2020-05-17 4 By David Taylor

Exploring the techniques from the ’50’s to the ’90’s in sound

Mixing a programme in Limehouse Studio A at Wembley in 1990.

The aim of this blog is to hopefully show some of the changes in professional sound that took place during the years that I worked in the industry. I joined the Anglia Television Sound Department in the summer of 1966 and I closed my ‘Postfade Sound’ television post production suite in 2012.

In 1966 my colleagues were still mixing on valve mixing desks, with the first germanium transistor consoles having just appeared. There was no sound dubbing of videotaped programmes in television and all TV sound was mono, mixed live or ‘as live’ and radio mics were not yet in use.

In these blogs, I’ll have to start with my personal journey.
As I said, that began at Anglia TV and then a move to Thames for a very short while before I progressed through my years at London Weekend Television, first at Wembley Studios, diverting via a short period at LWT’s Intersound Recording Studio and then joining Capital Radio at it’s start before hopping back to LWT; but now at the new South Bank studios.
Another quick stint at a Welsh facility Barcud, before Television South at Maidstone and on to the newly converted Limehouse Studios at Canary Wharf. A spell freelancing and then a return to Limehouse; this time it was my job to help with the move into the same Wembley Studios I had left 15 years earlier.
Finally I had a longer return back into the freelance world …just as all the staff at the BBC and ITV also ‘went freelance’…and then I started my own post-production suites within video facilities; firstly in London at Ace Editing and finally at Pinewood at OutPost Facilities.

Wow…didn’t I move around! Some of it ‘itchy feet’ I guess but also because TV became such an ‘unstable’ business through the years, with certainly no jobs ‘for life’ anymore.

Writing about it should provide an insight into the changes to TV sound since the ’60s, and I’ll dig into the other interests that I picked up during my working years. So there will be plenty about television apart from sound and I’ll cover all types of music recording….I have very wide ‘catholic’ tastes!

When I stopped mixing in 2012 I was operating a Fairlight Constellation digital post production console, fitted with 24 faders but capable of controlling an almost unlimited numbers of tracks, in stereo compatible 5.1 surround sound. The creative opportunities the Fairlight offered were amazing, particularly for someone who came from the days when ‘dubbing’ a video programme just wasn’t possible. We could import video and audio instantly and then edit and blend sound with unbelievable ease; drop in music or effects from vast ‘on board’ libraries in seconds and then export the mix to our clients over the Internet.
In terms of its ergonomic operation, the Fairlight control panel, then in it’s ‘Xynergi’ form was vastly superior to plain ‘keyboard and mouse’ control….but the high cost factor of such a dedicated controller, didn’t enable it to overcome the increasing use of Pro Tools in audio post production.
In the same way the cheapness of allowing ‘camera persons’ to take on the additional role of recording the sound, has only resulted in inferior broadcast sound and the enormous number of television channels now available have sound that is most often worst in terms of technical quality, with the budgets for sound on television programmes now seriously eroded.

However I will be going back through my years in sound and point out those changes and the transformations in technology that have occurred, so that new practitioners can understand more easily, ‘where we’ve come from’, or even those who had lived through it, remember what it actually was like!

I believe that using examples from actual programmes and recordings is the best way to illustrate these changes, so there will be lots of video and sound clips ’embedded’ in the posts.

I’m really also hoping I can get contributions from other ‘sound people’ to help me, as there were some really great mixers I met, and so many others that I wish I’d met, on the way.
So please if you something to recall about any aspect of broadcast or recording studio sound…perhaps from your own past or experiences…. do send them to me to include, as it would make this a much better ‘document’ of the changes in sound through the years to hear from others in these pages.

(And photographs are so important too…they really do help bring back the memories.)

Dave Taylor

Dorset 2020