Local Radio Equipment by Robert Smith - OBs

When Local Radio started in 1967 OB recordings and a few live broadcasts were made using a small 5 channel version of the mixer which was installed in the studios.

Each station had a Mk I Ford Cortina Estate radio car fitted out by Transmitter Department at Brookman's Park and equipped with a Pye 24 volt transmitter operating on about 468 MHz. The equipment was mounted on a table installed where the front passenger seat had once been and the two 12 volt technical batteries were mounted in the cargo space. Two-way RT originally in the 171 MHz band, later 141 MHz, was used for communication with the studio and contributions remote from the car could be made via the Pye Pocketfone PF 1 on a second UHF frequency received back at the car. When the Phase I radio cars were replaced in 1972 the stations were supplied with a vehicle which then had to be converted into a radio car by the local engineers. Cutting the hole in the roof for the mast was the best bit!

In those early days a car radio was still an 'optional extra' which the BBC chose not to go for and so cue (and TB) had to be sent over the RT from the station. The valve operated transmitter wasn't continuously rated, so if an operator forgot to cancel the cue after a radio car insert the transmitter overheated and eventually filled the Ops Room with smoke! Epic House in Leicester had a UHF co-linear receiving aerial mounted on a mast on the flat roof of the building along with a 141 folded dipole for the RT. Remote receiving sites were added many years later which greatly extended the original reception radius of about six miles.

In the caravan
The author, Robert Smith, at the controls in the converted caravan.
When the Mark II stations were built in 1970 the BBC gave each Mark I station £1000 to be spent locally to make up some of the deficiencies which had been inevitable by virtue of their 'experimental' nature. At Leicester £200 of this was used to buy a 2 berth caravan which was converted to an OB facility in which the equipment was more or less permanently installed. Apart from the obvious relative comfort thus afforded the other benefits were a gas ring for brewing hot drinks and a sink for hand washing after rigging!

Little changed until the mid '70s when an OB mixer manufactured by Glen Sound was issued to each station. This was fully stereo and consisted of two MX6/2 mixer units, a DK2/4 combining unit with PPMs and monitoring controls. A Talk Back unit was also provided which was useful on more complex or live OBs. The kit had to be rigged and plugged together on site.

The equipment was very portable and each unit came with its own carrying case. An auxiliary mix, either pre- or post-fade could be generated and the equipment
A radio car
proved to be extremely versatile in its applications. It can still be found on many stations today being pressed into service for big sports OBs or election counts!

The next two pictures show vehicles which were registered in 1982 (letter 'Y') so the pictures will be from about 1983. When vehicles were delivered from Transport Department, it was quite common for the first tax disc to have run out; they kept them so long! I don't believe any brand new vehicle was delivered to a station in need of an MOT certificate and any stories to that effect are entirely apocryphal!

An OB van
BBC driving regulations prevented any otherwise suitable vehicle being used by engineers for OBs until about 1977. When the rules changed, Transit or Commer vans with an extended roof in the cargo area became an option for engineers to convert for Outside Broadcasts.

At first each station carried out its own conversion as had been the case with the early replacement radio cars. Thus there were almost as many variations on the vehicles as there were stations! The Radio Merseyside van, for instance, was at one time garaged in a public multi-storey car park. The van had an extendible roof, no markings, and when garaged the equipment had to be covered and hidden from view for security. Before an OB could be rigged the roof had to be raised and the equipment covers removed which made OBs additionally arduous! Stations which were fortunate enough to enjoy secure garaging were able to have a signed vehicle with a permanent technical installation. As with radio cars the BBC eventually built its local radio OB vans centrally.

Chilton desk
Very quickly a 24 channel mixer by Chilton established itself as the standard installation, initially mounted across the vehicle behind the driver but latterly across the rear of the vehicle with cable storage being behind it and accessed from the rear doors. Permanent monitoring and recording machines completed the fit-out. Internal tie-lines, jackfield and, at Leicester, a small fan heater make for comfortable mixing in all weathers. A far cry from when it all started!