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Sound at the BBC Television Center (part 6)

There may be anything from two to ten people working in the studio and control room of TC1. In charge would be the Sound Supervisor who would probably be mixing the programme...


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There may be anything from two to ten people working in the studio and control room of TC1. In charge would be the Sound Supervisor who would probably be mixing the programme. “The Supervisor here is largely self scheduling. If you give him a programme to do it’s his job to arrange everything that’s required for that programme including all the planning and the booking of equipment and the booking of staff. By the time he sits down to mix the programme he will have done most of the work. The Supervisor, he or she, will be there mixing the programme and there may then be nobody else in the control room and there may be just one person on the studio floor. If all there is to do is just one boom or maybe just put personal mics on people that would be all that’s necessary. Or there may be another assistant in the sound control room when there is grams and tape work to do and he would be called a Deputy Sound Supervisor. On a major program, say a light entertainment spectacular where there are significant quick changes to do there might be a sizable crew. There would be another deputy in charge of the crew on the floor, working himself, and there may be several booms to operate, an orchestra to rig, guests to get on and off and a band on the stage to set up and strike, and for the continuity of the programme you may have to set and strike from both sides of the studio so there would be separate crews because you can’t cross the stage. There is also a significant use of radio mics now. Radio mics are all very well but personal mics usually need to be placed on artists before they go into the studio. They don’t want to be seen half undressed in there so it requires people to be free to fit them in the dressing rooms. Not only do we have to fit them we also have to get them off and pass them on to someone else very often, which is a fairly tricky business”.

Talking about radio mics made me wonder why so often you see them clipped to a newsreader’s lapel upside down. Is this just an eccentric fashion or have the microphone manufacturers got the design wrong?

“It started here quite a long time ago when people first began to realise that although the microphones are omni and therefore you should be able to talk to them from any direction perfectly successfully, they don’t pop nearly as much if you talk at them from the cable end. Rather than put windshields on which would make them much bigger and more obvious we tend to use them upside down, the effect is the same. Also, it’s convenient because of the direction the cable approaches the person you actually get a neater loop on the cable if you do it that way round, but that’s incidental. The real reason is to stop them popping. The only ways a manufacturer could stop them popping would be to put windshields on them or tailor the bass response. We don’t want them to do either of these things, we want to be free to do it ourselves. They work perfectly well upside down but I know it draws some people’s attention”.

I would have imagined that using grams live on air might be something of a nightmare. Apparently not...

“The way it doesn’t go wrong is to train people so they don’t make mistakes. Obviously these days we don’t put much in the way of effects and music onto programmes which are entirely prerecorded and will go through a lot of editing because it makes no sense. It makes the editing difficult and you have to go through post production anyway. So we avoid the complications and only play in material which is essential for the artist to work to. You can have quite significant parts of drama where it is necessary for them to hear music and sound effects otherwise they have nothing to work with. Sometimes it’s on the track. Sometimes we do it without it going on the track. Obviously on live programmes, or programmes recorded as live, they must be played in and we still have, I am happy to say, people who are very expert at handling disc players and several tape machines all at once, getting them all in the right place at the right times. It’s especially important with comedy material. If your comedy sketches rely on sound effects there is no way you can put the stuff on afterwards. It has to be there if artists need it to work with and the audience needs it as well”.

By David Mellor Thursday January 1, 2004