Friday, 23 December 2011

You're Surrounded - Experiments in Quadraphonic Sound

In the week that the BBC is broadcasting the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols in High Definition Surround Sound I’m reminded of the experiment with quadraphonic sound back in the mid 1970s.

In April 1977 the Radio Times advised listeners how to set up their hi-fi equipment to hear the quad broadcasts during the year long experiment. The system used existing stereo transmissions but required the purchase of either a quadraphonic decoder or a second amp and set of speakers.

Assuming you managed to get yourself wired for sound you could hear Proms concerts, Radio 1 In Concert, a production of The Tempest and the BBC Radio Orchestra in glorious surround sound. That Christmas the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols was also a quad transmission.   

Across the 1977 festive season you could also enjoy quad broadcasts of Alan Freeman’s Saturday afternoon rock show, a production of As You Like It, Cliff Richard In Concert and on Radio 1 Jonathan King Rules.  Recordings played in quad on the Radio 1 shows were preceded by this effect.

Writing in the Radio Times in May 1977 Director of Programmes Douglas Muggeridge accepted that “few people will be able to take full advantage of the quadraphonic transmissions at the outset of the experiment.” The cost to the BBC was estimated at £10,000 to £15,000. Listeners also complained that the corporation needed to extend its stereo network first before embarking on the broadcasts. Remember that at the time the provision of stereo VHF was still not complete and that Radio 1 still shared VHF frequencies with Radio 2.

So, 34 years later, plug your PC into your surround sound system and plonk your headphones on and listen to these version of the Christmas concert provided on the Radio 3 blog.

Read more about quad here or download the BBC’s 1977 research paper on the subject here.

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