2 STEEL TAPE
3 OPTICAL FILM
4 DIRECTLY-CUT DISKS
5 MAGNETIC TAPE
6 PORTABLE RECORDING
7 CARTS AND DARTS
8 DIGITAL RECORDING
This 8 page article examines the
development of audio
recording in BBC
radio, and its effect on programmes (and staff). It isn't a technical
treatise, more of an overview: for in-depth technical articles on most
of the systems see Roger Beckwith's site
the BBC was formed in 1922 there was no electrical recording system
outside laboratories. Gramophone records were made by using a horn with
a diaphram at the end of it, connected directly to the cutting stylus;
electrical recording only came into use in 1925. The only recording in
the BBC archives pre-dating this is of King George 5 opening the 1924
British Empire Exhibition, and this was made by an amateur pointing his
radio speaker down a home-made acoustic recording machine.
1925 the BBC had a few recordings made over landline by gramophone
companies such as HMV or British Homophone. The recording had to be
made on a wax blank, which was too soft for immediate playback and had
to be electroplated to produce a stamper before playable records could
be pressed, an expensive process which took at least twelve hours.
This made it useless for repeating items, and was used very
sparingly for important events such as royal speeches.
broadcasting was done 'live' - this was part of the attraction since
listeners knew that what they were hearing was happening now
Radio plays which were repeated had to be performed again, as did any
features or musical programmes. Only gradually as viable recording
methods were developed did the use of recordings for repeats, or for
internal listening to assess the success of a programme, become
As a BBC Engineer and then Studio Manager from 1961-2007 I saw some of
these developments take place:
and though obviously I had no contact with the earlier systems I did
work with people who had used them or worked with people who did: so I
can comment on some of the history from my own experience.
of the systems which were used will be examined in the following pages.