As promised...this time we will look at Western Electric's last dynamic microphone...the model 633A “Saltshaker”.
The 633A was introduced in 1937 just two years after the “Eightball” which we covered last time.
Apparently Western Electric went through a major design change in their broadcasting equipment at this time. A new more “modern” look was the idea...and the new Saltshaker mike was one of the items that highlighted this change. Instead of the dark colors of previous equipment now the theme was a lighter touch and a more “modern” style.
Instead of the black of the Eightball....the Saltshaker came in a medium gray color. The 633A had a bullet shape with a rounded top where the sound entrance holes were and highlighted by three snazzy fins on the top. On the bottom of the mike was a male threaded stem for attaching to the stand which had a hole in the middle to allow the cord to exit. Interestingly Western Electric used a different stand mounting arrangement than any other microphone manufacturer.
Whereas every other manufacturer used a female thread attachment on the mike itself....Western used a male attachment on the mike with a slightly different thread spacing...5/8 -24...instead of the industry standard 5/8 -27 thread. This meant that you had to use Western's special mike stands....or you had to buy an adapter to mount their mikes on normal stands! There was also an optional round baffle that fit on the front of the mike to give a slight directional effect.
The 633A Saltshaker was an omnidirectional mike with a slight boost in the high frequencies for good speech intelligibility and good lower response, too, down to around 40 hertz (or “cycles per second” to us old-timers!). This made it fine for both music and speech. It made a great mike for remote broadcasts away from the studio...like news and sports....but it got plenty of studio use as well. I don't think the 633A had as smooth a response as the earlier Eightball which I always thought was a better overall quality mike.
In radio the Saltshaker was used by big and small stations and the major networks like CBS ABC and Mutual...but NBC, owned by RCA, never used any Western Electric products because they were bitter rivals! The Saltshaker also got a lot of use in the early days of TV. Growing up in Southern California, I remember KTLA channel 5....the very first commercial TV station licensed by the FCC...used the Saltshaker on their many live remotes. I remember seeing KTLA announcers like Dick Lane and Stan Chambers using Saltshakers usually with a KTLA call letter plate attached.
In 1949 the government forced Western Electric to sell off it's broadcasting and recording equipment manufacturing because they thought Ma Bell was getting too big. Altec-Lansing Corp. became the manufacturer of Western's audio equipment....microphones, loudspeakers, control-consoles and other equipment. Altec continued to make the 633A and even improved it by introducing a Mylar diaphragm instead of the aluminum one used by Western...which gave it a smoother response. The mike looked exactly the same it just had Altec's name on it from 1949 to around the late 60s when it was discontinued. Altec also introduced a model 633C that included a transformer inside that could be connected for 150 ohm impedance...the 633A only had 30 ohms output directly off the voice-coil.
There are still hundreds of Saltshakers out there and you see them come up on eBay all the time. A few years back I bought one from an antique dealer in the Bay area. My 633A is a Western Electric version and was in pretty good shape except for scratched paint and the diaphragm being smashed in. The paint was easy to fix....I did choose a slightly darker gray, almost dark brown, than the original. Mine had the optional chrome swivel and the thread adapter with it. For the interior I found an excellent dynamic element from a very good quality Realistic omnidirectional mike that fit absolutely perfectly inside the mike body. I think it sounds very good...as you can judge by the sound clip.
That's the story on the Western Electric-Altec 633-Saltshaker...an accepted standard in the broadcast industry...one of America's great microphones of the 20th century!
Altec's accessory page showing the baffle, stand adapters and special plug to make the 633 and 632 mate with cables with the same connector as the model 639. (We'll review the 639 another time)
Here is the Altec version of the 633A produced from 1949 through the late 60s.
Sportscaster Mel Allen (at right) with other sportscaster broadcasting an Alabama football game in 1945 using two 633As hanging on their cords. Mel is in uniform and was a Sgt. in the Army at the time. (U of Maryland Lib. of American Broadcasting.)
DJ Dave Bondu on WERD in Atlanta using a Western Electric 633 on a flex boom which was unusual for the late 40s or early 50s.. The mike has the optional round baffle which slipped over the front of the mike and was held in place by cork pads. The control board is a Western Electric also. (Courtesy U of Maryland Lib. of Am. Broadcasting.)
A stand up DJ with a 633A Saltshaker mounted on an unusual scissor-type boom.The turntables appear to be Western Electric models...but no control board is visible...perhaps there was a separate control room operator who handled the mixing. (U of Maryland Lib. of Am. Broadcasting).
Here's the King of Swing...Benny Goodman jamming with other musicians during a WOR New York remote broadcast perhaps from a hotel room. The 633A mike is just in front of Benny's instrument to the left. The remote control engineer is just to Benny's right with headphones on and you can see the remote mixer on the table. (Time-Life Big Band series)
Piano reverb-- Saltshaker microphone inside this piano. To get an interesting reverb effect when a person talks directly into the piano strings. (NAB Engineering Handbook)
Here is a great photo taken in 1957 of famous Los Angeles air personality Art Laboe on one of his remotes from Scrivner's Drive In interviewing a very young Robert Wagner as a teen admirer looks on. Art is using a 633 Saltshaker with KPOP call letter flag. (Art Laboe.com)
Here is my 633A before being refinished and after repainting...looks almost new!