issues in Belgium, language politics played a role when developing the site. The actual transmitting station and the masts are sited on land that is entirely within the borders of the Francophone Walloon town of Wavre.

However, some adjacent land was purchased and incorporated into the site and this land is within the boundaries of the Dutch-speaking, Flemish municipality of Overijse. Hence the official name Wavre-Overijse.

As you can see from the photographs taken inside the transmitter site building, no expense was spared. At the heart of the station is a hall where the medium wave and short wave transmitters were housed.

The shortwave transmitters broadcast programmes in Dutch and French to Belgians abroad, above all to our compatriots that were living in what was then the Belgian Congo.

These broadcasts were the forerunner to what became the VRT’s world service RVI. When RVI ceased broadcasting in languages other than Dutch in 2005 the VRT launched Flandersnews.be, Flandreinfo.be and Flanderninfo.be to keep non-Dutch-speakers at home and abroad informed about events here in Flanders.

There are also emergency studios at the site as well as diesel generators that can be used to maintain power to the transmitters in the event of a power cut.

In 1953 television was broadcast from Wavre-Overijse for the first time. The first FM radio broadcasts from the site were in 1973.

Mast collapse and relocation

During a storm in 1983 the 315 meter-high TV FM mast collapsed just two months after its guarantee was up. It wasn’t permanently replaced until 1990 when RTBF opened a 220 metre-high mast for its FM and TV broadcasts.

The VRT built a new FM and television transmitter at a new site at Sint-Pieters-Leeuw, in Flemish Brabant. In its heyday 30 people worked at the site.

Shortwave broadcasting from Wavre-Overijse ceased in 2001. The VRT stopped its medium wave broadcasts from the site in 2011. It is likely that the transmitter building will be demolished sometime and the redeveloped.

The photographs in the slideshow below were taken by our colleague Alexander Dumarey.

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