Audio (Television Production Guide)

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In the preceding sections, we have been concerned primarily with the video, the picture portion of television. In this section we will discuss another essential part of production audio, the sound portion of television.

To keep this vast topic within manageable limits, three major factors will be emphasized. They are:

1. Sound pickup, including the kinds of microphones and their electronic and operational characteristics,

2. Recorded sound, covering the various types of sound-recording and playback equipment for television, and the techniques for using them.

3. Sound control, dealing with the principal equipment and the techniques of creative sound mixing.

You should realize that sound control is an important production field in its own right, and that it requires specific and unique skills. If you are especially interested in television audio, you should make a concerted effort to learn as much as possible about radio techniques, sound recording techniques, and the finer points of television and film audio production.

Audio (from the Latin verb audire, to hear) stands for the sound portion of television and its production. Although the term tele-vision (far-seeing) ignores audio entirely, the sound part of television plays a vital part in the television communication process. Frequently, it is the sound that gives us more precise information than the pictures. At one time or another, you have surely experienced a temporary interruption of the picture transmission right in the middle of a fascinating program. As long as you could hear the audio portion, you were probably still able to follow the story more or less accurately. But have you noticed how difficult it is to keep up when the sound portion fails? Besides giving information, audio can help to establish a specific locale, such as a downtown location through traffic noises, or a specific lime, through typical day or night sounds. Sound is essential for the establishing of mood, or for the intensification of action. There is hardly a good chase sequence that does not have a whole barrage of intensified sounds accompanying the natural ones. Sound also helps us to connect the visual pieces and fragments of the relatively small, low-definition television image into a meaningful whole.


Audio--The sound portion of television and its production. Technically, the electronic reproduction of audible sound.

Blast, or Pop Filter--A bulblike attachment (either permanent or detachable) to the front of the microphone that filters out sudden air blasts, such as plosive consonants (p's, t's, k's) delivered directly into the mike.

Cardioid -- The heart-shaped (cardioid) pickup pattern of a unidirectional microphone.

Cart -- See Cartridge.

Cartridge, or Tape Cartridge-- Also called "cart" for short. A video or audiotape recording or playback device that uses tape cartridges. A cartridge is a plastic case containing an endless tape loop that rewinds as it is played back, and cues itself automatically.

Cassette--A video or audiotape recording or playback device that uses tape cassettes. A cassette is a plastic case containing two reels, a supply reel and a takeup reel. Many cassettes cue and rewind themselves automatically.

Condenser Microphone--A microphone whose diaphragm consists of a condenser plate that vibrates with the sound pressure against another fixed condenser plate, called the backplate.

Diaphragm The vibrating element inside a microphone that moves with the air pressure from the sound.

Dual Redundancy The use of two identical microphones for the pickup of a sound source, whereby only one of them is turned on at any given time. A safety device that permits switching over to the second microphone in case the active one becomes defective.

Dynamic Microphone A microphone whose sound-pickup device consists of a diaphragm that is attached to a movable coil. As the diaphragm vibrates with the air pressure from the sound, the coil moves within a magnetic field, generating an electric current.

E.T. Electrical Transcriptions; a somewhat outdated designation for phonograph records used exclusively for on-the-air broadcasts.

Fader A sound-volume control that works by means of a button sliding vertically or horizontally along a specific scale. Similar to pot.

Fishpole--A suspension device for a microphone; the microphone is attached to a pole and held over the scene for brief periods.

FM Microphone A wireless microphone that contains not only the sound pickup and generating elements but also a tiny FM transmitter.

Full Track An audiotape recorder, or recording, that uses the full width of the tape for recording an audio signal.

Generating Element--The major part of a microphone. It converts sound waves into electrical energy.

Giraffe A medium-sized microphone boom that can be operated by one person.

Half-Track An audiotape recorder, or recording, that uses half the width of the tape for an audio signal.

The other half can then be used for additional recorded material.

Input Overload Distortion A distortion caused by a microphone when subjected to an exceptionally high-volume incoming sound. Condenser microphones are especially prone to this kind of distortion.

ips -- An abbreviation for inches-per-second, indicating tape speed.

Key-In To switch to a sound source via an on-off (or channel) key.

Lavaliere--An extremely small microphone that can be clipped onto the reverse of a jacket, a tie, a blouse, or other piece of clothing. A larger variety is suspended from a neck-cord and worn in front of the chest. Also called neck or chest mike.

Microphone--Also called mike. A small, portable assembly for the pickup and conversion of sound into electrical energy.

Mixing --The combining of two or more sounds in specific proportions (volume variations) as determined by the event (show) context.

Multiple-Microphone Interference--The canceling out of certain sound frequencies when two identical microphones in close proximity are used for the same sound source.

Omnidirectional -- A type of pickup pattern in which the microphone can pick up sounds equally well from all directions.

Pickup Pattern The territory around the microphone within which the microphone can "hear well," that is, has optimal sound pickup.

Polar Pattern The two-dimensional representation of a microphone pickup pattern.

Post-Dubbing The adding of a sound track to an already recorded (and usually fully edited) picture portion.

Pot Abbreviation for potentiometer, a sound-volume control.

Pot-In To fade in a sound source gradually with a pot or fader.

Quarter-Track An audio-tape recorder, or recording, that uses one-fourth of the width of the tape for recording an audio signal.

Generally used by stereo recorders. The first and third tracks are taken up by the first pass of the tape through the recording heads; the second and fourth tracks by the second pass, when the tape has been "reversed" (that is, the full takeup reel becomes the supply reel for the second recording).

Reel-to-Reel A tape recorder that transports the tape past the heads from one reel, the supply reel, to the other reel, the takeup reel. Used in contrast to cassettes or cartridge recorders.

Ribbon Microphone A microphone whose sound-pickup device consists of a ribbon that vibrates with the sound pressures within a magnetic field. Also called velocity mike.

Shotgun Microphone A highly directional microphone with a shotgun-like barrel for picking up sounds over a great distance.

Sound Effects Special sounds-such as wind, thunder, car traffic, jet airplanes-recorded in advance for multiple use in a variety of productions.

Unidirectional A type of pickup pattern in which the microphone can pick up sounds better from one direction, the front, than from the sides or back.

Volume The relative intensity of the sound, its relative loudness.

VU Meter A volume-unit meter; measures volume units, the relative loudness of amplified sound.


If sound is, indeed, such an important production element, why do we have such a preponderance of bad sound on television? Even when you produce a short little scene as an exercise in your studio, you will probably notice that, while the pictures may look acceptable, the sound portion certainly could stand some improvement.

Unless you show a film on television, where a large part of the audio portion is produced independently of the action and then carefully matched at a later time with the picture portion, good television sound is difficult to achieve. In most television productions, even when videotaped, the sound is picked up, mixed (balanced), and telecast or recorded on videotape simultaneously with the actual event. Because of the demanding complexity of good video, the sound portion, unfortunately, takes a back seat in most television productions. It is frequently assumed that by sticking a microphone into the scene in the last minute we have taken care of the audio requirements. Television audio, like any other production element, should not be "added"; it should be integrated into the production planning from the very beginning.

Sound Pickup--The pickup of live sounds is done through a variety of microphones. How good or how bad a particular microphone is depends not only on how it is built, its electronic characteristics, but especially on how it is used. We will, therefore, talk briefly about the basic electronic characteristics of microphones, and then concentrate on their use, or operational characteristics.


7.1 All microphones have (1) a diaphragm, which vibrates with the sound pressures, and (2) a generating element, which changes the physical vibrations of the diaphragm into electrical energy.

In the dynamic microphone, the diaphragm is attached to a coil, the voice coil. When somebody speaks into the mike, the diaphragm vibrates with the air pressure from the sound and makes the voice coil move back and forth within a magnetic field.

This produces a fluctuating electric current, which, when amplified, transmits these vibrations to the cone of a speaker, making the sound audible again.

Because the diaphragm-voice coil element is physically quite rugged, the microphone can withstand and accurately translate high sound levels or other air blasts close to the microphone.

In the ribbon or velocity mike, a very thin metal ribbon vibrates within a magnetic field serving the function of the diaphragm and the voice coil. The ribbon is so fragile, however, that even moderate physical shocks to the microphone, or sharp air blasts close to it, can damage and even destroy the instrument. When it is used outdoors, even the wind will move the ribbon and thus introduce a great amount of noise. You should, therefore, not use this kind of microphone outdoors, or in production situations that require its frequent movement. A good ribbon mike, such as the classic RCA 77-DX, is nevertheless an excellent recording mike, even in television productions. Although it has a low tolerance to high sound levels, the delicate ribbon responds well to a wide frequency range and reproduces with great fidelity the subtle nuances of tone color, especially in the bass range.

In the condenser microphone, the diaphragm constitutes one of the two plates necessary for a condenser to function. The other, called the backplate, is fixed.

Since the diaphragm moves with the air vibrations against the fixed backplate, the capacitance of this condenser is continuously changed, thus modulating the electrical current. The major advantage of the condenser microphone over the other types is its extremely wide frequency response and pickup sensitivity. But this sensitivity is also one of its disadvantages. If placed close to high-intensity sound sources, such as the high-output speakers of a rock band, it will overload and distort the incoming sound-a condition known as input overload distortion.

However, if properly placed, the condenser mike is a superior recording mike, especially when used under highly controlled conditions of studio recording.


7.2 Omnidirectional Pickup Pattern: You can think of the omnidirectional pickup pattern as a large rubber ball with the mike in its center. All sounds that originate within the confines of the rubber ball (the pickup pattern) will be picked up by the microphone without any marked quality difference.

The two-dimensional representation of its pickup pattern is called the polar pattern, which for an omnidirectional mike is roughly circular.

7.3 Cardioid Pickup Pattern: The most common unidirectional pickup pattern is called cardioid, heart-shaped. If you think of an apple with the mike sticking into it where the stem should be, you will have an idea of the three-dimensional pickup pattern of most unidirectional television microphones.' As you can see, the pickup at the side of the microphone is considerably reduced with the cardioid microphone, and almost eliminated at its rear. The polar pattern of the cardioid microphone clearly shows the heart-shaped pickup area.

Electronic Characteristics

All microphones convert sound waves into electrical energy, which is amplified and reconverted into sound waves by the loudspeaker. Microphones are often classified primarily according to how they convert sound into electrical energy, or by their sound generating element. Another way of classifying them is by their pickup pattern.

Generating Element

Microphones classified according to their generating element are (1) dynamic, (2) ribbon, and (3) condenser. Generally, dynamic mikes are the most rugged. They can tolerate reasonably well the rough handling television microphones frequently (though unintentionally) receive. They can be worked very close to the sound source and can withstand extremely high sound levels without damage to the microphone or even excessive distortion of the incoming sound. Ribbon and condenser mikes are much more sensitive to physical shock or input overload than the dynamic mikes, and are therefore used primarily for stable, highly controlled recording tasks. Although the dynamic mike does not respond as well to extreme frequencies and subtle tone characteristics (such as timbre and presence) as the others, it is nevertheless preferred in television production because of its stable performance characteristics even in adverse conditions (such as extreme temperature change or high humidity) and its general ruggedness. Best of all, its relatively simple electronics permits the construction of extremely small instruments.

Microphone Pickup Patterns

Like our ears, any type of microphone can hear sounds from all directions as long as the sounds are within its hearing range. But while some microphones hear sounds from all directions equally well, others hear better in a specific direction. The pickup pat-tern shows the territory within which the microphone can hear well.

Generally, in television production, we have omnidirectional, or nondirectional, microphones and unidirectional microphones.

The omnidirectional microphone hears sounds from all (omnis in Latin) directions equally well. The unidirectional microphone hears better in one (unus in Latin) direction, the front of the microphone, than from its sides or back. (See 7.2 and 7.3.) Operational Characteristics When classifying microphones according to their use, we have those that are designed for picking up moving sound sources, and others that are designed for picking up stationary sound sources.

The former we simply call mobile microphones, the latter stationary microphones. (See 7.48.) Mobile Microphones The mobile microphones include (1) boom microphones, (2) hand microphones, (3) lavaliere microphones, and (4) wireless, or FM, microphones.

[ Electro-Voice, Microphone Primer ( Buchanan, Mich.: Electro-Voice, Inc., n.d.).]

If the scene requires that you keep the microphone out of the picture, the most practical instrument you can use is a boom microphone-that is, one that is suspended from a microphone boom.

The choice is usually a high-quality dynamic, cardioid mike (dynamic, because it is relatively insensitive to the inevitable shocks and wind noises generated by the moving boom; cardioid, because it must pick up sounds that originate a considerable distance from the microphone without undue loss of presence) or a condenser, cardioid microphone (because of its superior quality). The boom facilitates rapid and smooth movement of the microphone above and in front of the sound sources from one spot to another anywhere in the studio within its extended range. In order to keep the microphone out of the picture while following a moving sound source, you can extend or retract the microphone with the boom, simultaneously pan the boom horizontally, move it up and down vertically, and rotate the mike at the end of it to allow for directional sound pickup.

During all these operations, you can have the whole boom assembly moved to various locations, in case it cannot reach them when fully extended. (See 7.5.)

7.4 Microphones with both omnidirectional and cardioid pickup patterns are used extensively in television production. Why both types? Whenever a mike can, or must, be worked close to the sound source, such as the performer's hand mike on a windy outdoor location, the omnidirectional mike is to be preferred. It is less subject to breath pops-the loud popping noises that might occur when held close to the mouth-than the cardioid mike.

If, however, you must use the microphone relatively far away from the sound source, such as a boom mike, the cardioid pattern is far superior. It will be able to pick up the sound over a relatively large distance without loss of presence or quality.

Also, random noise, which is always present in a busy television studio, will be largely ignored by the cardioid mike, while the omnidirectional mike would pick up sounds from all directions.

7.5 Big Boom: The big microphone boom is mounted on a special dolly, called a perambulator, that permits rapid relocation anywhere in the studio.

The operator's platform can be cranked up or down to the necessary operating height. Usually, a line monitor is mounted on the boom for the operator. The counterweighted boom can be extended, tilted up and down, and the microphone itself can be rotated by about 300 degrees.

But there are some major disadvantages in using the "big boom" in a small studio or in small station operations: (1) For proper manipulation it needs two operators: the boom operator, who works the microphone boom, and the boom dolly operator, who helps to reposition the whole assembly whenever necessary. (2) The floor space that the boom takes up may, in a small studio, cut down the maneuverability of the cameras considerably. (3) The boom requires special lighting so that its shadow falls outside camera range. Even in larger studios, the lighting problems often preclude the use of a boom, available manpower and space notwithstanding. Often, when the use of the boom has not been carefully preplanned in conjunction with lighting and camera movements, you will find that the boom operator "rides" the boom much too high for good sound pickup, merely to keep the mike and the boom, or their shadows, out of the camera shots.

The smaller boom, called a giraffe, is often preferred in small studios. It can do almost anything the big boom can do with the exception of extension and retraction of the boom itself. However, since the giraffe is on casters, the boom operator alone can move the whole boom assembly quite easily toward or away from the sound source.

There are some more advantages of the giraffe over the big boom: (1) it takes up much less studio space; (2) because of its low height and narrow wheelbase, it can be easily moved from one studio to another through narrow doorways or hallways; and (3) it can be disassembled quickly and taken to remote locations if necessary.

Unfortunately, even the giraffe is not without serious operational disadvantages: (1) The lighting is at least as critical for the giraffe as for the big boom and, in fact, becomes more of a problem since the giraffe usually works at a lower height and closer to the sound source. (2) Because of the considerable weight of a good dynamic, cardioid boom microphone, the extension of the relatively light giraffe boom is limited. This requires the boom operator to stand closer to the sound source, a position that not only tends to increase the general noise level but may also prevent the camera from getting wide cover shots of the scene. (3) Even with vertical extensions for the rotating device and the mike suspension, the boom has to remain relatively low, another danger of getting the microphone into the picture or causing unwanted mike shadows. (4) Because of its lightness, the boom is subject to shock and vibrations. Therefore, the microphone attached to the giraffe (/figure 7.6) is more exposed to physical shock than that on the smoothly operating big boom.

7.6 Giraffe, or Medium Boom.

In certain production situations, even the small giraffe boom is not flexible enough for a quick and accurate audio pickup. What you can use then is an extremely simple yet very effective device: a hand-held aluminum or bamboo pole to which a microphone is attached. As "boom operator," you hold this fishpole device into the scene for brief periods of audio pickup. One of the best ways to hold it is to anchor it in your belt. Then you can drop the microphone close to the audio source, as though you were "fishing" for the appropriate sound. When you work a fishpole, you usually stand behind some piece of scenery or you walk into the scene alongside the camera.

The advantages of the fishpole technique are obvious: (1) the microphone is extremely flexible; it can swing easily up and down and sideways; (2) the fishpole is easy to operate and needs only one person per microphone; (3) it takes up very little space; and (4) it can be worked around the existing lighting so that the mike shadow falls outside the picture.

The various disadvantages of using a boom microphone have proved serious enough in small station operation that, especially since the dramatic development of high-quality, extremely small lavaliere microphones, it is used only for special productions, such as dramas, certain commercials, or in scenes with many rapidly changing sound sources that do not allow the microphone to be seen.

Nevertheless, the combination of a high-quality boom mike and a good boom operator produces a high-quality sound that is hard to beat with other mobile microphone techniques. You should, therefore, acquaint yourself with the basic operational techniques of boom microphones.

As a television boom operator, you are responsible for keeping the microphone as close as possible to the sound source without getting it or the boom into the picture, or causing undesirable shadows in the scene. Doing this involves a great amount of coordination and anticipation. Simultaneously you must (1) keep the microphone above and in front of the sound source, (2) watch the audio balance in case there is more than one sound source, (3) listen to the director's signals, (4) watch the movements of cameras and their relative zoom positions, or lenses used, (5) watch for undesirable boom shadows, and (6) anticipate as much as possible the movements of the performers.

Here are some of the major operational techniques you should remember when working a boom microphone:

1. Try to keep the microphone as low as possible without getting it into the picture, and in front of the sound source. Don't ride the mike directly above the performer's head; after all, he speaks with his mouth, not with the top of his head.

2. If you have a line monitor (which shows the picture that goes on the air or is videotaped) on your boom dolly, try to ascertain during rehearsal how far you can dip the microphone toward the sound source without getting the mike or the boom into the picture. The closer you are with the mike, the better the sound will be. (In boom-mike operation, you will never get close enough to violate the minimum distance required of cardioid mikes in order to avoid breath pops or similar sound distortions.)

3. If the boom gets into the picture, it is better for you to retract it than to raise it. By retracting, you will pull the microphone out of the camera's view and at the same time keep the mike in front rather than on top of the sound source.

4. Watch shadows. Even the best lighting engineer cannot avoid shadows but can only redirect them into areas that are hopefully not picked up by the camera.

If your boom positions are known before the show, work with the lighting engineer so he can light around the major moves of your boom. Sometimes you may have to sacrifice audio quality in order to avoid boom shadows.

If you discover a boom shadow when the camera is already on the air, do not try to move the microphone too quickly. Everybody will then be sure to see the shadow travel across the screen. Rather, try to sneak it out of the picture very slowly, or, better, just keep the mike and the shadow as steady as possible until a relief shot permits you to move the mike into a more advantageous position.

5. Anticipate the movements of performers so that you can lead them, rather than frantically follow them, with your microphone. Unless the show is very well rehearsed, don't lock the pan and tilt devices on your boom. If the performer rises unexpectedly, she may bump her head on the locked microphone. Not even dynamic mikes are that shockproof.

6. Watch for good audio balance. If you have to cover more than one sound source, place the microphone between the two. In general, favor the weaker source by pointing the microphone more toward it than the stronger source. Once you have found an acceptable balance, try to keep the microphone as steady as possible. Unless you are very experienced, rotating the mike rapidly between the two sources will rarely produce good balance, especially if both sound sources are within the mike's pickup pattern anyway.

7. When moving the perambulator, make sure that you warn the boom operator of this move, and that you do it extremely smoothly. Watch for cables on the floor and especially for low lighting instruments.

A slight movement of the performer can mean a complicated boom operation. Even though the performer merely turns her head from left to right while talking, for instance, you will have to pan the boom horizontally several feet and rotate the microphone in order to keep it in front of the sound source. If the performer simply stoops down while talking, a great vertical drop of the boom is required. Vertical movements are usually difficult to manipulate quickly, especially when the boom is racked out as far as it will go.

If the performer turns to a blackboard while talking, you will have to rack the boom out in front of her and rotate the microphone around so that its live side is pointing toward the sound source. This procedure requires smooth, fast coordination. Usually, by the time you have racked the boom into its correct position, the performer will have turned around again to speak to the camera, and the same fast boom movement becomes necessary in reverse. In the above-mentioned example, it would be more practical to place the microphone to the side and compromise pickup quality. Much better results can, of course, be achieved if the performer talks only when she faces the camera and not while her back is turned.

As the name implies, the hand microphone is handled by the performer. It is used in all production situations in which it is most practical, if not imperative, for the performer to control the sound pickup.

Such production situations include, most obviously, remotes, where you often work in the midst of much surrounding commotion and noise.

With the hand mike, you can still achieve good audio by holding the instrument close to the mouth of the speaker. Since hand mikes are always seen on camera and need no special precautions for concealment, you can hold the mike as close to the sound source as necessary. On a windy day, or in the middle of a cheering crowd, that will probably be very close in order to shut out as much of the surrounding noise as possible.

If you interview someone under such adverse conditions, you will have to hold the microphone close to yourself when asking the questions, and close to the other person whenever he or she answers.

In the studio, the hand microphone is used extensively by singers and in audience participation shows. In the latter case, the performer can talk at random to anyone in the audience simply by walking up to a person with the hand mike and picking up his or her comments. Such random interviews would be extremely difficult to cover with boom mikes. You would probably need at least three booms to cover a good-sized audience, and you would still not get as precise an audio as when you walk up to the various people with the hand mike.


7.7 When there are three or more sound sources, you may have to move the microphone to the person who is talking; this is not an easy job, especially if the sequence of the persons speaking has not been predetermined. Again the talent can help by cooperating closely. A practical example might help to explain this problem.

Situation: There are two major audio areas: (1) a group of seven high school students covered by a mobile big-boom microphone and (2) a political personality who wears a lavaliere mike. The students direct random questions at the politician.

Problem: You must anticipate which student will ask the next question so that you can place the boom microphone before the question is asked.

Two Possible Solutions: The sequence of students asking questions is predetermined, or the students asking questions identify themselves by raising their arms.

The person being interviewed can then point out the particular student he wishes to hear. This gives you a little time to position the boom before the student speaks.


7.8 Shure SM61 Hand Microphone.

Although technically the use of a boom would be quite feasible for the performance of singers, most of them prefer to work with a hand microphone. One of the reasons for this preference is that with a hand mike the singer retains some control over the production of the sound. You may have noticed how a singer may hold the mike extremely close to her mouth in order to emphasize a soft, intimate passage of a song. The closeness of the mike increases the sound presence, which, especially when coupled with a closeup picture, lets the audience perceive a psychological and physical closeness to the singer. In louder, more external passages, the skilled singer will hold the microphone farther away, thus helping the engineer keep the volume within tolerable limits, but she also does it so as to externalize the sound, to pull back a little from the viewer. Another reason is that, through the hand mike, the sound of the singer and the sound of the band or orchestra can be fairly well separated. This distinctness is essential for the audio engineer to balance a small or very soft voice with a rather loud instrumental group.

The wide variety of usage makes heavy demands on the performance characteristics of a hand mike. Since it is handled so much, it must be rugged and rather insensitive to physical shock. Since it is often used extremely close to the sound source, it must be insensitive to plosive breath pops and input overload distortion. Since it is often used outdoors on remote locations, it must be able to withstand rain, snow, humidity, summer heat, and extreme temperature changes.

And yet, it must be sensitive enough to pick up the full range and subtle tone qualities of a singer's voice. Finally, it must be small and slim enough to look unobtrusive and to be handled comfortably by the performer.

Most hand mikes are, therefore, dynamic and omnidirectional. The dynamic generating element gives them the necessary ruggedness without undue loss of quality, and the omnidirectional pickup pattern allows the close working range that is essential for reducing interference from surrounding noise. (See 7.8.) Again, hand mikes are not without some serious disadvantages: (1) The quality of a hand microphone is simply not as good as that of a good boom mike. (2) When using a hand microphone, the performer is tied to a limited operation radius by the microphone cable. Outside and inside the studio, these cables become a menace to the freely traveling cameras. (3) In addition to everything else, the performer will have to learn how to handle the microphone-that is, to hold it in the optimal pickup area, so as not to impair the audio portion, and to refrain from using it as a prop, swinging it widely through the air in order to make a point or twirling it by its cord like a propeller. Neither the mike nor the audio engineer can stand such rough treatment for very long.

Operation of the hand microphone requires dexterity and foresight. Here are some considerations for working with it.

1. Although the hand mike is fairly rugged, treat it gently. If you need both hands during your performance, don't just drop the mike; put it down gently, or wedge it under your arm.

2. Before the telecast, check your action radius and see whether the mike cable is long enough for your actions, and laid out for maximum mike mobility.

3. If you happen to run out of mike cable, don't yank on it. Stop and try to get the attention of the floor manager.

4. When walking a considerable distance, don't pull the cable with the mike. Tug the cable gently with one hand, while holding the microphone with the other.

5. Under normal, controlled sound conditions, such as the studio or a quiet outdoor location, hold the hand mike about a foot below and slightly in front of your mouth and speak across the screen (which acts as a wind screen and breath pop filter). Don't speak into the mike.

In very noisy surroundings, put the mike closer to your mouth, but still try to speak across, rather than into, it. (See 7.9.)

6. In interviewing someone, hold the microphone to your mouth whenever you are speaking and to the guest's whenever he or she is answering. This obvious procedure has been unfortunately reversed by many a beginning performer.

7. Check out the microphone before the show by speaking into it. But do not blow into it.

The development of extremely small, high-quality lavaliere microphones has helped to improve television audio considerably, while at the same time simplifying production procedures.

The larger lavaliere microphones (about as big as your little finger) are hung on a neckcord close to the chest of the performer; the small ones (about the size of a small thimble) are clipped to the dress or the tie. (See 7.12 through 7.14.)


7.9 Correct Hand-Microphone Position: As you can see, the reporter holds the mike in the correct position: fairly close to her mouth in order to avoid picking up the surrounding noise, yet low enough so that she can speak across rather than into it. Note the blast filter on top.

7.10 If you want to impress on the performer the sensitivity of a microphone, especially that of the hand mike, turn it on to a high volume level and feed the clanks and bangs back out into the studio for the performer to hear. Even a gentle handling of the microphone will produce awesome noises.

7.11 Some of the more commonly used hand microphones are: the Electro-Voice 635A, the Shure SM61, the Shure SM57 (Unidyne), the Shure SM58 (same as the SM57, plus a blast filter) the Shure SM82, the Electro-Voice RE-55, the Shure SM53.

7.12 Lavaliere Microphones: (a) Shure SM51 lavaliere with neckcord; (b) Electro-Voice 649B; (c) Sony ECM-50.

7.13 Correct Lavaliere-Microphone Position: This lavaliere mike is properly attached for maximum sound pickup. It is securely fastened on top of the clothing, minimizing the danger of causing highly distracting rubbing noises. The mike cord is concealed. In spite of its small size and its distance from the sound source, the quality of sound pickup in this small microphone is excellent.

7.14 Dual-Redundancy System: A special clip permits the use of two lavalieres for dual-redundancy pickup. In case one microphone goes out, the audio engineer simply switches over to the other without losing audio. Two single clips will work in an emergency.



The omnidirectional lavaliere microphone, with a dynamic or condenser generating element, is designed primarily for voice pickup. The quality of even the smallest one is amazingly good. It reproduces equally well the high-frequency overtones that give each voice its distinct character, and the deep bass resonance that some voices possess. The small lavaliere is quite immune to physical shock and to other noise-generating factors, such as the rubbing of clothes.

Once the lavaliere microphone is properly attached to the performer (approximately six inches below the chin, on fop of the clothes, and away from anything that could rub or bang against it), he or she needs no longer worry about the sound pickup. The audio engineer, too, has less difficulty "riding the gain" (adjusting the volume) of the lavaliere than the boom or hand mike. Since the distance between it and the sound source does not change during the performance, an even sound level can be achieved more easily than with other mobile microphones.

The use of lavaliere microphones frees the lighting people from "lighting around the boom" in order to avoid shadows; they can now concentrate more on the aesthetic subtleties of lighting as required by the scene.

Although the action radius of the performer is still limited by the lavaliere microphone cable, the cable nevertheless is so light and flexible that she can move quickly and quite unrestrictedly in a limited studio area without having to hold a microphone in her hand, or worry about being followed by the boom mike. The attached mike permits the performer to work even in cramped quarters without the need for special operators or special booms or stands.

Again, there are some disadvantages to the lavaliere microphone: (1) The wearer cannot move the mike any closer to his or her mouth; consequently, if there is extraneous noise, it will be easily picked up by this omnidirectional mike. (2) The lavaliere can be used for only one sound source at a time, that of the particular wearer. Even for a simple interview, the interviewer and the guest will each have to wear his or her own microphone. For a small discussion group you will need several. (3) Although the lavaliere mike allows considerable mobility, it limits the performer's activity to some extent. When two or more performers are "wired" in this fashion, their movements are even more restricted. (4) Unless you can hide the lavaliere completely while maintaining its sound quality, you cannot use it for dramatic scenes in which the visible mike would be inappropriate.


7.15 The high quality of the lavaliere microphone has extended its production use considerably. Here are come examples: Panel shows: Rather than using desk mikes, which are apt to pick up the unavoidable banging on the table, you can achieve excellent audio by using individual lavaliere microphones.

Interview: As long as the interview takes place in one location, the wearing of lavaliere microphones by the interviewer and each of the guests assures excellent audio.

News: The lavaliere mike is the most efficacious sound pickup device for all types of news shows.

Instructional Shows (with a principal performer, or television teacher): The lavaliere works beautifully as long as the instructor moves within a limited performance area (from desk to blackboard, for example). Music: The lavaliere mike has been successfully used on singers (even when accompanying themselves with a guitar, for example), and for the pickup of certain instruments, such as a string bass, where it is taped below the fingering board. In this area, there is still room for experimentation. Don't be too awed by convention. If the lavaliere sounds as good as or better than a larger, more expensive mike, stick to the lavaliere.

The most commonly used lavaliere microphones are: the Sony ECM-50, the E-V 649B, the E-V RE-85, the Shure SM51, the E-V CO-85.


Operation of the lavaliere microphone is fairly simple once it is properly installed.

1. Make sure to put it on. You wouldn't be the first performer to be discovered sitting on, rather than wearing, his microphone by air time.

2. Clip the mike firmly to a piece of clothing so that it will not rub on anything, such as a jacket or jewelry.

Do not cover it with anything. Make sure to fasten the microphone cable to your belt or clothing so that it cannot pull the microphone sideways.

3. If you use the dual-redundancy microphone system (which uses two microphones for each sound source in case one of the mikes becomes inoperative), have both mikes fastened securely so that they don't touch each other. There is a special clip that holds two lavaliere microphones. (See 7.14.)

4. Avoid hitting the microphone with any object you may be demonstrating on camera.

5. After the show, put the microphone down gently.

Wireless, or FM, microphones would be ideal for television, such as a lavaliere microphone without its cable. Some efforts have been made to produce such an instrument with varying degrees of success. Some wireless microphones are rather large lavaliere mikes with the transmitter built directly into the microphone. A small sending antenna either sticks out of the mike or is part of the neckcord. Other wireless microphones use a very small lavaliere, with a cord leading to a small pocket transmitter. A special receiving station can pick up the microphone signal from as far away as 1,000 feet (approximately 350 meters), amplify the signal, and send it to the master audio mixer.

Since the signal transmission from the microphone to the receiving station represents, in fact, a miniature FM broadcast, you will need an FCC license for operating wireless microphone.

7.16 Wireless Microphones: (a) The wireless microphone has as its sound-pickup device a small lavaliere mike which is attached to a transmitter. A special receiving station receives the signal and sends it on to the master mixer. (b) Wireless hand mikes and some large lavalieres comprise a single unit, with the transmitter built into the microphone itself.

Despite the obvious advantages of wireless microphones, such as the great mobility of the wearer, their operation has been restricted to some highly specific production tasks. Most often, they are used in remote locations where microphone cables cannot be strung for one reason or another. They are less frequently seen in the studio, though they have been tried successfully for dramatic shows, and are occasionally used by singers. The major problems of using wireless mikes in small station operation are (1) the relative expense of their operation requiring one mike per sound source, and engineers who operate the receiving station; (2) the rather high probability of transmission interference; and (3) the slight inferiority of sound quality compared to the regular lavaliere or, especially, the boom microphones. (See. 7.16.) Stationary Microphones The stationary microphones include (1) desk, (2) stand, (3) hanging, and (4) hidden microphones.

Desk microphones, as the name implies, are usually put on tables or desks. They are widely used in panel shows, public hearings, news shows, and all other programs where the performer is working from behind a desk, table, or lectern. These microphones are used for voice pickup only. Since the performer behind the desk is usually doing something-shuffling papers, putting things on the desk, accidentally bumping the desk with feet or knees-desk microphones must be rugged and quite insensitive to physical shock. Dynamic, omnidirectional microphones are generally used. If, however, the mike is employed primarily for off-camera announcements-as in a television announcement booth, for example-higher quality, cardioid microphones such as ribbon or even condenser mikes may well be preferred.

Generally, most hand mikes can be put into a desk stand and used as desk microphones.

As with the hand mike, no attempt is made to conceal the instrument from the viewer. Nevertheless, when placing it on the desk or table, you should consider the camera picture as well as optimal sound pickup. The camera-conscious performer will appreciate it if the camera shows more of him than of the microphone. If possible, you should therefore place the desk mike somewhat to the side of the performer, and point it toward his collarbone so that he can speak across rather than into it. A good working distance for desk mikes is 10 inches to one foot for omnidirectional, and approximately 17 inches to two feet for cardioid microphones. (See 7.18.)


7.17 The basic problem in television audio is to pick up sound adequately over a comparatively great distance. This becomes especially apparent in televising remote events. In sports telecasts, for example, it is fairly easy to get a close look at faraway action through long lenses, but it is quite difficult to accompany such pictures with adequate sound.

Two basic long-distance microphone techniques have, therefore, been developed: (1) the strategic placement of microphones in the field and (2) the operation of ultra directional microphones.

Whenever the sound occurs in stable and fairly predictable areas, rugged dynamic microphones are placed directly in the field and aimed in the general direction of the anticipated sound source. We call these microphones field microphones. The cables for them are strung back to the remote-control center, which is usually located in the remote truck some distance away.

This method sounds simple, but it is difficult to execute. First, you need several microphones to cover even a fairly restricted area. Second, the many cables that have to be strung over a wide area and long distances not only cause traffic problems, but increase the vulnerability of the whole audio system.

Third, people in the field might accidentally hit the microphones or use embarrassing expletives near the live mikes.

In large network news conferences, you may have noticed the use of long, machine-gun-like microphones that are aimed at whoever is speaking. These ultradirectional, shotgun or machine-gun microphones are so heavy that they have to be operated with a special pedestal that permits simultaneous tilting and panning. Despite its ultradirectional pickup pattern (created by a series of long tubes in front of an omnidirectional microphone), the shotgun mike picks up much extraneous noise, and should therefore be used only when sound quality is the least important factor in the sound pickup and transmission.

Sometimes, if the camera is not too far away from the sound source, you may achieve similar results by attaching a cardioid unidirectional boom mike directly to the camera. The microphone will thus be aimed with the camera at the person speaking, or whatever the sound source may be.

Generally, long-distance microphones are not used in small station operation.


7.18 Desk Microphone for Single Performer: When using a desk mike, put it to the side of the performer (if he uses a floor monitor, put it to the monitor side, since a person will be more apt to speak toward the monitor than the opposite side) so as to maximize the camera view, and pointed up toward his collarbone so that he will speak across the mike rather than directly into it. If the talent uses his desk a great deal, put the microphone on a soft pad to absorb at least some of the shocks.

7.19 Dual-Redundancy Microphones: Two identical microphones can be used side by side, as long as only one is turned on; otherwise, multiple microphone interference will cancel out certain frequencies. The dual-redundancy system is used as a backup system, in case one of the two microphone.> fails during the telecast.

7.20 Multiple Desk Microphone Setup: When using a multiple-microphone setup, you should keep the individual microphones at least three times as far apart as any microphone is away from its user.

If you employ the dual-redundancy system, use identical desk mikes and put them side by side (see 7.19). But do not activate them both at the same time. Keep one turned off or you may get what is called multiple-microphone interference. When the mikes are close to each other and fed the same audio material, they sometimes cancel out certain frequencies, occasionally giving the voice a very odd sound quality. Multiple-microphone interference does not occur, however, when you feed each microphone into a separate channel for stereo sound pickup. You can, therefore, have many mikes close together as long as each microphone is feeding a separate receiving channel.

You have probably seen microphones bunched together like grapes at the lectern of a famous politician. Since each one of these feeds a separate source, such as various radio and television stations, or film cameras, multiple-microphone interference does not occur.

When desk mikes are used in a panel discussion, you don't need to give each panel member a separate microphone. If you use one for each two members, you will not only save on microphones, setup time, and control activity at the audio board, but you will also avoid multiple-microphone interference. When you use a multiple-microphone setup, try to keep the desk mikes at least three times as far apart as any microphone is away from its user. When two people are sitting opposite each other, mike each one separately. (See 7.20.) Another problem-not too serious but nevertheless demanding attention-is the proper concealment of microphone cables. Don't just drop them in front of the desk; rather, try to string them as neatly as possible along the side of the desk to their respective microphone plugs. You can use masking tape to cover exposed microphone cables on the studio floor. Special news or panel desks sometimes have holes through which the cables can be dropped and concealed from the cameras.

Stand microphones are used whenever the sound source is fixed and the type of programming permits them to be seen. For example, there is no need to conceal the microphones in a rock group.

On the contrary, they are an important show element. Since no attempt is made to conceal stand microphones, high-quality instruments are generally used.

The sound pickup of an instrumental group, such as a rock group, is normally accomplished with several stand microphones. These are placed in front of each speaker that emits the amplified sound of a particular instrument, or in front of the unamplified sound source, such as the drums. The use of multiple microphones is essential when multiple track recordings are made (each microphone, or group of microphones, is recorded on a separate tape track), and extremely helpful even in single-track recordings (as in television) for maximum audio control during the sound mixing.

The type of microphone used depends on such a variety of factors that specific suggestions would probably be more confusing than helpful at this stage. For example, studio acoustics, the type and combination of instruments used, and the aesthetic quality of the "sound" finally desired-all play an important part in the choice and placement of microphones. Quite generally, rugged, dynamic, omnidirectional or cardioid mikes are used for the singers and in front of extremely high-volume sound sources, such as drums and electric guitar speakers, while ribbon or condenser mikes are used for the "more gentle" sound sources, such as strings and acoustical guitars.

Realizing that there are many factors that influence the type of microphone used and its placement, figures 7.21, 7.22, and 7.23 may give you some idea of how three different, yet typical, musical groups might be "miked." Hanging microphones are used whenever any other concealed-microphone method (boom or fish-pole) is impractical.

7.21 Microphone Setup for Singer and Acoustic Guitar: The customary way to mike a singer who is accompanying himself or herself on an acoustic guitar is to have two microphones on a single mike-stand, such as an Electro-Voice RE-15 pointing at the guitar and a Shure SM61 pointing at just below the singer's mouth.

7.22 Microphone Setup for Singer and Piano: A singer who is accompanied by a piano might be miked with a Sennheiser MKH-415 (or even an 815) suspended from a boom.

There could be an RCA 77-DX for the piano, placed just above the strings on the high-string side, with the lid in the low-peg position (half open). The formality of the recital probably forbids the use of a hand microphone.

7.23 Microphone Setup for a Small Rock Group: When miking a rock group, you need microphones for the singers, drums, and other direct sound-emitting instruments, such as flutes and pianos, as well as for the speakers that carry the sound of the amplified instruments, such as electric guitars and organs. The microphones must be placed so that they do not cause audio feedback or multiple audio interference.

7.24 Hanging Microphone: A high-quality microphone is suspended from the lighting grid to the lowest position that the camera's view can tolerate over the designated performance area. The maximum audio pickup limits are within the "audio pool," a pickup configuration very much like a wide pool of light. Be sure to separate the microphone cables from the AC cables of the lighting instruments; otherwise you may experience electronic interference.

You can hang the microphones (high-quality cardioid) by their cables over any fairly stationary sound source. Most often, hanging mikes are used in dramatic presentations, where the action is fully blocked so that the actors are in a precise location for each delivery of lines. The actor will have to make sure to speak only within the "audio pool" of the hanging microphone. Similar to the spotlight pool, where he is visible only as long as he moves within the limited area of the light, the actor is heard only when he speaks within the limited range of the audio pool. (See 7.24.) In general, the audio quality of the hanging microphone is not the best. The sound source is always relatively far away from the microphone and the sound never quite reaches it directly; most of the time the sound is picked up as reverberations. Hang the microphone as low as possible and, if necessary, mark the studio floor for the actor at the spot of the best sound pickup.

Try to stay away from hidden microphones, if at all possible. If, however, you must use them, don't place them too close to hardwall scenery. The set may act as an echo chamber and distort the sound considerably.

In well-blocked dramatic scenes, however, where the position of the actors can be precisely predetermined, hidden microphones can relieve the boom operator from precarious and difficult boom swings. As with all other methods of sound pickup, if it sounds right and if you have the time, use the hidden microphone by all means. However, the sound achieved rarely justifies the effort of setting it up. (See 7.25 and 7.26.) Recorded Sound Recorded sound includes the recording of sound and the playback of the recorded sound with the television video. You will find that during a normal production day in a small or medium-sized station, you will use your audio facilities more for the playback of recorded sound than the production of it. Nevertheless, most audio facilities are used for both.

Sound Recording

In television, the sound is most often recorded on videotape concurrently with the video. Sometimes you may be engaged in post-dubbing, which means that the sound is added later to the independently edited videotape (see Section 9). In news and documentary film production, too, the sound portion is often recorded simultaneously with the picture either directly on the optical or magnetic sound track of the film (see Section 9), or on a 1/4-inch audiotape recorder that runs synchronously with the film. Except for news footage, most sound tracks for films are produced through post-dubbing.

7.25 Hidden Microphone: Sometimes a small lavaliere microphone can be concealed rather easily. For this telephone conversation, a Sony ECM-50 was simply taped to the lower (transmitter) part of the phone.

Sometimes you may be engaged in recording station breaks or short promotional and public service announcements on audiotape for later playback over slides, short videotape inserts, or film clips. In the absence of a video feed, you may have to record news stories, which are telephoned in by the field reporter, on audiotape.

Most stations do not have the resources to video record each of their newscasts or news commentaries for archival purposes. In this case, you may do well to audiotape the sound portion so that you have a record of what has been said. If the newscaster does not tell the day and the year of the newscast as a regular feature of the show, make sure the date is recorded at the beginning or end of the newscast. Telephone talk shows, even when on television, are audio-recorded as a matter of routine.

We will talk more about the recording techniques on videotape and film in Section 9.

Playback Recorded sound can be played back from four major sources: (1) videotape, (2) film, (3) records, and (4) audiotape. With the playback of videotape and films, their respective sound tracks are mechanically synchronized with the video. Records and audiotape, however, are only indirectly coupled with the picture portion. They are independent of the video and can be played back either synchronously or nonsynchronously with it.

7.26 In the early days of television, it was quite popular to conceal microphones in such ingenious places as tufts of flowers, telephone dials, desk drawers, behind name plates, curtains, or commercial props. But with the increasing demand for better audio quality, and the development of high-quality microphones, this practice is no longer feasible. The major difficulty with the hidden microphone is, as with the hanging microphone, that the sound source is rarely in a position for optimal sound pickup.

Also, the close proximity of the microphone to sound-reflecting or sound-absorbing objects (hard-wall scenery, props, or curtains) makes clear sound pickup extremely difficult, if not impossible. Microphone cables always present. a problem. You will have to hide not only the microphone but its cable as well.

The most basic audio recording and/or playback equipment includes (1) records, (2) audio-tape recorders, and (3) audiotape cartridge systems.

-----------7.27 Although microphone cables are shielded against electronic interference from outside sources, try not to string them along light cables or any other AC-power cables. If you have to cross a power cable with a mike cable, do so at right angles in order to minimize electronic interference.


7.28 Turntable.

Records Records-or electrical transcriptions (E.T.'s), as they are sometimes called if they have been made exclusively for broadcasting-are used most frequently as background music and sound effects. On occasion, rather than singing a number live in the studio, a singer may prefer to "mouth the song" on camera, meaning that he or she pretends to sing while in reality the sound portion is supplied by a record. The advantages of this method are obvious: (1) The audio quality is always excellent. (2) The singer can be accompanied by a full, well-rehearsed orchestra, a luxury that most small stations can hardly afford for a two- or three-minute song. (3) It allows the singer great flexibility. She can dance and twirl through the set with breathtaking speed and go right into the next portion of the song, seemingly unaffected by all the physical strain. Or, she can walk outdoors through a noisy city street or along a windy lake without any outside sound interference, and with the orchestra always right behind in perfect balance. (4) Neither the set designer, the lighting technician, the camera operators, nor the director have to worry about complex microphone setups and complicated boom movements.

While the singer will probably want to carry a microphone in order to make her act look real, the mike is strictly a prop and serves no audio function.

This "mouthing" technique is, however, not without drawbacks. Technically, lip-and-action synchronization with the record must be flawless for the overall effect of the presentation to have authenticity. Aesthetically, prerecording removes the viewer just one more step from the actual event. Hence, the energy and apparent spontaneity of the event are impaired. Psychologically, the viewer will feel let down, if not tricked and cheated, once he becomes aware of this presentation technique.

In order to play back records, you need two turntables. Professional turntables are very much like the one you probably use at home, except that the drive mechanism and the cartridge and needle are probably of somewhat higher quality than the home models. You need two turntables in order to switch smoothly (by segue or cross-fade) from one record to the next.

[2. For further information on how to operate turntables, see Stuart W. Hyde, Television and Radio Announcing, 2nd ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1971), or any of the books dealing specifically with audio control. ]

Turntables have provisions to play all speeds, 78 rpm (revolutions per minute), 45 rpm, and 33 1/3 rpm, and all record sizes. You will need a special attachment to play the wide-hole 45 rpm records. Most cartridges come with a stereo stylus, which allows you to play all records except the utterly outdated 78's. Some turntables play only two speeds, 45 rpm and 33 1/3rpm.2 (See 7.28.)

Audiotape Recorders (Reel-to-Reel)

As mentioned before, the audiotape recorder in television is used frequently to record material that must or should be saved for reference or archives. The audiotape recorder is also a convenient device for playing back longer pieces of audio material. For example, background music for a long scene in a television play, or any other background sound effect, such as traffic noise, is generally premixed (prerecorded) on audiotape and then played back during the actual production. You will find that premixing background sound effects from various records or live sounds to a continuous audiotape will make the actual production much smoother than if you try to handle all the different audio sources at the time of the show. You will be busy enough with controlling the live studio mikes for optimal sound pickup.

Although there is a great variety of audiotape recorders used in television production, they all operate on similar principles. All use 1/4-inch magnetic tape, and record and play back at various speeds. The most popular recording speeds are 33% ips (inches of tape travel per second), 7 1/2 ips, and 15 ips. The higher the speed, the better the fidelity of the recorded material. The most common speed used in television operation is 7 1/2 ips.

Some of the professional audiotape recorders do not play at 33% ips. If someone hands you a tape recording to play on the air, make sure that your tape recorder can play back the tape at the speed it was recorded. Except for critical music programs, the 15 ips speed is rarely used. (See 7.29.) The tape moves from a supply reel to a takeup reel over at least three "heads": (I) the erase head, (2)

the record head, and (3) the playback head. (See 7.30.) This arrangement is standard for all tape recorders. When the audiotape recorder is being used for recording, the erase head clears the portions of the tape that receive the recording (tracks) of all audio material that might have been left on the tape from a previous recording; the record head then puts the new audio material on the tape. When playing back, the playback head reproduces the audio material previously recorded on the tape. The erase and recording heads are not activated during playback.

When threading the tape, make sure that the magnetic (usually dull) side of the tape moves over the heads. The base (usually shiny) side does not carry any sound.

7.29 Reel-to-Reel Tape Recorder.

Usually, the 1/4-inch tape is divided into various tracks, each of which can receive separate audio information. Some machines use up half of the tape for a single track; other machines use up only a quarter of the tape for a single track.

Hence, we have half-track and quarter-track, or four-track, machines. While the quarter-track machine can play tapes that are recorded on a half-track machine, quarter-track tapes with separate audio information on all four tracks cannot be reproduced on a half-track machine.

When you play back audiotape, quickly check the following items: (1) Tape speed. What was the recording speed? Can you play back at the recording speed (some home recorders may record at speeds that are too slow for your machine). (2) Tracks. Is it a half-track or quartet-track recording? Is it mono or stereo? Do all tracks contain audio information? (3) Length of recording. For example, is the recording of sound effects long enough for the scene? Audiotape Cartridge Systems You will find that a great proportion of your audio playback consists of short announcements, musical bridges, news inserts, and other types of brief informational material that accompanies slides or brief film clips and videotape inserts. The most efficient method for playing such short audio material is the tape cartridge system. Tape cartridge playback units can hold and play back several (often ten or more) cartridges individually or simultaneously. All you do is plug in a cartridge (which contains an endless tape loop that rewinds itself as it is played back) and press the button of the cartridge you want to play back. The cartridge, which cues itself automatically, plays back the tape immediately without annoying wows (initial sound distortion before the record or tape is up to speed) or pauses. (See 7.35.)

7.30 Head Assembly of the Reel-to-Reel Tape Recorder.

7.31 Half-Track Monophonic, or Monaural System: In monophonic, or monaural (one-channel) recording, the recording head puts audio information on half the tape. When the tape is reversed-that is, if after the first complete pass of the tape you use the full takeup reel as supply reel and thread the tape again for another pass-the other half of the tape receives new audio information.

There are special audio recorders that record the audio information directly onto cartridges.

You can, of course, transfer information onto cartridges from any other audio recording.

Audio cartridge systems are extremely reliable and easy to operate. The only thing to watch in using an audio cartridge is to let it recue itself before you punch the button again for a possible replay or before ejecting it from the playback machine.

The only disadvantage of the cartridge system is that the playing time of the individual cartridge is rather brief-a maximum of four minutes.

Because of their reliability and almost instant cuing, tape cartridges are the ideal device for playing sound effects. You can transfer needed sound effects from the disc library to cartridges.

There are some sounds, however, that are more easily and precisely done live. Unless you do post-dubbing, the sound of gunshots is almost impossible to match exactly with the live action, even if you use a tape cartridge. Unless off-camera, gunshot sound effects are always done live. A word of caution to the gunslingers, however: Try not to shoot off your gun close to the microphone.

Even the rugged dynamic mikes might falter under the extreme shock wave.

7.32 Half-Track Stereo System: In a tape recorder equipped for stereophonic recording, both tracks will receive audio information on the first pass. One half will carry the audio information of the first channel (left), the other half will carry the audio information of the second channel (right). Since both halves of the tape are already taken up, the tape cannot be reversed for a second pass. Otherwise, you will erase the first recording.

7.33 Quarter-Track, or Four-Track, Stereo: Most stereophonic audiotape recorders record and play back on quarter-tracks, or four-tracks. Two tracks (1 and 3) are used for the two channels on one pass, and two further tracks (2 and 4) on the reverse pass.


7.34 All professional audiotape recorders have five control buttons that regulate the tape motion, besides the switch for the various recording speeds.

These buttons are (1) play, which moves the tape at the designated recording speed; (2) fast forward, which advances the tape at high speed; (3) stop, which brakes the reels to a stop; (4) reverse, which rewinds the tape at high speed; and (5) record, which activates both the erase and record heads.

In operating these buttons, you usually go from play to stop, from fast forward to reverse (to slow down the tape) to stop; from reverse to fast forward to stop (again to slow down the tape). When you record, press both the play and record buttons. When you play back, press the play button only.


7.35 (a) Three-Unit Cartridge Machine. (b) Cartridge.

7.36 Do not confuse cartridge with cassette. An audio cassette is a similar recording and playback device, except that it has two reels, with the tape moving from one to the other, while the cartridge has only one reel, with the tape forming an endless loop.

Telephone rings are frequently done live. There would be no problem with using a cartridge for the ring as long as the audio engineer has a good view of the action so that he can stop the ringing as soon as the phone is picked up. Unfortunately, the audio man is "working blind" most of the time. A floorperson, working a simple bell battery unit close to the live mike in full view of the action, can do a much more precise matching job of sound effect and action than the audio engineer who is isolated in the control booth.

Sound Control

At the beginning of this section we have briefly talked about two important aspects of sound control: the choice of microphone and the handling of it. There are two more important aspects of sound control that originate in the audio control booth: (1) patching and mixing of various sound sources, and (2) volume control. A third area, the quality control of sound including sound perspective, equalization, and reverberation, would go beyond the scope of this handbook. For more information, you should consult books and articles on advanced audio control.

In order not to divorce the equipment from the functions it is to fulfill, we will take up (1) the patch panel and (2) the audio console.

The Patch Panel

The primary function of the patch panel is the connecting and routing of various pieces of equipment. Let us assume that you want to have three microphones and a tape recorder operating during a dramatic scene. Mike No. 1 is the announcer's lavaliere; mikes No. 2 and No. 3 are boom mikes. The tape recorder is for playback of background music. Just as the individual lighting instruments can be patched to any one of the dimmers, you can now patch any one of these audio "inputs" to individual volume controls (pots) in any order desirable. Let's assume that you would like to operate the volume controls in the following order: lavaliere, audiotape, boom mike No. 1, boom mike No. 2, from left to right.

All you have to do is patch these inputs to the control board in this order. If you want to reverse the order, you don't have to unplug the microphones physically on the studio floor. All you do is pull the patches and repatch the inputs in the new order. (See 7.37 and 7.38.)

7.37 Patching: Lavaliere microphone patched into pot 1; boom microphone no. 1 into pot 3; boom microphone no. 2 into pot 4; and the tape recorder into pot 2.

7.38 (a) Patch Panel: All major audio inputs terminate in the patch panel, or patchbay. Each piece of equipment that can be patched has an "in" and an "but" designation. (b) Patches: Several patches are usually kept near the patch panel for convenience.

The Audio Console

Regardless of the individual designs, all audio consoles, or audio control boards, are designed and built to perform three major functions: (1) to select and amplify the incoming sound signals, the inputs; (2) to control the volume of the various inputs; and (3) to mix (combine) and balance two or more incoming sound signals.

When working the board, you will find that the major operating controls can be grouped together according to (1) controls for source selection, (2) volume (loudness) controls, and (3) mixing.

Source Selection

During most productions, you have more signals from sound sources coming in than you will ever need at one time. In order to keep the audio console as simple and manageable as possible, there are fewer controls than inputs.

This means that you have to select the particular input, or inputs, with which you will work at a given time. The input selector switches, or buttons, will make it possible for you to select the sound sources with which you have to work. (See 7.39.) Once you have selected the incoming signal, you can turn it on or off, like controlling the light with a light switch. On simple consoles, you can turn this switch to P for program, which sends the selected sound source to final amplification to the line-out. The line-out feeds the transmitter, in case of a live telecast, or the audio track on the videotape, or the audiotape recorder, for example. If you flip the switch to A for audition, you will be able to hear the particular sound in the monitor speaker.

The on-off switch in more complex audio consoles is the channel selector switch. If you operate on channel 1, for example, you will send the sound signal to the line-out by turning the channel selector switch to channel 1. The center position of the switch is generally the "off" position.

(See 7.42.) Additional selector switches, which come in various configurations, enable you to switch from studio to network and remote inputs, to monitor various program and intercommunication sources, and to assign different functions (network, remote, studio) to the VU (volume unit) meter.

7.39 Input Selector Switch: Most input selector switches are of the three-position type, which means that you can choose among three different audio inputs. In this case, you have a choice among control room (CR), auxiliary (AUX), and announce booth microphone (AN BTH).

Volume Control

During the actual operation of the audio console, you will be most continually concerned with the balance of sound, which technically means the volume control of the various preamplified sound signals. Each selected and preamplified sound signal is sent to its own volume control, called pot (from potentiometer) or fader.

The pots are either knobs or sliding faders, called slide-faders. To increase the volume, which makes the sound louder, you turn the knob clockwise, or push the slide-fader up, away from you.

To decrease the volume, which makes the sound softer, turn the knob counterclockwise, or pull the slide-fader down, toward you. (See 7.44 and 7.45.)

7.40 The weak sound signals that originate from a microphone or a turntable cartridge need to be boosted by a preamplifier, or preamp, before they can be controlled (as to volume, which is just like the loudness control on your hi-fi set) and distributed throughout the audio console. The preamplified signals are then amplified again by the program amplifier to make them strong enough for the line-out.

The audio console has preamplifiers for microphones only. Turntables, tape cartridge machines, and tape recorders usually have their own preamplifiers; the signals from these inputs go, therefore, directly to the program amplifier.


7.41 More complex audio consoles have more than one output channel. Each channel has its own lineout, which means that you can have the audio console mix and feed two completely separate programs at the same time. For example, you may have part of the board tied up in videotaping a short on-camera announcement on channel 1 (with the line-out No. 1 feeding the videotape recorder) while the other part of the board, on channel 2, is processing a telephone call from a field reporter and sending it on line-out No. 2 to an audiotape recorder. Stereo boards must always have two output channels. Do not confuse output channel with mixing channel.

The number of mixing channels is determined by the number of mixing controls, the pots or faders.


7.42 Channel Selector Switch.


7.43 Other names for volume control are mixer, gain control, and attenuator.


7.44 Rotating Potentiometer.

The advantages of slide-faders over volume-control knobs are: (1) you can work several faders simultaneously more easily than the equal number of knobs (for example, you can rather deftly work four faders at one time, while with rotary knobs this action would constitute quite a feat); and (2) you can readily see a "mixing pattern" with faders, while such a visual impression of the volume setting of each individual knob is very difficult to achieve, if at all possible.

In spite of the calibration on the pots and the visual impression of relative volumes you can glimpse from their respective settings, the accurate volume indicator is the VU (volume unit) meter.

The needle of your VU meter will oscillate back and forth along a calibrated scale with the volume variations (see 7.46). If the volume is so low that the needle barely moves from the extreme left, you are riding (the gain or volume) "in the mud." If the needle oscillates around the middle of the scale and peaks at, or occasionally over, the red line on the right, you are riding correct gain. If the needle swings almost exclusively in the red, right part of the scale, and even hits the right edge of the meter, your volume is too high; you are "bending the needle," or "spilling over." Aside from distorting the sound, bending the needle can actually "bend" a few more parts in the audio console and thus effectively destroy the equipment.

7.45 Vertical or Horizontal Faders.

7.46 VU Meter: The VU (volume unit) meter indicates the relative sound volume, the loudness of sound that has been picked up by a microphone and amplified. The lower figures ranging from-20 to +3 are the volume units (decibels). The upper figures represent a percentage scale, ranging from 0 to 100. If the needle swings within the left section (thin line-it is black on the VU meter) from 0 to 100, the sound volume is kept within tolerable limits. If the needle "peaks" primarily in the red line section (the thick black line in this figure on the right side of the meter), the sound is amplified too much; it is too loud and subject to distortion.

Once you have set the volume levels for each individual input, you can make adjustments to the overall volume of the mixed signals by yet another volume control, the master pot. Usually, however, you set the master pot at a given level and work the individual pots for proper sound balance.

Your monitor speaker, which reproduces the mixed audio before the line-out, has its individual volume control. Note that this control does not affect the volume of the program sound you are monitoring. It simply helps you to adjust the monitor speaker to a level that feels most comfortable to you.

7-47 Audio Console: (a) A traditional audio console (RCA BC-7 Audio Consolette). (b) A four-channel television audio console with slide-faders (Audio Designs BC-5).

Mixing The audio console allows you to mix together two or more sounds or, more accurately, the signals from two or more sound sources. (See 7.47.) Let's take a simple scene from a television drama.

Two people, a man and a woman, are sitting on the porch of their small country home. It is late evening. The telephone rings just as a car drives up. Since this scene happens in the studio, many of the actions are suggested by sound effects only.

Assuming that you have not premixed any of the necessary sound effects, you will be quite busy mixing and balancing the various sounds so that, in combination with the video, the sound will help to convey the intended message.

What audio inputs do you need? First, the two people on the porch. Since it is a realistic scene, the microphones must be out of camera range. For the porch, we use a boom mike. Second, for the woman answering the phone off camera inside, we can use a stand mike, or a small boom. We use the same mike for the mechanical ring. We don't want to use a sound effect for the ring, since you as the audio console operator can't see just when she is picking up the phone. Third, we need sound effects to help (with the lighting, of course) establish the time, late evening, and the locale (country). Most likely you will use cricket sounds (night and country), and an occasional dog barking in the distance. Perhaps you can think of more original sound effects for the establishing of time and place, but don't be afraid to use the conventional. After all, these sounds do exist and they are easily recognized by the viewer. They have become conventional because they work.

Then you need the sound effect of a car driving up. Since the driveway of the old country home is probably not paved, the sound of the car approaching should include some tires-on-gravel effects.

So you have two microphone inputs, the boom and the stand mike near the off-camera telephone. The crickets chirp throughout the outdoor part of the scene, which means that you need a reel-to-reel tape recorder for the playback of this sound effect. Since the dogs bark only occasionally, you can put the bark on a cartridge. If possible at all, you should prerecord the continuous background sounds of the crickets and the occasional dog barks on a single quarter-inch tape.

Since the car driving up is a relatively short affair, you can put this sound effect on a second tape cartridge. Don't forget that we should hear the car off in the distance for some time before it gets to the driveway, especially since we tend to hear better at night than in daytime, mainly because of the absence of the usual ambient daytime noises.

So, don't record on your cartridge just the sounds of the car driving into the driveway, but include also the sounds of a gradually approaching car.

For dramatic emphasis, the director wants background music throughout the scene up to the ring of the telephone.

Let's try to mix these sounds within the context of the scene. Since each of the various sounds is to fulfill a slightly different function (informational function in what they say; orientation function as to time and place of the scene; function of establishing feeling and mood through music), mixing now no longer simply means combining a number of sound signals from various inputs, but it especially implies the balancing of the various sounds so that each one serves its assigned function with optimal effectiveness. Thus, some sounds should be perceived as foreground sounds and others as background sounds.

The foreground sounds need to be heard "closer," that is, they must primarily have a higher volume (and, of course, more presence if possible) than the background sounds. Obviously, you should ride the conversation (the boom microphone) at a higher level than the audiotape with the crickets on it. In fact, the crickets should be kept so low that they can be heard but not necessarily consciously perceived by the television viewer. The dog barking overrides the crickets, but it is still much lower than the conversation on the porch.

When the distant car sounds are heard, the occasional dog bark may become louder (indicating that the watchful dog has spotted the approaching car). Now the telephone rings. The balance of this ring depends on its dramatic importance. If it is clearly to interrupt the tranquil scene, the ring must be very loud, even overpowering the conversation. If the call was expected and is merely routine in the context of the dramatic structure, the ring should be kept realistically low (since the phone is inside) and brought up briefly when the woman opens the door. We have now zoomed in on a closeup of the man listening. He is trying to hear the woman talking on the telephone. Close the boom mike, since the man has no lines, and bring up the stand mike to a level where the woman's voice sounds low, but where it is easily perceivable. The car approaches the house. This event is done entirely with sound effects and an ellipsoidal spotlight moving briefly across the man's face (simulating the car's headlights). Again, if the car is dramatically significant, its sounds will have to drown out the woman's voice.

The closer the car gets to the man, the more you have to bring up the cartridge pot with the car sounds. And until the telephone call, you have had background music on a turntable at a fairly low level.

Let's recall the various sound sources you are required to mix for this relatively simple scene.

You have five or six separate inputs into five or six separate pots, depending on whether or not you have premixed the crickets and the dogs barking. If you have premixed the two background sounds, you will have to control simultaneously two microphones (boom and stand mikes), the audiotape with the cricket and dog barking sounds, the cartridge with the car approaching, and the record with the background music. If you have not premixed the dogs barking--so that you can make the barking louder when the car approaches the house-you will need another, separate cartridge channel for the bark.

A mere look at the single VU meter will no longer suffice to indicate proper volume for this complex mixing job. What you now need most of all is good ears. The VU meter may indicate a perfectly acceptable overall level, but it will not tell you anything about how well you balanced the various sound sources. Another important point should become quite apparent. You need to know very intimately the total play, the director's concept of it, its development, climaxes, dramatic structure, and progression. You are now no longer a "board operator," you have become an artist.

Be sure to label with masking tape each pot clearly as to its input, or, if you prefer, its function. Mike pot 1 would read: boom, or porch talk; mike pot 2: stand mike, or phone; turntable pot 1: BG (background) music; audiotape pot 1: tape, or crickets; audiotape pot 2: cartridge car, or simply car; audiotape pot 3, or auxiliary input (if needed): cartridge dogs, or simply dogs. With clear labeling, you won't have to try several pots before finally discovering the one that actually needs the volume adjustment; nor do you have to burden your brain with remembering which pot does what. You can pay full attention to the job required: good, creative mixing.

Operation Here are a few more simple guidelines for operating the audio console:

1. Make sure that the line-out switch is on if you are feeding either the transmitter, the videotape, or any other facility. Otherwise, the sound will go nowhere except into the control-room monitor speakers.

2. During a television show that requires your control of inputs from several different sources (such as live mikes, videotapes, audiotapes, cartridges), as in a news show, pot in the various sources, do not key them in. To pot in a source means to have the on-off switch on program (on-position) already, or on the channel you are using, with the pot in the zero position (where it does not let any sound signal through). On cue, quickly bring the pot up to the position of the desired sound level. This position you determine by "taking a level" during rehearsal or-if you can't take a level, as with some news film or videotape sound tracks-by experience. To key in a source means that you have the level preset on the pot, flipping the on-off switch to the "on" (program or channel) position on cue. The advantage of potting in over keying in is that, if you miss the cue slightly, you don't suddenly cut in a source in midsentence (called upcutting) but fade the sound in more gradually. A mistake isn't quite so noticeable this way. Also, if your announcer runs over with his introduction to a videotape insert, you can pot in the videotape sound track, while the introduction is still taking place. There is one exception to this practice, however. If the announcer runs long in his introduction to a film or tape commercial, the commercial audio takes precedence.

3. Check out all pots and see whether they really control the sources as labeled. In case you want to test several mikes that are in close proximity to one another, have the floor manager gently scratch the surface of the mike. The scratch is picked up by the "on" mike only. In any case, don't blow into the mikes.

4. Make sure that your input-selector switches, including the monitor-selector switch, are all properly positioned.

5. Watch the script and the monitor. Anticipate the director's cues. Your anticipation can help make for a smoother show by cutting to a minimum the delay time between cue and your reaction.

6. If you have remote inputs, double- and triple-check your patching and your selector switches. Make sure that you have got a signal through before you actually need to use the remote sound source.


Television audio, the sound accompanying the pictures, is a major part of production. Generally, television sound is hard to achieve, owing to the varying distances from moving sound sources to microphones, the use of microphones in outdoor locations, and the inevitable studio noises during a production.

The electronic characteristics of television microphones include (1) the generating element, which can be dynamic, ribbon, or condenser, and (2) the microphone pickup patterns, which can be omnidirectional or unidirectional.

The operational characteristics help to classify microphones into mobile and stationary varieties.

Mobile microphones include (1) the boom microphone, (2) the hand microphone, (3) the lavaliere microphone, and (4) the wireless, or FM, microphone. The operational techniques differ greatly according to the type. Stationary microphones include (1) the desk microphone, (2) the stand microphone, and (3) the hanging microphone. Again, the setup for any one of these depends on the specific production, and the sound pickup requirements.

Recorded sound includes the recording and the playback of sound. Most television sound is recorded on audio tape (reel-to-reel or cassette) or videotape, and played back primarily from (1) videotape, (2) film, (3) records, or (4) audiotape.

Sound control includes the patch panel and the audio control console. The audio console is extremely important for the control of the volume and for the mixing of two or more sounds.


7-48 Table of Microphones.

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Updated: Friday, 2020-10-09 15:14 PST