Fragments of an informal History of Broadcasting
Recording at the BBC
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           CONTENTS
1  INTRODUCTION
2  STEEL TAPE
3  OPTICAL FILM
4  DIRECTLY-CUT DISKS
5  MAGNETIC TAPE
6  PORTABLE RECORDING
7  CARTS AND DARTS
8  DIGITAL RECORDING AND PLAYOUT
Introduction
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.

When 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.

From 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.

All 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 possible. 

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.  Each of the systems which were used will be examined in the following pages.

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