RCA 88A and BK-1A 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 The RCA model 50A “inductor” dynamic was becoming outdated.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 88A Vintage

RCA engineers came up with an excellent design to compete directly with Western’s “Saltshaker”…it was dubbed the 88A. The 88A 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 mic 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 with quite a different mounting arrangement than previous mics. Rather than having the stand mounting on one end of the mic they used a side mount location just back of the front screen that normally had the mic in a horizontal position…although it could be tilted to any position with its ball socket-type swivel. As with most of RCA broadcast mics the stand mount used a half-inch pipe thread. RCA thought that this made it easier for stations to make up their own mic booms using readily available half-inch pipe. Most other mic manufacturers used a 5/8th inch size mounting which continues down to the present.

RCA showcased this new mic at the national political conventions in 1940. All of the floor mics…one for each state delegation were RCA 88As. Russell Pope, the chief engineer for McClung Broadcasting was able to purchase all of the RCA mics used in the Republican Convention in 1940. These mics were mostly 88As…but probably included a few RCA ribbon mics that were used on the podium and other places during the convention. Russ portioned out the mics 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 mics 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 mic 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 mic with a unique “handle” to make it easier for an announcer to handle the mic in interview situations.  A short length of half-inch pipe was threaded into the mic swivel attachment and over this pipe was fitted a motorcycle rubber handlebar grip.

RCA 88A microphone with handlebar grip.

The venerable 88A served the industry for many years…even well into the TV era.  As 1952 arrived…RCA decided it was time for an update and the 88A was replaced with a modernistic looking mic called “the Commentator” with the model number as BK-1A. ` The BK-1A was a cone-shaped mic that earned the nickname “Ice cream cone”. This mic looked similar to some of the modern lighting fixtures of the 50s. The specs for this new mic 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 mic at these conventions.

The NBC News anchors, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley doing a political convention using BK-1 mics.

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

RCA BK-1A semi-directional pressure microphone

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

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