Changing Technology – Radio

In the 1950s, the telephone was the best tool for a radio reporter. After attending an event, a report would be filed, either live or to tape, directly from the locale. If a reporter was unable to attend, the telephone was the link to the prime person of the story who often was interviewed from the studio and recorded for later presentation in a newscast.

Then came the tape recorders which saw reporters using them in the field: but because of their bulk, or inability to operate in Canada’s winter, there were frequent problems with non-recording. Among the early models of so-called portable equipment was the suitcase-sized Ampex reel-to-reel recorder, which commonly required a technician to operate.

The occasions when a radio reporter would unscrew the telephone mouthpiece to hook-up his tape recorder in order to send an interview to his radio station are too numerous to mention. Just ask some of the veterans of the ’60s such as Tayler Parnaby, Mike Duffy and Paul Akehurst (see below). They became so adept at commandeering the closest telephone and even learned how to extract the microphone within the mouthpiece in order to prevent a competitor from using the phone. It also was a way to enhance the sound of the transmitted report, bypassing the lower-quality telephone mouthpiece and substituting a broadcast microphone in its place. 

Eventually, the British EMI and the Swiss UHER low-maintenance machines began to meet the rigors of Canada’s climate and the conditions inflicted by reporters who never really learned how to take care of their tape recorders, with reduced weight and more resilient battery systems. And so reporters became their own technicians.

These were used into the ’80s when cassette tape recorders, even smaller and more flexible, came into prominence. And in the later part of the 20th century, the Digital Audio tape recorder became the tool of choice.

Almost simultaneously, engineers were developing short-wave equipment suitable for commercial use by radio stations, which began equipping vehicles and even helicopters and airplanes (for traffic reports). 

So by the 1960s, radio reporters had mobile offices in cars or trucks that were miniature reproductions of studios, equipped with mobile telephones, short-wave radios, tape recorders for recording and editing and a place in which to write and broadcast reports. 

The ability of the radio reporter to move rapidly to an event and to complete an on-air presentation swiftly continued to give radio a significant advantage well into the ’80s, when television technology took some giant strides.

As the century rolled over, two additional advances in radio news broadcasting developed with the use of satellite telephones and the use of computers and advanced broadband technology which provided for quality broadcast transmission from virtually anywhere in the world to a home radio station.

Audio Clips:

Paul Akehurst describes his ingenious adaptation of a pay phone to file a report on General de Gaulle’s July 24th 1967 speech

Sidney Margles describes the first use of the Carrier Operated Relay System used by reporters to feed signals to mobile units for retransmission to base

Tayler Parnaby praises the advent of the portable tape recorder