In the 1951 BBC Microphones training manual we saw that the corporation functioned with a small selection of British manufactured microphones, most of which had been in service since the 1930’s. So when I saw this Manual from 1962 I was curious to see how ‘Auntie’ had moved on into the swinging sixties.
Old favourites continued in use.
The STC4021 ‘Apple and Biscuit’ first appeared in 1935 as did the famous Marconi A series ribbon microphone pictured on the page below. (The AXBT is the 4th generation). The STC4035 was a lighter, updated replacement for the old STC 4017, which had been phased out in the mid 50’s. The 4032 is identical to the 4035 but housed in a neat handheld Bakelite body making it suitable for outdoor use in all weathers. The 4037 was designed for TV and has a rather more modern look (slim lightweight body and matt black finish). However, the capsule is still pretty much the same as the good old ‘Apple and Biscuit’. STC’s dynamic models were the tried and tested backbone of general purpose and outside broadcasting. The noise-cancelling STC4104 lip ribbon mic was used for sports commentary and noisy events. This was an updated version of the older Marconi lip ribbon microphone. More recently manufactured by Coles, the 4104 continues in production to this day.
So what was new?
FM broadcasting by the BBC began in 1955 and the audio frequency response was thereby extended from 5 kHz up to 15 kHz. The new FM system was also considerably less susceptible to noise and interference than AM. Although the old favourite microphones from STC and Marconi were still fine for everyday transmission of speech, when it came to the broadcasting of high quality music, mics with improved high end response were now required. With this in mind the BBC Research Department designed 2 new ribbon microphones (pictured above). First came the PGS (Pressure Gradient with a Single magnet) and from this developed the 4038. Manufactured by STC these new microphones were considerably smaller and lighter than the old Marconi AXBT, and had an almost flat frequency response up to 15 kHz. This was around ½ an octave higher than the mighty AXBT. Now manufactured by Coles the 4038 continues in service to this day and is still recognised as one of the finest ribbon microphones available.
The photograph below is rather bizarre. In real life the STC4033 is around 3x bigger than the Reslo! The Reslo was small and convenient for use on TV (as mentioned in my previous blog post). The STC4033 is an unusual hybrid, similar in design to the classic Western Electric 639 ‘Birdcage’. It has an ‘Apple and Biscuit’ type omni dynamic element, and a ribbon element. This gives a choice of switchable polar patterns. Using the elements separately we have Omni or Figure of Eight and by combining the outputs of both we obtain Cardioid. Nevertheless, by 1962 the STC4033 was a somewhat antiquated design and no match for the more sophisticated competition coming out of Germany and Austria.
Enter AKG and Neumann……….
A number of high quality condenser microphones now appeared in the BBC microphone locker. The legendary AKG C12 quickly became a firm favourite for the broadcasting of concerts and was very often the only microphone used to capture a symphony orchestra in glorious Mono! The AKG C28, C29 and C30 were perfect for solo performers on live TV. The variable extension pieces made it easy for unobtrusive positioning.
The Neumann KM54 cardioid, and the multi-pattern KM56 were also popular choices for high quality broadcasting.
A number of other microphones are given a mention but not honoured with a photo. The Corporation was still very much dominated by BBC Radio and most of these microphones are from the rapidly evolving new world of BBC Television. TV presenters very often needed to keep their hands free and microphones ‘in shot’ needed to be small and unobtrusive.
The Placing of Microphones
The diagrams and explanations on the pages below provide an interesting insight into the lost world of recording and broadcasting in Mono.
The BBC philosophy for the broadcasting of classical music is best summed up in the opening sentence of the page below. In the manual there is a clear distinction between music which requires the engineer to simply reproduce a ‘true balance’ created by the conductor and the performers (captured by one microphone), and more popular forms of music which require the engineer to create the balance from a number of microphones. Today this distinction has been all but lost.
Modern Dance Bands
Setups for Dance Bands.
The section above on Modern Dance Bands contains no mention of the latest Beat Groups, Rock’n’Roll or Skiffle. BBC thinking was clearly lagging at least 5 years behind the latest trends in popular music. If you were a teenager in 1962 the ensembles mentioned above are the sort of music your Mum and Dad would have liked! Within a couple of years British teenagers were under the bedclothes every night with a transistor radio listening to their favourite music coming from pirate radio stations such a Radio Caroline and Radio London, illegally broadcasting from offshore. It wasn’t until 1967 that the BBC threw in the towel and set up Radio 1 to cater for a younger audience!
The final chapter of the manual is devoted to describing the basic principles of ‘STEREOPHONY’. Even though stereophonic records had been around for several years, by 1962 stereo broadcasting was still in it’s infancy. Around this time there were a number of experimental BBC broadcasts. In our house I can remember my Dad following the instructions for a particular broadcast by setting up 2 radio sets tuned to different programmes, one carrying the left-hand channel and one carrying the right !! Unfortunately the 2 radios were very different sizes and so the effect was somewhat less than perfect! It was not until 1973 that Radios 1,2 and 4 finally broadcast in stereo.
Although a small amount of space is given to sound in the context of television, this manual is firmly focused on ‘High-Quality Sound Production and Reproduction’ for BBC Radio. Tape had pretty much replaced 78 rpm discs as the primary means of recording and storing programmes. FM broadcasting was a huge technical leap forward and the arrival of some new condenser microphones further improved the quality of the output. Nevertheless, in many respects, even by 1962 ‘Auntie’ still had one foot firmly in the 1930’s !