The History of Broadcast Mics
Broadcast microphones have been used for many years, including throughout the DJing industry. But where did they come from? How have they developed over time?
In this article, we’re going to take a deep dive into the history of broadcast mics from the 1660s all the way to the present.
Before we get started, however, let’s ask the question: what is a broadcast microphone?
What is a Broadcast Mic?
Microphones are devices used for converting acoustics into electric power.
Microphones take the acoustic sound waves and turn them into electrical voltages which are then re-converted into similar sound waves and amplified through a speaker or another piece of software (such as a recording device or computer).
Broadcast mics are used widely throughout the music, entertainment and radio industries. They’re used for voice overs, announcing and–of course–DJing.
There are three different types of microphones that DJs commonly use (dynamic, condenser and ribbon microphones) and if you’d like to know which is the best mic for you to use, make sure to read our handy guide here.
The History of Broadcast Microphones
Microphones date back all the way to the 1660s. While the term was coined a few centuries later, the English inventor and physician Robert Hooke first developed the method of using a string and acoustic cup style phone to transmit sound across greater distances in around 1667. Over the years this seemingly simple breakthrough started the chain reaction of the development of the microphone.
In 1827, Sir Charles Wheatstone first used the term “microphone” to refer to a device that could amplify weaker sound waves into greater sound waves. It is perhaps not surprising that Wheatstone is the originator of the term, as he is also known for having invented the game-changing telegraph. His research and development around transmitting sound waves through other mediums helped the pioneering industry move forwards in leaps and bounds.
Not half a century later, Johann Phillip Reis invented a device in Germany that could convert sound into electrical signals. These electrical signals were then transmitted back into sound along a conductive wire. The ‘Reis Telephone’ was in many ways the first iteration of what would become the modern-day microphone, considering the way in which it turned acoustic sound waves into electrical audio signals.
In 1876, Emile Berliner created and later patented a form of the modern microphone along with Thomas Edison. Famous for having invented the gramophone, Berliner was inspired to create a new device that could transmit voice. This impressive device was later credited to Edison, but remains an innovation of his partner.
Later on, Alexander Graham Bell developed a liquid transformer telephone, sometimes termed a “water microphone”. Some sources claim that Bell has been similarly credited for an invention of someone else’s. In this case, that of Elisha Gray.
Lastly, the first carbon microphone was invented as well by the British/American inventor David Edward Hughes. Hughes’s groundbreaking invention formed the prototype for the carbon microphones that many still use today.
Not long after all of this development, another German inventor by the name of Ernst Werner von Siemens came up with the moving-coil dynamic microphone. Based on a simple design featuring a diaphragm and moving coil in a magnetic field, the electrical current transmitting the sound waves is induced across it to convert and reproduce the sound.
Jumping forward to 1916, a new electrostatic microphone was invented by Bell Laboratories. Created by E.C. Wente in the process of developing a solution for higher quality telephones, Wente managed to substantially improve the way microphones work.
The following year, the Piezoelectric Microphone was invented by the Frenchman Paul Langevin using piezoelectric crystals. Ultimately, this breakthrough was used to create the ultrasonic submarine detector rather than modern microphones we use today.
The rise of broadcast radio demanded greater improvement in microphone technology across the board. This resulted in the development of the first ribbon microphone and dynamic microphone (operating through the use of electromagnetism) by the German inventors Walter Hans Schottky and Dr Erwin Gerlach.
Once again in Germany, the first condenser microphone used commercially was invented. Often called “The Bottle” thanks to its design and shape, this invention caused its inventor and his company, Georg Nuemann and Co, to rise in fame.
Next came the electrodynamic transmitter – the first dynamic microphone of its kind developed by Western Electric.
A decade later, Harry Olson invented the ‘Shotgun Microphone’ which used electro-acoustical technology in its apparatus.
In 1957, Raymond Litke, an engineer and inventor, filed his patent for the very first wireless microphone. This proved to be a game changer in radio, television and across the world. While versions of a wireless microphone were floating around during the 40s, the patent by Litke marked the broader application of this newest technology.
The first uni-directional microphone device was invented, called the Unidyne III. Unlike previous designs, this device collected sound waves from the top of the microphone and not the side. The new design altered the course and set the standard for microphone designs moving forwards.
The electret microphone from Bell Laboratories’ James West and Gerhard Sessler came onto the scene. An improvement in many ways, this microphone was smaller, more reliable, more affordable and more precise. It revolutionised the entire industry and changed it forever.
Throughout the 70s, the industry of microphones continued to develop as better recording and more precise sound was achieved. Miniature mics began to be developed during this time as well.
Sennheiser developed the foundation-shaking clip-on microphone which was extremely popular and still remains so throughout the broadcasting and entertainment industries.
The quality of microphones continued to increase over the intervening years, repeatedly raising the bar for microphone quality standards across both live performances and broadcasting.
The 21st Century
Throughout the 2000s, newer microphones utilising microelectromechanical systems began to develop. These were instrumentally important for incorporation in everything from phones to headsets and laptops to computers. Over time, these mics found their way into automobiles, wearable devices and smart devices as well.
In 2003, the digital microphone was created by the inventors working out of Georg Neumann. This analog-to-digital mic converter was a necessary development in an increasingly digital world and paved the way for USB mics in around 2005.
One of the last major developments in broadcast mics took place in 2010. The Eigenmike was released and allowed the recording of sound across the surface of a solid sphere. This allowed for more sound to be collected from all directions making rendering and editing the sound better and offering audio engineers even more control.
Nowadays, DJs and other audio professionals have a vast array of different microphones with features and designs that the inventors of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries couldn’t have even imagined. As technology continues to develop at breakneck speed, we’re excited to see where the development of microphones takes us next.
In the meantime, if you need to find the perfect microphone for your DJing needs, we have you covered! Check out our massive range of mics here! We’re the premier provider of all things DJ equipment, microphones included!