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Sounds lost in the past - Microphones
2002 / November

Microphones are one of the most important pieces of mass communications equipment, conveying the tones and volume of the sound while they silently bear witness to history. During the late 19th century it was the dream of many scientists to transmit sound through the air without the need for conductors. The Scottish mathematician and physicist Maxwell was the first scientist to propose the theory of electromagnetic signals, and the German physicist Hertz was the first scientist to detect and produce radio waves, which is why the unit of frequency is named after him.
At the end of the 19th century, before the use of the telephone had become widespread, the idea of transmitting sound over a distance through the air was still little more than a dream. The findings of the theoretical physicist Hertz were transformed into reality by the Italian Guglielmo Marconi, who in 1896 succeeded in sending the first radio signal.

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Sounds lost in the past - Microphones
2002 / November

But it was to be some years before radio, then known as wireless, became a practical means of communication.
Marconi had a keen business sense and foresaw that wireless communication would be of use to ships in particular, and that plenty of money was to be earned from such a device. His predictions came true. He founded a company in England and then in America, and with the coming of the First World War the wireless equipment which he produced made him rich, as wirelesses became an indispensable part of the defence industry.
The first experiments with radio broadcasts for the general public took place in the United States. The American inventor Fessenden made the first radio broadcast from New York harbour in 1906, consisting of violin solos and readings from the Bible. The sailors who heard it were astounded by the phenomenon, concluding that they were listening to sounds from the other world.

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Sounds lost in the past - Microphones
2002 / November
Microphones were an important part of the system by which sounds were conveyed to wireless receivers, by transforming sound into electrical energy, and they developed in parallel with radio. Today omnidirectional, crystal, carbon, dynamic, ribbon, ceramic, condenser, electret condenser and magnetic microphones are used in many different fields.
The principal characteristic of any type of microphone is that its frequency response be broad and regular. While for speech a frequency response between 200 and 3,500 Hertz is adequate, for high fidelity music the range must be far higher at 30 to 15,000 Hertz. In addition microphones must have a high degree of sensitivity.
Radio appearances were to celebrities of the 1940s and 1950s what television appearances are to those of today. At that time radio was the world’s most widespread vehicle of mass communication, enjoying its heyday after the First World War.
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Sounds lost in the past - Microphones
2002 / November
  To stand in front of a microphone and know that your voice was being heard all over the country and perhaps the world, was an extraordinary sensation. The people who got to experience this thrill the most were of course the radio announcers, and to do their job properly they had to enunciate well and speak grammatically. But the quality of their microphones was equally important.
Selahattin Küçük, one of the first announcers for TRT Istanbul Radio, which made significant contributions to the development of radio broadcasting in Turkey, explained the importance of the microphone as follows: ‘The microphone is pitiless. It does not forgive the smallest slip of the tongue, but punishes you by magnifying and transmitting it to millions of people instantaneously. I had been working at Istanbul Radio as an announcer for just ten days when I was given the job of reading out a 15 minute script. I seem to remember that it was about Topkapi Palace and written by Tahsin Öz.
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Sounds lost in the past - Microphones
2002 / November
I was desperately hoping that I would speak clearly and without any mistakes. I waited nervously as the seconds passed for the microphone to go on. The red ‘Silence’ sign lit up and I began to read. I had finished the first page and begun the second, when a buzzing began in my ear. A large fly had landed on my ear and was wandering about. What was I to do? I brushed it away with my hand, and this time it landed right on the line that I was reading. I shook the paper and it flew away, but this time it landed on my nose. As I talked the fly walked up and down. I felt as if the studio was shrinking and the ceiling pressing to crush me. With difficulty I finished reading, but it left me feeling half dead.’Another anecdote about a live broadcast, from the book Memories and Experiences of Istanbul Radio, is related by the famous classical musician Dr Alâeddin Yavasça: ‘We were playing a fasil [vocal and instrumental suite in Turkish music]. Nuri Halil Poyraz was conducting and playing the tambourine with Mesut Cemil.
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Sounds lost in the past - Microphones
2002 / November

The jingles on Nuri Halil’s tambourine must have come loose, because soon after the programme began they started falling off one by one every time he struck his instrument, and falling to the ground with a clinking sound. Nuri Halil did not know what to do. Mesut Cemil continued as if nothing had happened, casting a sidelong smile of amusement. The choir was overcome by laughter and unable to sing one of the songs. The instruments kept going, but the musicians were laughing so much they could not play properly. We managed to finish the programme, but the effort left us exhausted.’
The microphone which bears silent witness to history was of course doing its job perfectly during this incident, exactly transmitting the clinking sound of the falling tambourine jingles to the radio audience.

Utku Tonguç Topal is a photographer and freelance writer.

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