ORBEM
Broadcasting House in 1967

A Tour of Broadcasting House in 1967 by Mike Chessher

Following Mike's tour of BH in 1959 the saga continues with the extension occupied and Radio by numbers as the pirates come ashore.

It's taken a long time for the extension to be fully equipped. First the new control room was brought into use cable by cable, studio by studio. Headsets have replaced candle stick telephones. It's all bright and spacious with large windows but in many ways reflects what we left behind in the sub basement.

Control Room


The front bench is still there with two switchboards and the ATOMs desk is behind it. The jackfields have been banished away to the left and rows of monitoring buttons and silver locking keys to drive the selectors face the operators. The "bays" of the old control room have become Control and Monitor positions to our left and round to the right are two cubicles, each containing a 3 channel control position and a "Despatch Position". This despatch position is really 4 single channels each feeding a Foreign News Manager on the 3rd floor and handling the associated conference circuits.

The TOM overlooks it all from a spacious office and in the far corner are the OB equalising area and the TV switching position. Just beyond and accessed from a lobby area lie mixer 1A, which is used for sport and the four continuities. It's amazing what you can do with relays and Home, Light or Third can be switched to the spare con, instantly changing over all outputs, cue feeds, check receivers and telephone lines.

We'll return to the continuity area shortly but let's look at the rest of the extension. News and sport have moved to the 3rd floor from Egton, the studios there becoming EG1, 2 and 3.

On the 5th floor, a large number of recording channels has sprung up mainly with BTRs. They range from H50 to H59 and there is H59A as well. Three have small studios attached, one - H55 - has Presto disk recorders.

H58


H58 is a central recording and playback channel with those TR90s from H18 mounted in trolleys at last!

Apart from the TV switching centre and a comms area the extension is an office building, at least above ground.

Studio B9


Down in the basement, the levels, as we say in the business, don't quite match so there are steps down to the extension with conference and listening rooms to our left. Ahead of us are eleven radio studios (B6-B16), four recording channels (H9-H12) and a small TV studio. Most of the studios have Type B desks. B7 and B8 are small, B9 (above, seen in 1971) is a mixer and there are six large Type Bs.

B10
That leaves B10 and B11 which are drama studios with Type C desks. These have quadrant faders and a panel of transistor amplifiers. There are associated recording channels H10 and H11.

Back to the continuities now, where creeping change is about to become a sprint. When we moved in, five years ago, they were all identical with six selectable channels and three Leevers Rich tape machines.

Continuity Desk


A Nagra has been added for the announcer, to play trails and the cubicle tape machines are now Studer C37s because Third con and of course, the spare have to handle stereo.

Stereo radio began in the UK with Saturday morning experiments in 1958 and I remember lugging my parents' large valve radio and placing it six feet from the family television to listen to them. One channel was carried via Third Programme transmitters and the other by TV sound, neither network then having normal programmes on a Saturday morning. As we lived on Tyneside and one signal arrived via VHF and the other from the local medium wave repeater, lets just say that the fact that the speakers were not a matched pair did not affect the value of the experiment!

The Third Network, as it is called now begins at 0700 and there are two or three stereo programmes a day - gram records and live and recorded concerts and recitals. All of which means that the control room switching system has had to be partially modified too to cope with stereo sources. If you think stereo Type B gear a bit way out, I should tell you that grams are all played in from EG3 (surely) the worlds' only stereo Type A with links provided by the (mono) con announcer. It's only listeners in the south east who get the benefit of all this. There are reasonably matched lines to Wrotham whose stereo drive is switched on remotely by the con TO for stereo programmes only. Tyneside and beyond will have to await the arrival of digital audio.

Over in Light, the announcers are also working harder. When we moved in 5 years ago, the breakfast time programming was "Morning Music", 4 reels of continuous light music from staff orchestras. The announcer did half hourly news summaries and the music was delicately dipped for a time check every 10 minutes. The con studio could be switched to rehearsal condition and so it was not unusual for the TO to record one of these time checks and play it in while the announcer went to breakfast. With competition from pirate stations in the North sea, the Light Programme has extended its hours (0530-0200) and "Breakfast Special" has become a full blown programme.

All these extended hours and a whole new "popular" music network are to be paid for by getting rid of some of those orchestras and by combining the roles of SMs and TOs. Virtually everyone who opens a fader will be a Programme Operations Assistant (POA).
A few months later...

The new 4th network is to be called Radio 1. Well I suppose you could hardly call a new pop station Radio 4. So Home gets that title, Light becomes Radio 2 and 3rd stays with the number 3.
Jargon
POA - Programme Operations Assistant. A job title used for a few years instead of Studio Manager.
All very logical and I'm off to become a POA. The control room is to remain part of engineering but it has been decided that in BH, unlike Bush, so are the continuities. Logically, I suppose all the pirate disc jockeys now swarming up the sides of BH ought to be POAs as well and I don't think I'm in favour of that so I'll leave the politics and concentrate on describing the technical changes. I can do so because whilst many of my colleagues are off to pose for their POA course photos, I have to stay and help with the increased control room work load.

It's 29th September and I'm on night shift! Home has been banished to the spare con (4) and the Light Programme is coming for the last time from Con 2 where the studio has been modified to provide cart machines, an enormous cart rack and ,of course, extra faders. Next to the TO, under the studio window, sits a range of outboard compressor/limiters to operate in the studio mic chain, the studio repro chain and the TO's tape output. Con 1, visible through the glass has been similarly modified but is now empty and awaiting the arrival of Radio 1. Con 2 is far from empty and I realise it contains 4 TV cameras, two in the cubicle and two in the studio. Late Night Line Up on BBC2 is coming from here via a colour scanner in the car park - sorry that should probably be THE colour scanner as colour only began with Wimbledon in June.

Home turns into Radio 4, Light into Radio 2 and at 0700, Radio 1 breaks away with Tony Blackburn in Con 1, while Breakfast Special continues on Radio 2, from Con 2. Radio 1 sounds just like the pirates but at 0830, Radios 1 and 2 combine again for "Family Choice" (from a studio) and it all sounds a bit like the Light Programme again. Jimmy Young follows at 1000, again from a studio and at 1100, Radio 2 opts out for Morning Story and this mix and match continues all day.
Mixer 1A
Meanwhile, to make way for back to back Radio 1 shows in the afternoon, Radio 2 has vacated Con 2 and moved to mixer 1A (right). So when it just needs an old fashioned "continuity", Radio 2 con is, in fact, a studio!

It will all sort itself out eventually, Radio 1 will become a separate network, mixer 1A will turn into a pair of cramped continuities for Radio 2 and I'll get to be a POA. Spare a thought, though for the designers of the extension who, like their predecessors planning the move to BH from Savoy Hill, discovered
Home page
that by the time it was finished, it was out of date. Spare a thought, too, for the TOM, fighting his way across the control room against a stream of record pluggers on their way to Radio 1. His heartfelt cry - "Why didn't they just put the bloody ship in the car park!"