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BBC Engineering Training Manual -- Microphones

All about the tools and techniques involved in capturing sound, in the studio or on location.

BBC Engineering Training Manual -- Microphones

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Thu Mar 14, 2019 12:47 pm

I stumbled across this today and thought it might be of interest to the technically-minded here.

A.E. Robertson's 1951 book on Microphones (one of the first BBC Training manuals to be made available to the public) has been scanned and made available on line via the BBC website. I have the hardback original and it's a good, informative, read. The core microphone engineering principles haven't changed since 1951, although a lot of the materials science has, and many new developments have occurred since. (The book does use all the old-fashioned measurements though, like dyne/cm^2).

https://www.bbceng.info/additions/2016/BBC%20Engineering%20Training%20Manual%20-%20Microphones%20(Robertson).pdf

This book was intended for the BBC's technical operators and studio managers in the 50s and 60s, and gives a good indication of the technical and academic standards that the BBC expected of its operational staff back then...

...'t'ain't like that today, sadly!

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Re: BBC Engineering Training Manual -- Microphones

Postby desmond » Thu Mar 14, 2019 12:55 pm

There's a lot of maths in there! :headbang:
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Re: BBC Engineering Training Manual -- Microphones

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Thu Mar 14, 2019 12:57 pm

Quite! :geek: Different times, different expectations

...and people say standards aren't slipping! :D
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Re: BBC Engineering Training Manual -- Microphones

Postby desmond » Thu Mar 14, 2019 1:09 pm

How would a training manual like this have been used, back in the day?

Would engineers just use it to go look something up when they needed it?
Or would they be expected to read and understand it thoroughly, and even take tests on some of this stuff?

Or would they not even be allowed near the mic cupboard unless they could recite random pages in full together with working maths examples..?
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Re: BBC Engineering Training Manual -- Microphones

Postby ronmac » Thu Mar 14, 2019 1:20 pm

Many thanks, Hugh!
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Re: BBC Engineering Training Manual -- Microphones

Postby blinddrew » Thu Mar 14, 2019 1:29 pm

Still only halfway through the audio handbook but I'll add this to the reading list! :)
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Re: BBC Engineering Training Manual -- Microphones

Postby Wonks » Thu Mar 14, 2019 1:31 pm

:thumbup:

75s (£3.75) was a lot of money for a book back in 1963, even if it was 380 pages.
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Re: BBC Engineering Training Manual -- Microphones

Postby Luke W » Thu Mar 14, 2019 1:43 pm

Very cool, thanks!
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Re: BBC Engineering Training Manual -- Microphones

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Thu Mar 14, 2019 1:51 pm

desmond wrote:How would a training manual like this have been used, back in the day?

They would have been taught it in much the same way as the book is written and expected to understand and quite possibly pass tests on it too. Introductory technical staff training back in those days was 13 weeks, followed a 6-months to a year later by further update courses of 5 or 6 weeks, and then further more advanced operational/craft courses after that.

The Beeb really did provide a world-class technical education back then that was on a par with the very best technical colleges of the day. That's why BBC staff of that generation (and those that followed) were so very, very good -- arguably the best in the world; because they genuinely understood the technicalities behind their craft skills and could apply them intelligently.

It was much the same when I joined the beeb in the 80s, but by the mid-90s everything was being cut back and dumbed down horrendously. That was the decade that I worked as a trainer at Wood Norton, and initially I taught very similar material -- albeit usually with less overt maths. All of the key principles were definitely covered though.

However, by the mid-90s the introductory technical training courses were being scaled back to 5 weeks and then 3 weeks, and that meant staff could only be taught which button to push, not what the button actually did and why... Of course, it meant staff could be trained up and used on stations quickly and cheaply, which was what the management wanted.

But it did a huge disservice to the staff being trained, and the policy came back to bite the Beeb on the bum in the following decade when they started to find they couldn't promote people because they simply didn't have the (previously) required breadth of understanding and knowledge!

I despaired over it all and threw in the towel in 1997... and now I help train a broader range of people through the pages of Sound On Sound and its forums (and elsewhere). The Beeb's former technical training centre at Wood Norton no longer provides regular recruitment and progression training for operational staff... and from what I gather ongoing technical staff training at the beeb is rather limited these days.

However, other broadcasters do take training seriously, and Sky runs some superb programmes of its won at with the NFTS, for example. I've delivered quite a few training courses at Sky myself...
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Re: BBC Engineering Training Manual -- Microphones

Postby CS70 » Thu Mar 14, 2019 2:19 pm

desmond wrote:There's a lot of maths in there! :headbang:

Hm, there’s nothing esoteric tough? it’s very well done and all is pretty simple. Appendix aside (and a differential at start) , it’s only basic algebra and a little trigonometry.. a high school student should be able to follow easily as long he’s learned some elementary trigonometry. An lots of the language uses just sums and multiplication. Maybe differentiation would require a side note, but the basic concept is .. well, basic.

I mean saying a = b + c is just like writing that a is the sum of b and c, only more compact?
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Re: BBC Engineering Training Manual -- Microphones

Postby Zukan » Thu Mar 14, 2019 2:31 pm

Good link. Thanks Hugh.
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Re: BBC Engineering Training Manual -- Microphones

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Thu Mar 14, 2019 3:07 pm

CS70 wrote:
desmond wrote:There's a lot of maths in there! :headbang:

Hm, there’s nothing esoteric tough?

Yep. Just mid and higher level school maths: algebra, trigonometry, and some simple calculus, plus a range of basic school-level physics principles. All normally covered by age 16 in the standard UK schools curriculum (although the calculus is usually age 17/18 material).

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Re: BBC Engineering Training Manual -- Microphones

Postby Kwackman » Thu Mar 14, 2019 3:20 pm

Hugh Robjohns wrote: Introductory technical staff training back in those days was 13 weeks,
With an exam each week with a reasonably high pass mark (70%?), and if you failed ANY exam you were out, finished, goodbye!
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Re: BBC Engineering Training Manual -- Microphones

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Thu Mar 14, 2019 3:24 pm

Yep... although relatively few actually failed and were kicked out. I can't think of any kicked out from my ETSI (engineering qualification) and TOTSI (technical operator) progressions -- although the threat was real and focused the mind very effectively. And it certainly did happen -- at least one was dismissed from courses I worked on in the almost-decade when I was a trainer there myself. The standard of training and support was always very high.
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Re: BBC Engineering Training Manual -- Microphones

Postby Kwackman » Thu Mar 14, 2019 3:29 pm

I think we lost one soldier on an Audio Assistant course, but can't remember for sure.

Hugh Robjohns wrote:The standard of training and support was always very high.
Absolutely!
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Re: BBC Engineering Training Manual -- Microphones

Postby Mike Stranks » Thu Mar 14, 2019 4:43 pm

I did think of joining the BBC through this route back in the '60s.

Do I remember correctly that it had a two A-levels in appropriate subjects requirement as well as practical experience of electronics and/or sound - eg making your own gizmos or recording with the available gear for amateurs?
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Re: BBC Engineering Training Manual -- Microphones

Postby The Elf » Thu Mar 14, 2019 5:02 pm

Thanks for this, Hugh.

I love material like this. It gives me a sense of how much of the world I have yet to understand! :beamup:
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Re: BBC Engineering Training Manual -- Microphones

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Thu Mar 14, 2019 5:19 pm

Mike Stranks wrote:Do I remember correctly that it had a two A-levels in appropriate subjects requirement as well as practical experience of electronics and/or sound - eg making your own gizmos or recording with the available gear for amateurs?

I couldn't tell you what they needed back then, Mike. I was barely more than a rugrat at the time! :-) But that sounds a reasonable requirement.

By the 70s and beyond they were generally looking for graduates -- engineering/science for the engineering/tech op sides, and often arts and humanities for the production side which included radio studio managers (most of whom went on to become producers and directors).

When I boarded for the Beeb's summer holiday experience work at the end of my second year electronic engineering BSc course I think there was a lot of weight placed on my practical experiences of mixing live sound, recording the musician students, and working in the campus radio station while at uni, as well as my electronics projects and back-stage theatre work. I subsequently spent three months helping out at BBC South West TV studios in Plymouth and, presumably because I didn't piss-off too many people or break too much, I later received an offer to join the Beeb as a TV engineer when I graduated without a further board. Although in reality, of course, I'd had a three-month practical interview! Clever scheme!
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Re: BBC Engineering Training Manual -- Microphones

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Thu Mar 14, 2019 5:23 pm

The Elf wrote:I love material like this. It gives me a sense of how much of the world I have yet to understand! :beamup:

Well, if you liked that, you'll probably like this too. From 1955:

https://www.bbceng.info/Books/Studio%20Engineering%20For%20Sound%20Broadcasting.pdf

I love books like these, because although obviously dated, they illustrate the core principles very well and show where the things we so often take for granted originally came from, as well as revealing the reasons why things are still done in a particular way today.

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Re: BBC Engineering Training Manual -- Microphones

Postby MOF » Thu Mar 14, 2019 5:33 pm

The Beeb really did provide a world-class technical education back then that was on a par with the very best technical colleges of the day. That's why BBC staff of that generation (and those that followed) were so very, very good -- arguably the best in the world; because they genuinely understood the technicalities behind their craft skills and could apply them intelligently.

It was much the same when I joined the beeb in the 80s, but by the mid-90s everything was being cut back and dumbed down horrendously.

This continued in ITV when ex BBC staff moved there. Unfortunately it’s the same generally in industry, we don’t train and pay the next generation to develop their skills.
I was told that new BBC recruits would rotate through the various roles on mock productions during training at Wood Norton so that they would understand the problems that other departments encounter, which I thought was a good idea.
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