Part 8
Welcome to number 8 in this series on broadcast microphones.  As 1940 was fast approaching...RCA needed a more modern dynamic microphone design to keep up with their main competitor....Western Electric.  As we saw in previous articles, Western Electric had the jump on RCA with their very state-of-the-art models 630 “Eightball” and the 633 “Saltshaker”.  The RCA model 50A “inductor” dynamic was becoming outdated.

RCA engineers came up with an excellent design to compete directly with Western's “Saltshaker”...it was dubbed the 88A. The 88A [1,8,9] utilized the same “moving-coil” dynamic principle as Western Electric used in their dynamic designs which meant that RCA probably had to get licensing for it from Western Electric!  This mike was non-directional and had kind of a “saltshaker” look to it as well using a rounded chrome perforated screen on the front.

The 88A was “pill” shaped [2] with quite a different mounting arrangement than previous mikes.  Rather than having the stand mounting on one end of the mike they used a side mount location just back of the front screen that normally had the mike in a horizontal position...although it could be tilted to any position with its ball socket-type swivel.  As with most of RCA broadcast mikes the stand mount used a half-inch pipe thread.  RCA thought that this made it easier for stations to make up their own mike booms using readily available half-inch pipe.   Most other mike manufacturers used a 5/8th inch size mounting which continues down to the present. 

RCA showcased this new mike at the national political conventions in 1940.  All of the floor mikes...one for each state delegation were RCA 88As.  Russell Pope, the chief engineer for McClung Broadcasting was able to purchase all of the RCA mikes used in the Republican Convention in 1940.  These mikes were mostly 88As...but probably included a few RCA ribbon mikes that were used on the podium and other places during the convention.  Russ portioned out the mikes to the various McClung stations...including: KYOS, Merced; KHSL, Chico; and KVCV, Redding.  I worked at both KYOS and KHSL and I know each station had several of these RCA 88A mikes that were used mostly on remote broadcasts away from the station...but also studio use, as well. 

The 88A was a very rugged, high quality mike that was used at hundreds of radio and TV stations clear up into the 60s.   It was great for interviews and news broadcasting.  As a teenager in the 4-H Club I did my very first radio interview on KGIL, San Fernando from the San Fernando Valley Fair in the early 50s.   The announcer and an engineer were touring the fair getting interviews on reel to reel tape and the microphone used was an 88A.   I never did get to hear the interview but one of the 4-H parents said she had heard it!

The NBC network and many local stations fitted the 88A mike with a unique “handle” to make it easier for an announcer to handle the mike in interview situations. [3]   A short length of half-inch pipe was threaded into the mike swivel attachment and over this pipe was fitted a motorcycle rubber handlebar grip. [5] 

The venerable 88A served the industry for many years...even well into the TV era. [4,6,7] As 1952 arrived...RCA decided it was time for an update and the 88A was replaced with a modernistic looking mike called “the Commentator” with the model number as BK-1A. [13,14]   The BK-1A was a cone-shaped mike that earned the nickname “Ice cream cone”.  This mike looked similar to some of the modern lighting fixtures of the 50s.   The specs for this new mike were similar to the 88A...non-directional with similar frequency response...60-10,000 cycles per second or “Hertz” in the modern designation. 
RCA again supplied all the  microphones used for the sound systems at the two national political conventions in 1952...and the new model BK-1A was the most used mike at these conventions.

The BK-1A was also much used in TV....NBC, of course, used this mike for news programs like “Meet the Press”,where each participant had a mike, and the Today show as well as the Tonight show.   NBC Radio used the BK-1A on “Monitor” as well. [11,12]

And as they say:  “That's a wrap for this time” Enjoy the photos.








Here are two nice examples of the 88A...the one on the left is black and chrome...on the right is umber gray.
This is one of the later models in “TV gray” or “Umber” and brushed chrome
Here is NBC host Ben Grauer interviewing a kid during WWII using an 88A with the motorcycle handle bar grip.  {U of Maryland)
Mickey Mantle with Bob Hope entertaining the troops at Kodiak, Alaska.  Left to right: Western Electric 639, American D44, RCA 88A, and what appears to be an Electro-Voice 630 directly behind the 88A.

A sad example of an 88A listed on Ebay but it does show the handle bar type grip used for interviews.

KTUR's Carl Perndergraft in a publicity photo from 1949 when the station came on the air in Turlock  using an 88A with a full compliment of call letter plates.

NBC used many model 88As in their studios and on remote broadcasts. 

RCA ad from the 1940s showing their complete line up of broadcast mikes including the 88a on the extreme left mounted up right on its ball and socket swivel.
RCA 88A-specs sheet
Here is the microphone man's own RCA 88A with a replica of the RCA table-top art deco base. This audio link is of Gary using his own 88A.

RCA mikes were used for the President during the 50s into the 60s...here is JFK with two BK-1As used to feed a PA system as well as the national radio and TV networks.

NBC's famous news team of Huntley and Brinkley probably during a political convention using two “ice cream cone” style BK-1A mikes.
Here is a BK-!a in nice condition showing the red “meat-ball” RCA logo on the body of the mike. Photo and audio clip courtesy of Stan Coutant's website

This shot shows off the mikes modernistic style grill.  {Stan Coutant}

Larger >>
The Microphone Man,  Gary Avey,  Chico, CA.
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