Sunday, September 30, 2012


We've been cleaning off the I STILL LOVE RADIO bookshelves over the summer, kicking up clouds of dust and coming up with a few more titles worthy of having their dustjackets put on display.

Dedicated ISLR readers will recall a few earlier posts (look for additional links at the bottom of this particular earlier post) highlighting similar volumes that we found notable for their aesthetic or other hard-to-pin-down, radio book qualities.

Simply put, we just love this kinda stuff . . .

On The Air by John J. Floherty
Gateway to Radio by Major Ivan Firth and Gladys Shaw Erskine
Both Sides of the Microphone: Training for The Radio by John S. Hayes and Horace J. Gardner

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Broadcasting the London Olympic Games in 1948

In honor of the 2012 London Olympics and all those behind-the-scenes stories about the preparations required to properly cover the Games on TV and the web, we present this humble essay, called Broadcasting the Olympic Games.

It was written by one "L. Hotine" of the BBC, and was originally published in the 1949 BBC YEAR BOOK (pictured at left).

"The XIV Olympiad, the second Olympiad to be held in Britain (the first was in 1908), presented a planning and operational problem which had never before been encountered in the history of any broadcasting organization in the world. The BBC through the years has dealt with broadcasts of increasing magnitude and, prior to the Olympic Games, the Royal Wedding in November, 1947, created the heaviest load on its resources. It was known, when the decision was taken to hold the XIV Olympiad in Britain, that broadcasting reporting and eye-witness accounts of the Games would surpass in complexity and magnitude even the broadcasts of the Royal Wedding, because, although the latter had international interest, the Olympic Games in detail would have to be reported in practically every country in the world in each country’s own language and in most cases by commentators who were covering their own athletes participating in the Games.

The Engineering Division were faced with two major difficulties in planning: first, accommodation for a broadcasting centre, and secondly, accurate knowledge of the amount of facilities all nations would require. As the first problem could not be solved without resolution of the second, it was necessary to make certain assumptions and to err on the side of greater demands so that preliminary planning could begin.

The first requirement was a building near the Wembley Stadium, and it was at one time thought that a special building would have to be erected. Apart from the expense of construction, it was known that severe difficulties would be encountered in obtaining building materials and building labour. It was, therefore, a considerable easement when Sir Arthur Elvin, the Managing Director of Wembley Stadium, Ltd., generously offered to lend to the BBC the old building which was the Palace of Arts in the British Empire Exhibition of 1924. This building had been used in the intervening years for a number of purposes and the internal arrangements were of little us, as they stood, for broadcasting purposes. The building did provide four walls, however, and a roof and ample area in which to partition off spaces for studios, recording and reproducing rooms, etc. Preliminary planning of the area was then possible, and meanwhile replies to a questionnaire which had been sent to the broadcasting organizations of the participating countries were beginning to come in.

Analysis of the requirements showed that it would be necessary to provide for thirty-two channels; that is, equipment to permit thirty-two separate broadcasts to take place at any one time. This equipment, amplifiers, mixers, line terminations, etc., would be installed in the central control room in the Palace of Arts, to be known as the Broadcasting Centre. Space and other considerations determined the number of microphone positions which would feed the central control room for distribution to the BBC’s Home and Overseas Services and to the participating countries of the world. At Wembley Stadium fifteen commentary boxes were planned, together with seventeen open positions. The Empire Pool would have sixteen commentary positions. Because of the distance between the central control room, the Stadium, and the Empire Pool, it was necessary to plan for sub-control rooms in each of these buildings in order to raise the programme volume from each microphone. No switching would be done at these points.

Eight studios would be required in the Wembley Broadcasting Centre, together with twenty recording channels and eight reproducing rooms. The need for these facilities, in addition to the commentary points, was created because many of the eye-witness accounts of events would be either broadcast live or recorded for later transmission because of time differences in different parts of the world.

Planning of the Broadcasting Centre was now completed, and constructional work began in January, 1948. All equipment had been installed by the end of June, and exhaustive tests were carried out in the few weeks which remained before the Games were opened by H.M. the King [George VI].

Other technical accommodation provided in the Broadcasting Centre consisted of television control and production rooms, and television cameras were installed in the Stadium and Empire Pool. A co-axial cable for television had been installed by the GPO during the early part of the year between Wembley and Broadcasting House. This cable is terminated in the Stadium and remains as a permanent installation for future television broadcasts.

Non-technical accommodation consisted of correspondents’ room, editing rooms and record library, restaurant, information room, and, of great importance, the bookings room. The bookings room, controlled jointly by engineers and a section of the normal Studio-Management Unit, dealt with all applications for studios, recording rooms, commentary positions, outgoing circuits, and all reservations for lines or radio channels abroad controlled by the GPO [General Post Office].

Apart from the events at Wembley, there were many other venues: Henley, Torquay, Bisley, Aldershot, etc. All these venues were treated as normal outside broadcasts, although, because of the number of simultaneous commentaries from each place, much more equipment and many more circuits back to the Broadcasting Centre were necessary than for an outside broadcast for BBC transmission only. Twelve mobile recording cars and one vehicle containing eight magnetic recorders were available for the events at venues other than Wembley. At Broadcasting House a special control point was built, to handle all the commentaries sent by line from Wembley and the other venues and to pass them on to the Post Office trunk exchange and radio terminal for transmission by line and radio to the foreign countries.

The photograph opposite page 56 shows the control positions which were installed round three sides of the Central Control room. The positions were arranged in banks of three bays, the middle bay being a reserve for those on each side. Each bay was equipped with an amplifier and a four-channel mixer, but the outer bays were able to use two of the mixer channels of the centre bay. Thus each control position had in effect a six-channel mixer which provide six alternative input sources. In the event of a failure, three bays became two, each with a four-channel selection. This arrangement was designed to economize in equipment, but still provide sufficient reserves. Each control position was provided with ten tie-lines to the main source-selection bay, so that a maximum of ten sources of programme were under the hand of the operator. In the middle of the room were the bays accommodating the source selection terminations, outgoing and incoming line terminations, line-testing equipment, and the switching arrangements for all the cue and signal-light circuits to all the microphone positions.

Of special interest were the television arrangements, which were more complicated than for any other television outside broadcast previously attempted. Only one week before the start of the Games the BBC had taken delivery of a new television O.B. [Outside Broadcast] unit designed and manufactured by Electrical and Musical Industries, Ltd. [EMI], and the cameras associated with this unit were installed at the Empire Pool. The cameras used a new design of pick-up tube which had only been used experimentally in prototype form on the two previous broadcasts, one of which was the Royal Wedding. Much development work, however, had been done in the intervening period and the pictures obtained of the swimming and other water events exceeded the hopes of the designers and the BBC engineers. The control equipment for these cameras was located in a vehicle parked outside the building and connected by co-axial cable to the vision control room in the Broadcasting Centre.

The older television cameras were used in the Stadium, as they require much more light for satisfactory operation. Their control equipment vehicle was located in the Stadium tunnel and was also connected to the vision control room by co-axial cable routed via the Empire Pool control point. The vision control room was equipped with a vision mixer which could be faded from point to point at the direction of the producer who sat in a small production room adjacent to the control room. The producer had three monitors in front of him, which showed the actual picture as broadcast and previews of the pictures from the Stadium and the Empire Pool.

That the XIV Olympiad, 1948, represented the most ambitious undertaking in broadcasting history there can be no doubt; 200 engineers were engaged; there were twenty-five venues, 130 commentary positions, and 500 amplifiers and 150 microphones were installed. The project took twelve months to plan, building and installation work took six months and three months were required to dismantle and return to normal."

Friday, July 20, 2012

July 2012 Round-Up

How many millions of times each day does a writer somewhere begin a blog post with some variation of, "it's been too long since I've written anything here"? For everyone's sake (mostly mine), I will dispense with that formality and get right into a quick round-up of three recent items of ISLR-worthy news:

This NOT Just In: Seattle Supersonics World Championship
A new episode of TNJI premiered on KUOW 94.9 FM in Seattle in early June, this time looking at the 1979 Seattle Supersonics' NBA championship. Features some nice cuts from the late "Voice of the Sonics" Bob Blackburn, and a snippet of Brent Musburger.

More Sonics Stuff
The TNJI episode inspired me to dust off an audio recording made in 2004 of an event at MOHAI to honor the 25th anniversary of the Sonics' championship. I moderated, but the stars of the show were the aforementioned Mr. Blackburn, plus Seattle Times reporter (who covered the championship season) Greg Heberlein, and Sonics forward John "JJ" Johnson. Complete audio is available here.

JPR Foundation Successful Grant
The news from Ashland, OR-based Jefferson Public Radio hasn't been all that great lately (lots of political strife and the retirement of long-time chief Ron Kramer). So, it was good news last week when the National Endowment for the Arts announced that the JPR Foundation has received a $50,000 grant in support of the Jefferson Square project, which is slated to house new studios, performance spaces and a broadcast history museum. The grant proposal was penned by yours truly (with support and legwork from JPR staff, of course).

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Clem Labine vs. . . . Clem Labine?

In sorting through some old possessions a few weeks ago, I came across the baseball card for Los Angeles Dodgers' pitcher Clem Labine (pictured at left). I bought this card (actually, my dad bought it for me) at a baseball card show in Seattle sometime around 1980. Clem was in rough shape even then, and I think he cost 50 cents.

The real treasures of that day (the only time I ever went to a baseball card show) were a dozen or so Seattle Pilots cards, among the only accessible remnants of that team's single season tenure. They still feel like relics of some kind of parallel universe or maybe a history-reimagining Star Trek episode.

So, why did I also pick up a Clem Labine baseball card way back when? For one confused, pre-teen radio geek reason: there was a syndicated radio feature called Around The House that I used to hear in those days on Saturday mornings on KIRO AM. Around The House covered topics like restoring old plaster, stripping paint off wooden window frames, and refinishing hardwood floors.

See, the host of Around The House was a guy named . . . wait for it . . . yes, the host was a guy named Clem Labine. "How cool," I thought, "to have an old baseball card for a guy on the radio!" I was an odd little kid, I'll freely admit.

What I didn't know then (and didn't figure out until many years (decades?) later), was that there are, unbelievably, actually two Clem Labines in the world. The Clem Labine of Around The House was actually this guy, an accomplished author and historic preservation specialist.

I'm pretty sure that the Clem Labine I used to hear on the radio never pitched for anybody, and I'm certain he never appeared on a baseball card.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Can You Identify the "Mystery DJ" from WMBR Cambridge Spring 1989?

I made this aircheck almost 23 years ago. I was living in Boston, and was amazed to hear a 90-minute show devoted to my hometown of Seattle's burgeoning music scene. I pressed "record" on my boombox as fast as I could, and got most of the show on tape.

The file posted on YouTube is audio only, and is "scoped" so most of the music is gone--I tried to post the entire 90-minute recording but got flagged for copyright issues and so went back and trimmed the file (I did leave a VERY LONG weather forecast for Boston, for some reason). The DJ obviously knows his Seattle bands and Seattle music venues circa late 1980s (and is fairly prescient in his pronouncements about "grunge"), but I have no idea who he is--though I assume he was from or had spent some time in Seattle.

Anyhow, I haven't done any "investigating" (such as contacting WMBR) to try and figure out who mystery DJ "Dara" is, but it would be interesting to know what became of him after his radio career at MIT. Are you Dara or can you identify Dara? If so, please leave a comment below.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Sound Effects for War Horse

The New York Times yesterday published a Carpetbagger blog post about the lengths to which filmmakers went to create specialized World War I sound effects for the recently released movie War Horse.

The film's sound designer Gary Rydstrom says it best, and could easily be describing an approach to sound effects for vintage radio dramas:

“What I usually do, out of laziness, is I do a lot of my recording around my house. The golden rule of sound design is, it doesn’t matter what a sound really it is, it matters how it works in the movie, how it makes you feel. It doesn’t matter that it’s a vacuum cleaner.”

Makes me want to fill a sock with corn starch and squeeze it repeatedly until I think I'm out for a snowy walk.