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Making Wartime Engineers
September 1945 Radio-Craft

September 1945 Radio-Craft

September 1945 Radio Craft Cover - RF Cafe[Table of Contents]

Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles from Radio-Craft, published 1929 - 1953. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.

Although this article was published in Radio−Craft magazine at the very end of World War II, it describes the efforts of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) during the war years to accommodate a large loss of trained electrical and communications engineers to active military duty. The few qualified engineers remaining quickly went into action devising a training regimen of electrical theory and hands-on training. Men (boys?) as young as 16 years old, as well as women from 21 to 30 years old were selected after screening for aptitude. More than 2,500 people became technical assistants and some top performers earned certificates regarded in the industry as being on par with university degrees in engineering. The effort once again lends credence to the old saying about necessity being the mother of invention. 

Making Wartime Engineers

Young trainees being coached in the operation of a recorder cutter head - RF Cafe

A group of young trainees being coached in the operation of a recorder cutter head. 

By DR. K. R. Sturley*

Photos courtesy British Information Service

At the beginning of World War II the British Broadcasting Corporation was faced with the loss of many of its skilled and experienced technical staff to the armed forces, yet its responsibilities were increased by necessary expansion of its technical duties. Redistribution and upgrading of the remaining staff, together with dilution, was the only feasible method of dealing with the problem.

To insure an adequate flow of recruits to man new stations and make good the loss of youths called up for military service, a scheme of intensive training first of engineers from other branches of electrical engineering was instituted, to be followed, when this source ran dry, by the training of youths (aged 16) and women operators (ages varying from 21 to 30 upwards).

The success of the scheme may be judged from the fact that since its inception about 2,500 persons - a large proportion of the war-time technical staff - have passed through the school, qualifying as technical assistants for operating and maintaining transmitters, recording apparatus and studio control rooms. These trainees have materially helped to maintain the broadcasting service at a comparatively high standard of efficiency. Some, including a few women, have qualified to enter the grade of engineer by passing an examination approaching university standard.

Chief Instructor teaching a lesson on broadcast operation - RF Cafe

The Chief Instructor teaching a lesson on broadcast operation to a class of women.

Instructor explains mechanical details of high-power tubes' water-cooling system - RF Cafe

The Instructor explains mechanical details of high-power tubes' water-cooling system.

Demonstrating bass and treble compensation apparatus - RF Cafe

Demonstrating bass and treble compensation apparatus to a class of youths in training.

Radiowomen undergoing training with control-room apparatus - RF Cafe

Radiowomen undergoing training with control-room apparatus. Panel is identical to those used in real service. Bay at left carries incoming programs and bays on right are amplifiers to the individual transmitters.

The needs of the upgraded staff were not forgotten, and full-time instructors were appointed to eighteen stations to help them gain greater technical knowledge. Promotion generally followed upon success in an oral examination controlled by the heads of the three branches of Operations and Maintenance. Another object of these instructors is to raise the standard of youths in training to a level at which they can derive maximum benefit from subsequent training provided at the B.B.C. Engineering School.

There are two courses of instruction. The first is a preliminary one covering such subjects as the laws of electromagnetism, acoustics, electromagnetic radiation, in sufficient detail for a general understanding of the technical problems of the broadcasting service. Lectures are amplified by practical demonstrations and individual coaching. A written and oral examination is used to estimate the capabilities of the student and unsuitable candidates are rejected.

This preliminary course lasting one month is followed by two months' "specialist" tuition, introducing the trainee to the apparatus and run in three parallel sections: transmitting, studios and recording. Transmitter training is established at two of the British Broadcasting Corporation's main transmitting stations, one for short and the other for medium waves, so that students have an opportunity of absorbing atmosphere as well as instruction. The syllabus covers all types of transmitters, their component stages and power supply circuits methods of amplitude modulation, medium and short wave propagation and aerials.

Studio instruction deals with control room and outside broadcast practice, the acoustic treatment of rooms, the handling of microphones, program metering, reproduction of recorded programs, and line tests; in fact the whole sound chain from the microphone to input of the transmitter's modulation amplifier. A recording center containing all types of the recording and reproducing equipment used by the British Broadcasting Corporation has been chosen for the recording course. General instruction on disc, film and tape recording is supplemented by practical demonstrations and operation bf machines by the students themselves.

At the end of each of the three courses, written and oral examinations are held under the direction of the Engineer-in-charge of the school and his senior assistants. As a rule the examination results agree closely with a report of the candidate's subsequent operational ability from his station chief.

The technical educational activities of the Corporation on behalf of its staff are not confined only to verbal instruction via the training school, for there is a section concerned with the writing of technical instructions on all types of apparatus used by the B.B.C. Complete descriptions of the operation and maintenance of equipment are provided and fundamental principles of the apparatus are detailed.

The training school has so proved its usefulness during wartime, that the Corporation regards its continuance in. peacetime as an essential part of Its policy. To emphasize the importance attached to its activities, the school has been raised to the status of a department, and a considerable increase in its activities is envisaged. Naturally, the organization and methods employed in war-time are not necessarily those best suited to the needs of peace. Plans are afoot to house the school in its own establishment, and to enlarge its activities to include specialized training of existing staff enabling them to operate new and more complicated apparatus, e.g., for television, to institute refresher courses for older Personnel, and to maintain a high standard of technical knowledge amongst the personnel of the Engineering Division.

The Engineering Training Department has its counterpart in the Program Division, which is concerned with teaching the technique of broadcasting drama, talks and music, and close cooperation is planned between the technical and non-technical departments in order to give the producer an appreciation of his medium, and the engineer an understanding of the problems and desires of the producer. The need for a full understanding of the problems of both divisions by their individual members will be self evident; but particularly is this true of the technician who is the liaison between the producer and the apparatus.


*Head of the Engineering Training Department, British Broadcasting Corporation.



Posted February 7, 2022
(updated from original post on 7/14/2014)

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    Kirt Blattenberger,


RF Cafe began life in 1996 as "RF Tools" in an AOL screen name web space totaling 2 MB. Its primary purpose was to provide me with ready access to commonly needed formulas and reference material while performing my work as an RF system and circuit design engineer. The World Wide Web (Internet) was largely an unknown entity at the time and bandwidth was a scarce commodity. Dial-up modems blazed along at 14.4 kbps while tying up your telephone line, and a nice lady's voice announced "You've Got Mail" when a new message arrived...

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