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An artical from Wireless World for July 1953


UNDOUBTEDLY the Coronation day broadcasts were a real triumph for the B.B.C. Everyone who looked-in or listened-in on June 2 was full of praise for the excellent way in which this great operation Was handled. In .particular it was a triumph for the special technique of outside broadcasting—the best demonstration we have ever had of radio's power to convey all the excitement and actuality of a great event at the very moment of its happening. Naturally, the immediate reaction of most people was to the artistic presentation of the programmes, but those in any way connected with radio would be thinking at the same time of the great complexity of the technical arrangements which made it all possible.

Although television was undoubtedly the star per former on this occasion, sound broadcasting had really the bigger job to do. The programme we heard at home was only one of many that were put out to all parts of the world. Altogether facilities had to be provided for some ninety commentators along the route of the procession and in Westminster Abbey— and this does not include all the additional microphones used for sound effects, of which some forty were installed in the Abbey alone. Not only were there all the B.B.C's home and overseas transmitters to be served, but a number of foreign broadcasting organizations as well, and at the same time arrangements had to be made for supplying several newsreel film companies, the television sound control room, the sound reinforcement system in the Abbey and public address loudspeakers along the route of the procession. It was, of course, the Post Office who provided and maintained all the lines necessary for this complicated link-up, and a share of the credit must go to them for the vital part they played in the whole operation.

Without going into details, the general plan of the sound broadcasting arrangements was this. Microhones were grouped at a number of important points along the processional route (one group being in the Abbey itself), and at each of these sites a temporary control room was set up to house the associated control gear and programme engineers. From these temorary control rooms the microphone outputs intended for transmission abroad were routed to a main control room on the new Colonial Office site, while those for the B.B.C. home transmitters, were connected to another main control room in Westminster Abbey. The assembled programmes coming out of these two main centres were then sent to Broadcasting House for distribution to their various destinations, most of them going by way of B.B.C. and Post Office transmitters and others by line to the Continent. It goes without saying that there was a good deal of duplication of equipment and circuits to guard against possible breakowns, although in fact none of it actually proved to be necessary.

The commentators were using lip ribbon microhones, so they could work quite close to each other without their speech interfering (about 4ft 6in apart) and there was no necessity for sound-proof commenary boxes. They wore headphones which could be switched either to the home programme or to the programmes they themselves were handling. Each comentator was associated with a particular control engineer in the control room, and the engineer could speak to him by telephone or give cues by means of red and green signal lights.

The B.B.C. recording department was also very much involved in the day's proceedings. They made recordings of the entire home programme, of the ceremony from the Abbey, and of nearly forty overseas commentators, and at the same time handled items coming in from all over the world for the evening programme preceding the Queen's speech. Altogether, they used some 3,600 disks and about 85 miles of magnetic tape on 192 reels.

And now for the television arrangements, which will be described by the Superintendent Engineer of the B.B.C.'s television outside broadcasts department.

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© J.Evans 2003
Last updated
22nd September 2004