The Wartime Memories Project

Technological Advances in Sound Recording

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World War 2 Two II WW2 WWII

Recording D-Day and after.

My contribution to D-Day and the invasion of Europe in 1944 started months before D-Day and miles from the Normandy beaches.

Realising that there was no suitable disc recording equipment for War Correspondents the BBC asked their Research Department to come up with a one-man, portable disc recorder for use by War Correspondents. The onus fell on the Research Department's Recording Section (of which I was a member) and, in early 1944, we started.

In those days there were none of the now familiar tape recorders, using 6mm iron-oxide tape, nor were there mobile phones (apart from the short range, clumsy, military walkie-talkies) so it had to be a disc recorder, which had to be as small & light as possible. It was decided to do a bit of lateral thinking, reverse the norm, and use a crystal pick-up as the recording (cutter) head. This had the immediate advantage of cutting out the need for high-wattage power supplies as a crystal needs a higher voltage but much lower current to move the needle. The drive for the turntable was met by using a Garrard portable gramophone, clockwork motor; very powerful and reliable.

To keep the cutting head travelling in a steady spiral on the disc a suitably geared 0.BA metal rod driven by the motor was employed and the pick-up was modified to have a blade which fitted in the groove on the rod.

The electronics used small, hearing-aid valves, battery powered, as the amplifier for a carbon microphone. This produced about 80 volts of signal on the crystal which drove the cutting needle. 10-inch aluminium discs, coated with cellulose acetate, provided the actual recording medium. The quality of the recording was not hi-fi but was OK for speech.

After a War Correspondent had recorded a report the disc was sent post-haste to the UK for use in the BBC 9pm News, the first one being broadcast at the end of the 9pm News on D-Day. Spare discs were carried in the lid of the wooden carrying case and were replenished as promptly as possible so that further recordings could be made.

The recorder was used extensively during the liberation of Europe. A picture of the recorder is shown on page 25 of Miles Hemslow's book "The Miracle of Radio", published by Evans Brothers Ltd, London (probably now well out of print). The four man BBC team, who produced this first truly portable disc recorder in the world, were (Electronic design) D E L Shorter, Tom Ivall (Mechanical design) Willie Lloyd, G E Miller)

G E Miller

If you or your family were involved in the research or development of technology during the Second World War please get in touch as we would love to hear from you.

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As 2005 is the 60th anniversary of the end of World War Two, we are celebrating by extending the Wartime Memories Project to collect as much material as possible. If you or any of your family or friends would like to contribute we would love to hear from you.
If you live in the UK we may be able to arrange to have our professional video crew record the telling of wartime stories, to create a lasting resource which will be used for education.
We would love to hear from anyone who would be interested in taking part.

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