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July 31, 2008

Lowering the Boom (Microphone)

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

There was life before videotape. And that life was live! ... unless it was a kinescope film of a live television broadcast, that is.

[Pause for distracting scholarly footnote and CYA ...] Late 1940s TV shows came from: live broadcasting; a film taken of images on a TV monitor showing a live broadcast intended for rebroadcast to off-network stations (kinescope recording, it was called); or content filmed earlier such as a cowboy adventure show.

The pre-filmed stuff could be edited like any other movie. The live TV was just that -- whatever was before the camera with the red lights on was broadcast at that instant for good or ill. Even though kinescope recordings could, in principle, be edited to eliminate really embarrassing unintended content, my impression was that lots of small gaffes were ignored and there were few if any re-takes for the distribution market.

What this boils down to is that 11 or 12 year old me got to see a lot of interesting things on TV that modern viewers seldom or never do. Those old TV studios had plenty of hot lights, so showing actors dripping sweat wasn't uncommon. Nor was hearing an actor flubbing a line unknown.

One of the fun things was the intrusion of a boom microphone. Tiny lapel microphones were far in the future in 1948 or 1951, so most TV studios used microphones attached to the ends of telescoping tubes or beams, these mikes (I don't like the "mic" spelling ... read it as "mick") being positioned above the speaker's head and out of the camera frame. Unless something went wrong.

Here's a picture of a 1950 vintage studio.


The boom operator is at the left, the boom extends across the top of the picture and the microphone is above and in front of the cowboy.

Occasionally, the shadow of the mike and/or boom could be seen against a backdrop. The following picture might be from a cheap movie (I'm not sure), but I used to see such shadows often enough.


And if I got really lucky the mike would drop into the upper part of the viewing frame. The picture of Dave Garroway, below, was probably staged; an accidental mike showing might have only an inch or two exposed.


I find current TV too slick. In the good old days the medium could be really sporting.



posted by Donald at July 31, 2008


Do mine eyes (or mine memory) deceive me, or is that "cockpit" scene from Ed Wood's legendary Plan 9 from Outer Space?

Posted by: CGHill on July 31, 2008 10:23 PM

Yes, and connoisseurs of bloopers fondly remember the days of live radio and TV, when there were no retakes. One classic: the announcer, trying to deliver a commercial for "the best in bread," which came out as "the breast in bed."

Posted by: Rick Darby on August 4, 2008 3:58 PM

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