Tag Archives: BBC Microphones

STC4032-D Outside Broadcast Microphone Ex BBC Circa 1955

STC4032-D

STC4032-D

STC4032C Advert

From the earliest days of outside broadcasting and recording, keeping the microphone dry has always been something of a challenge. Condenser microphones in particular don’t function well in damp conditions, and pretty much any mic can be completely ruined by a good soaking.

These days’ companies such as Rycote make windshields and water resistant protection to cover a wide range of different professional microphones. Back in 1955 STC came up with their own neat and convenient solution to the problem.

Advertised rather grandly as being ‘an all weather instrument’ with ‘full marine and tropical protection,’ the STC4032 is a robust hand-held, omnidirectional, dynamic microphone with a moisture resistant black Bakelite body. The grill is a dual layer of fine stainless steel mesh and an optional windshield (pictured above) may be added to give an additional 15db noise free performance in high winds and additional protection from the rain. The handle incorporates a switch, which can be wired to provide muting or remote start/stop function for a tape recorder (such as the E.M.I Midget).

EMI Midget Tape Recorder

This super lightweight setup was used by BBC outside broadcasters from 1955 until the mid-60’s and weighed a mere 14lbs!  You may laugh…….. But this was a vast improvement on carting round the previous equipment…….. A portable disc cutter weighing 44lbs!!!

Legendary sports comentator David Coleman

Legendary sports commentator David Coleman with his trusty STC4032 in hand.

The following is a hilarious period piece, almost like something out of Monty Python:

Alan Whicker interviews Beatniks in Newquay in 1960  (STC4032 appears at 5min 50secs)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W3WfXA9JL9w&t=350s

Actress and opera singer, Rosalina Neri.

This picture of actress and opera singer Rosalina Neri being interviewed for the BBC really deserves a suitable caption!                       ………………………………………………………………………………

STC4032-D

STC4032-D

Although it looks somewhat like a World War 2 battlefield telephone, in terms of technical performance the STC4032 is exactly the same as the STC4035 studio microphone, and very similar to the famous Apple & Biscuit STC4021. It has a notably smooth frequency response from 30Hz to around 10 kHz, with a presence peak of around 5db at 6.5kHz . The only difference with the 4032 is the water resistant case.

Technical Specifications.

STC4032

In Conclusion.

Although ostensibly designed for outside broadcasting, the STC4032 is a high quality dynamic microphone that could be used for many different tasks.

Here is a short demonstration of the STC4032-D

P.S.

For those who are interested in the history of broadcast recording I would thoroughly recommend these 3 sites which are a rich source of fascinating information:-

http://rfwilmut.net/broadcast/recording.html

http://museumofmagneticsoundrecording.org/StoriesBBCEMI.html

http://www.orbem.co.uk/repwar/wr_recorders.htm

The STC4001B Acoustic Baffle for the STC4021 (Apple & Biscuit) circa 1935.

The very first post that I wrote for this blog back in 2012 was about the STC4021 (Apple & Biscuit). Still one of my favourite microphones.  I even made a YouTube video to go with it! In the course of the video I mentioned the STC4001B Acoustic Baffle. According to the STC brochure this could be purchased to modify the frequency response and directionality of the microphone. These days the 4001B Acoustic Baffle is very hard to find. So imagine my surprise when a brand new old stock 4001B (still in the box) appeared on eBay. 

So I thought I had better ‘Buy it now‘ and make another video to celebrate the occasion!

 

BBC Engineering Training Manual. MICROPHONES. (1951)

I was born on January 20th 1951 at St Mary’s Hospital for Women and Children in the centre of Manchester,  just across the road from the Palace Theatre. Less than a mile away, at the BBC Studios in Piccadilly, engineers were avidly thumbing through their copies of the very latest BBC ENGINEERING TRAINING MANUAL . MICROPHONES!

BBC Training Manual 1951

My copy arrived yesterday! (courtesy of eBay). It is in nearly new condition and sadly it’s unmarked pages have all the ‘vibe’ of a book that has never been read!

In recent years I have often regaled students with my reflections on how much audio technology has changed during my lifetime. Reading through this book really brings it home! It is a window into a long-gone world of engineers in brown lab coats and announcers at the microphone in evening dress. For me, as a child, it was the world of ‘Listen with Mother’ and ‘Children’s Hour’ and seeing the valves glowing in the back of the mahogany veneered wireless set on a shelf next to the fireplace in our living room.

My earliest memory of a microphone was standing on a box in front of a huge Marconi AXBT ribbon mic having won a prize in a BBC Children’s Hour competition at the age of 7 or 8. (It looked just like a giant ice cream cone!) I was presented with a silver propelling pencil by the producer Trevor Hill. I said ‘Thank You’ in the general direction of the mighty Marconi, and was escorted back to my seat.

BBC Children's Hour Competition Prize 1958


Anyhow, back to the book. 

What is most striking is how slender this volume is (114 pages). Most of it is taken up with detailed information about the propagation of sound and the physics involved in microphone design and construction. Much of this is still useful knowledge. However, only 7 different microphones are described in detail and most of these had already been in service since the mid 1930’s.

Here, (to give you a flavour of this informative little book) are some of the illustrations.BBC Marconi Ribbon Mic

In the BBC Studio of 1951 the Marconi AXBT Ribbon Microphone (first introduced in 1935) was the principal tool for drama, announcement and music. Broadcasting  was in Mono. With a frequency range from 20Hz-16 kHz, this figure of eight device was very often the only mic used!  One useful piece of advice offered to the engineer, in order to avoid ‘an excessive bass response’ (caused by proximity effect), is that ‘The microphone should never be used at a distance less than approximately two feet.’


BBC STC4017C

From 1938 to 1953 the STC 4017C was the main BBC outside broadcast microphone. Built like a tank, with a solid copper body and an aluminium diaphragm, it was a very robust dynamic. Although, in theory omnidirectional, it did exhibit some frontal directionality at higher frequencies.


BBC STC4021

The STC4021 , nicknamed the ‘Apple and Biscuit’, was a high quality dynamic mic which, due to its spherical shape, was truly omnidirectional. It was mounted vertically and was used for a variety of purposes including ’round table’ discussions and interviews. It was also used as a talkback mic.


BBC EMI Moving Coil

Developed by Holman and Blumlein working for the Columbia Gramophone Company (later E.M.I.) , it was used extensively by the newly formed BBC Television service at Alexandra Palace from 1936.The unusual thing about this microphone is the fact that it’s diaphragm is made of thin balsa wood enclosed between two sheets of aluminium foil! Interestingly, the description in the book ends with something of a warning……..  ‘the instrument is less suitable when high quality is a major consideration’  !!!!!


BBC Marconi Condenser Mic

BBC Marconi Condenser Element

The Marconi Condenser Microphone with built-in amplifier was a large and extremely rare beast, introduced experimentally in the mid-1930’s.  Even at the BBC it was not commonly used. Early condensers were prone to suffer with crackling caused by moisture.When it was employed it was mostly to be found at concerts.


BBC Brush Crystal Mic

BBC Brush Sound Cell

I have never seen a BBC studio picture with one of these. Not sure what it’s duties might have been. Perhaps, included in the manual simply because it is an example of a crystal mic? These were quite common at the time as PA and announcement mics. Also quite popular with amateur tape recordists.


BBC Marconi Lip MicBBC Marconi Lip Mic Back view

The Marconi Lip Ribbon Microphone (designed by the BBC in 1937) is a noise cancelling device which was used for sporting commentaries and broadcasting in noisy environments. It was designed for very close speaking with the ribbon protected from the impact of the speaker’s breath by the enclosing magnet. (see pics above)  One of the most important features of this microphone is the mouth-guard, which is pressed up against the speaker’s jaws, thus maintaining a constant distance between the mouth and the ribbon. This ensures against changes in frequency response, and volume, caused by fluctuations in distance. A variation of this microphone is still made today for the BBC by Coles (formerly STC).

BBC Training Manual 1951012BBC Training Manual 1951013

Foot Note.

In 1953 BBC Television broadcast live the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Amongst the most notable features of this historic broadcast was the commentary delivered by Richard Dimbleby inside Westminster Abbey. The microphone used on this occasion was the latest Marconi L.2 Lip Ribbon mic. The perfect choice! The closeness of the speaker to the microphone, and the rich tone of Dimbleby’s voice, served to give the listening audience an intimate, sense of the grandeur of the occasion. The isolating characteristics of the lip microphone also served to focus attention on his voice. Dimbleby was the undoubted master of this technique of close-mic’d delivery which became a hall-mark of British State occasions.

Richard Dimbleby at the Coronation of Elizabeth II 1953

Richard Dimbleby with the Marconi L.2 Lip Ribbon microphone in the specially constructed commentary box in the Triforium of Westminster Abbey


 

In Conclusion

Within a decade of this manual the BBC microphone cupboard would be rapidly filling with exciting new models from the likes of AKG, Sennheiser and Neumann. In the following years alongside the growth of television and multi-track recording came a whole range of microphones designed for different purposes. Stereo mics, shotgun mics, lavaliers, parabolic, contact, binaural, ambisonic…………….. A whole new world!


Here are some useful links for more information.

http://www.coutant.org/bbc/index.html   (Some great photos of the Marconi Ribbon Mic)

http://www.coutant.org/marconi/    (Pictures and information on this extremely rare condenser mic)

https://martinmitchellsmicrophones.wordpress.com/2013/06/21/stc-4017c-dead-or-alive/

 

Grampian DP4 (circa 1963) A trip down memory lane!

It was the mid 1960’s and I was a teenager at school in Manchester. Only 30 miles from Liverpool. Before the age of discos. It was a fantastic time for live music. The Mersey boom was at its height and the pubs and clubs were rocking to the latest beat groups. (It is worth noting that none of the music clubs such as The Cavern in Liverpool, or The Twisted Wheel in Manchester, were licensed to sell alcohol. Nevertheless on a Saturday night their subterranean vaults were crammed with teenagers who had often queued for hours to see their favourite bands!)

In the 5th form some of my school mates formed a group. I used to lig along to their rehearsals in the school music room. They had a couple of Vox AC30 guitar amps and an old Selmer which was used for PA. I can remember the singer turning up one day with a very shiny new microphone. All black enamel and chrome, like the headlamp on a classic British motorcycle.Grampian DP4  Removed from it’s bright blue box the mic was duly plugged into the Selmer amp. The lads then launched into their version of Buddy Holly’s ‘Peggy Sue’. The assembled hangers-on (including myself) thought it sounded amazing!

I was therefore overjoyed a few weeks ago when a friend kindly gave me this bright blue box. I recognised it straight away!Grampian DP4 Box

Grampian DP4 with clip

Just below the chrome bezel there is a ribbed rubber ring designed to prevent the mic rolling off flat surfaces. Brilliant feature!

If you buy a DP4 make sure it comes with the 2 pin mic connector as these are as rare as hen's teeth!

If you buy a DP4 make sure it comes with the 2 pin mic connector as these are as rare as hen’s teeth!

Grampian DP4 Label

Here in the UK although the Grampian DP4 enjoyed a good deal of popularity as a PA microphone, and also with amateur tape recording enthusiasts, it was never really thought of as a top quality professional instrument. Sennheiser had launched it’s superb MD21 in 1953 and followed it in 1960 with the MD421.  Around the same time AKG gave us the D19 and the D24. The poor old Grampian was not quite in the same league. However, for a while the DP4 was used by the BBC for outside broadcasts and by their Wildlife Department in conjunction with the Grampian Parabolic Reflector. (As seen on the front cover of this issue of Tape Recording Magazine from 1969 )

tape-recording-uk-1969-04

A few weeks ago on TV I saw an old film clip featuring an impossibly young David Attenborough in the middle of the jungle somewhere clutching a Grampian Parabolic reflector with a DP4 mounted on it.

In the end Grampian Microphones were no match for the German. Austrian and American competition. As the 1960’s rolled on bands got louder, PAs got bigger, stage monitors were introduced and the omni-directional dynamic microphone fell out of use. Cardioids simply had more gain before feed back! By the mid-1970s the Grampian DP4 had disappeared from the stage and eventually the company went out of business.

So what does it sound like? 

 CLICK HERE for a short vocal trip down memory lane!

 

Grampian Brochures and Technical Information (These came in the box with my DP4.)

grampian-dp4-page-1grampian-dp4-page-2grampian-dp4-page-3grampian-dp4-page-4

grampian-dp4-instruction-sheet-page-1028grampian-dp4-instruction-sheet-page-2030

FUN WITH FIGURE-OF-EIGHT! Episode 1 Radio and Film.

RADIO

Back in the 1950s the iconic Marconi AX ribbon microphone was the main tool for BBC drama production.  Actors were familiar with its figure of eight characteristics, and would utilise the dead zones at the sides of the mic to great effect. Noisy page turns could be avoided by holding the script to the side of the mic. The impression of going off into the distance could be achieved by simply delivering the lines whilst slowly moving to the side of the microphone. Shouting from a distance could be managed in the same way. Actors were also very conscious users of proximity effect, moving closer or further from the microphone as the script required.

CLICK FOR SHORT VOICE DEMO.

Figure of Eight Marconi AX                                                             BBC Training Manual 1942

Bearing this in mind an elderly ex-BBC producer told me the following delightful tale about a well- known actor of the day.

Whenever a trainee or inexperienced engineer was spotted entering the control booth he would go through the same entertaining routine. On being asked to deliver some lines to test the mic, he would start speaking in a fairly quiet voice whilst very gradually moving his head round the side of the mic. All the while the hapless young knob- twiddler in the control booth would be increasing the gain on the input. When our actor judged that the gain was almost certainly up full he would deftly swing his head back to the front of the mic and inquire in rich, thespian tones, (as if addressing the back row of the gallery)                            ‘HOW’S THAT FOR LEVEL?!!’

 

FILM

In the early days of talking pictures, years before the invention of the shotgun microphone, considerable use was made of the directional characteristics of figure-of-eight ribbon microphones to minimise the pick- up of unwanted noise on the set.  Cameras and other noisy equipment could be positioned in the dead zones. This greatly improved the quality and intelligibility of the end product. It also made it possible (using more than one microphone) to balance the levels of different performer’s voices. This had not previously been possible using Omni-directional models.

Filming in locations with high levels of surrounding ambient noise, a figure-of-eight could be suspended horizontally above the actors’ heads. The back of the mic faced upwards (away from the sound sources) and the front faced downwards towards the actors. In this position the dead zone effectively attenuated 360 degrees of surrounding noise!

These days, when recording studios seem to be generally stuck in Cardioid mode, I thought it might make a pleasant change to revive some of these vintage figure-of-eight techniques. In the following episodes I shall take a look at more uses for this versatile but somewhat neglected polar pattern.

 

How did Lavalier Microphones get their name?

Potted History Lesson

Lavalier or Lavaliere or Lavalliere is a term used by the jewellery trade. It usually refers to a particular type of pendant, consisting of a large jewel hung on a chain around the wearer’s neck, that is said to have been popularised by either:-                                                                                                                                                    a) La  Duchesse de la Vallière (1644-1710), a mistress of King Louis XIV of France,                                                                                                                                                        or                                                                                                                                                             b) the French actress Eve Lavalliere  (1866-1929).

Hence, it is easy to see why the blossoming film and television industries, in the mid 20th century, came to borrow the term and apply it to a small personal microphone hung on a cord around the neck of the actor or presenter.

By the 1950’s American companies such as RCA , Electro-Voice, and Shure made a range of purpose built Lavalier microphones. In Europe, AKG and Sennheiser also manufactured a number of very successful models.

Eventually, with the proliferation of miniature condenser mics in the 80’s and 90’s, the old Lavalier microphone on a cord around the presenter’s neck gradually disappeared. Although the cord has long gone, and the new miniature mics are simply held in place with clips or micropore tape, they have still retained the name Lavalier, although these days it very often  sadly gets abbreviated to ‘Lav’.

End of Lesson

Here is a real gem of a Vintage Lavalier from the late 1960s the AKG D109

AKG D109 - The D109 was designed in the mid 1960’s to meet the demands of high quality speech reproduction on television and in film. It was beautifully made, with a sleek nickel plated brass body, and  ingeniously engineered so that it could be used in a number of different ways :-

  • With the Lavalier collar  removed it makes a very unobtrusive interview microphone. Even today there are few omni dynamic interview mics this small (less than 3 inches).AKG D109 Interview mode
  • With the collar in place it can be used as a classic Lavalier hung around the presenter’s neck.
  • It also has a clip on the back of the collar for fixing to clothing.
  • By raising the collar above the microphone grill the high frequency response can be increased to compensate for the mic being positioned on the performer’s chest below the chin.AKG D109 Lavalier
  • With the collar raised it can also be hidden under light-weight clothing.

TECHNICAL INFO

AKG D-109 Lavalier Dynamic 

CLICK HERE for Short voice clip.

1931-32 Cutting Edge Microphone Technology At The BBC. (inc The Voight Slack Diaphragm Condenser ! ?)

1932 Marconi-Reisz

In 1932 Marconi-Reisz carbon mics were still in regular use but their days were already numbered.

The other day I purchased a copy of the BBC Year Book 1933 from my usual supplier (ebay). The book covers the period from October 1931 to October 1932. Inside I found an absolutely fascinating chapter on the latest  developments  in microphones and associated technology heralding the move away from the old carbon mics and  the arrival of experimental condensers and the brand new Western Electric dynamic mic. It also describes an innovative new development in the form of equalisation circuitry for correcting anomalies in the frequency response of microphones. The birth of EQ as we know it today. Exciting times!

Here below I have scanned the whole chapter.

BBC Year Book 1933 Microphones p371BBC Year Book 1933 Microphones p372BBC Year Book 1933  Microphones  p375BBC Year Book 1933 Microphones p376BBC Year Book 1933 Microphones p379BBC Year Book 1933 Microphones p380BBC Year Book 1933 Microphones p381

Here is some more info about the slack diaphragm condenser

BBC Year Book 1933 Microphones p382

BBC Year Book 1933 Microphones p384

With the arrival of the iconic BBC-Marconi Type ‘A’  ribbon microphone in 1934 the somewhat unreliable condensers featured above were gradually phased out.

P.S.

The 1933 Year Book also celebrates the opening of the BBC’s fabulous new art deco London headquarters in 1932.

BBC 1933 Year Book inside front coverBBC 1933 Year Book inside back  cover