September 1945 Radio-Craft
[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 at the very end of WWII, it
describes the efforts of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)
during the war years to accommodate the 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
By DR. K. R. Sturley*
Photos courtesy British Information Service
A group of young trainees being coached in the operation
of a recorder cutter head.
The Chief Instructor teaching a lesson on broadcast operation
to a class of women.
The Instructor explains mechanical details of high-power
tubes' water-cooling system.
Demonstrating bass and treble compensation apparatus
to a class of youths in training.
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.
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
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
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 July 14, 2014