visitor to the Mic Museum lay down on the floor and said to
proprietor Bob Paquette: “I died and went to heaven!”
Paquette with an unusual mic in his collection that sat in the
studios of WLW(AM). A carbon microphone element sits atop a cylinder
that has lights in it for ‘PREPARE’ and ‘BROADCAST.’
Photos by Photo Opportunity Fairview Photography Studio
(Click to Enlarge)
who appreciates radio’s history would feel overwhelmed staring at
more than 1,000 microphones that date back to the late 1800s.
Paquette began his impressive collection in 1950, but the 83-year-old
didn’t put it on display until 1970. Along the way, he also picked
up some mic enclosures, transformers, preamps, test equipment, spec
sheets and related paraphernalia. Other mic-related exhibits include
patent applications, catalogs, broadcast periodicals, technical
papers and a few transmitters for good measure.
collection, arranged chronologically, resides in several rooms of
Paquette’s business, Select Sound
Service in Milwaukee.
has learned a thing or two over the years.
of the very early mics was called the ‘liquid transmitter,’ and
it was made by the company later known as AT&T,” says Paquette.
“The thing you talked into was a long funnel on a little structure
that sat on a base. There was a pin hanging down into a cup of acid
and water and, when you spoke, it agitated the pin up and down. So
that is what they used in the late 1800s.”
to Paquette, microphones became more practical between 1920 and 1930,
as radio found its way into homes, increasing demand for a device to
pick up and amplify human speech.
that time, there were about 80 companies that made microphones of one
type or another,” he said. “Everyone was building them in their
basements, but of course a lot of these companies disappeared. The
biggest early names were Shure, Turner, Electro-Voice, RCA and
pictures of radio studios from the roaring ’20s, one would likely
see the “candlestick” microphone, which was based on the
telephone model of the day. There was no “on” or “off”
switch. When you hung up the receiver, the device was no longer
broadcasting. When it was off the hook, the talent was on the air.
Only later was a “press-to-talk” feature added.
mics were of a carbon design at first,” says Paquette. “Radio
stations and the first recording studios used the same models, which
were all omnidirectional. Then Western Electric came out with
condenser mics, designed primarily for movie studios. The first
dynamic mics were available for radio around 1931, and people liked
them because they didn’t need a power supply. You could buy a
little three-tube preamp and when the station had a remote broadcast,
the engineer would run the audio through a mixer to a phone line to
get the signal back to the station.”
loves to talk about his mics. Behind him is a shelf full of
microphones that once found their homes at radio stations. Note on
the shelf just below his right hand is a set of NBC tone chimes, a
(Click to Enlarge)
the early 1900s, the general population was not familiar with the
principles of electricity, other than what could be read about
prisoners being electrocuted in various penitentiaries. Thus, when
confronted with a microphone with a wire hanging off of it, the
average civilian might head for the hills. This perception would
change with time.
more serious problem lay in that the transmitting gear was fragile,
and there was no such thing as compression on the mics. An
over-enthusiastic announcer could yell into the mic, blow the tubes
and kick the station off the air.
the Big Band era of the 1930s, stations used double-button carbon
mics,” says Paquette. “They were about two to three inches in
diameter and an inch and a half from front to back. The pick-up was
spring-loaded within the housing.”
joined World War II in 1941 and by that time, RCA ribbon mics were
available. The physics involved a magnet coupled to a metal frame
with a space in the middle for the ribbon to move, providing the
modulation. Finally microphones could be bidirectional, which helped
with noise cancellation. Instead of picking up audio on all sides of
the microphone, these were more selective, allowing audio only from
front and back.
of the first widely used models was the RCA type 44. Later, that
company developed the 77 series that culminated in the 77 DX
multipattern model, still sought after today. The users of these
treasures could select an omnidirectional, bidirectional (figure
eight) or unidirectional pattern.
the 1960s, radio stations began diversifying their programming into
more specialized formats such as middle-of-the-road, top 40, country
and easy listening. It became evident that different formats might beenhanced with certain microphones. While the 77 D might be
perfect for a soft-spoken announcer, a screaming DJ might need
something more rugged, such as a dynamic mic. Electro-Voice made a
very durable model, the 664, which was heavy and shaped like a thick
cigar.The Shure SM5, nicknamed the “Fat
Albert,” was a cardioid design that could stand up to high voice
levels, as could the SM7, a refinement on the earlier design.
was, and still is, a German company known for its high-quality
condenser microphones. In 1949, it released the U 47, later
supplanted by other models such as the U 87. “I have a pair of U
47s,” said Paquette. “I was offered $15,000 for them, but I’m
not going to sell.”
is a grouping of German-made microphones, including what is probably
a very rare original Telefunken Ela M301 in the center. In
order to provide some historical context, there is also a picture of
Adolf Hitler speaking into a microphone, as well as the swastika
symbol, used by the Nazi Party. Various other contextual displays
throughout the museum include pictures of FDR doing his
"fireside chats," and of Dwight Eisenhower, among others,
Paquette told Radio World.
(Click to Enlarge)
around the museum, you can’t miss the dozens of call letters
crowning some mics, stamped or painted on others — WLW, WOR, WABC,
WGN, WLS, WTMJ, KWRT, WNJR, WCLO, KYUM, WLDB, WISN, WPAY, WMAQ, KFZ,
WRNY, etc. — and numerous iterations of the major radio
broadcasters, NBC and CBS. That doesn’t even count the number of
loose flags and other station memorabilia such as a set of NBC tone
says, “You know, in the early days you could pick your call letters
to suit the station. WLS stood for ‘World’s Largest Store’
and WGN stood for ‘World’s Greatest Newspaper.’ I have
those mics, and even one from the Moody Bible Institute, which was
WMBI. We also have a local mic here from WTMJ, which stood for
‘The Milwaukee Journal.’”
the queen of the collection is an enormous diva of a microphone
apparatus from Powel Crosley’s Cincinnati-based monster 500 kW
station, WLW. In its prime, it could be heard across almost half of
the 48 contiguous states. That microphone was one of the instruments
bringing entertainment throughout dozens of states.
had put on a show in that area where I displayed a bunch of my
mics. I met the people from the station and got a tour of WLW …
It’s interesting, because that’s only the top half of it. The
whole thing is like a long cylinder.”
continues, “We have it on what they called a 1A stand with a
ring. It’s a little mount with a Western Electric carbon mic,
and then the call letters are on top.”
then points to two windows in the front, “Inside, there is an early
on-the-air light. They’d tell the announcer to go out by the
mic and prepare, and the bottom window would light up and say,
‘PREPARE.’ Then, when it was time, the upper window said
‘BROADCAST.’ Then he knew it was time to talk.”
how did Paquette come across all of this history? “It just happened
over 53 years of collecting,” he replies, sheepishly. Much of it
was just luck and being in the right place at the right time. “I
put this collection together over 50 years of collecting,” he says.
“When I started, it was 1950 — radio stations were trashing
a lot of mics from the early days because things were improving
the collection grew, Paquette began to step up his acquisition
methods. “I ran ads asking for pre-1940 mics. I’d also go to
antique radio swap meets. I’d go to ham radiofests as well. In
the summers, I’d cover a 200-mile radius looking for mics. They
were often found at rummage prices. Mics that are selling today
for over $1,000 could be had back then for $25–$30. The
stations would keep buying new ones and I’d get the old ones when
they were through with them.”
adds that he has traded and sold a few mics, but is in general trying
to continue building the collection, rather than giving away or
what of the future of the Mic Museum?
have offered it for sale for $1 million, but no takers yet. I
have a company here, Select Sound Service, with about 12 family
members working here and 40 employees in all. There’s no one
really interested in maintaining the collection. No one can give
tours but me. But my sons want to keep the museum here because
people come from all over the world to see it.”
such a collection, it’s hard not to imagine that Hollywood hasn’t
come calling in need of historical accuracy. Turns out, yes, but
Paquette has a cautionary tale.
with an old microphone that was used in 1929 by Richard Evelyn Byrd
during his exploration of the Antarctic plateau. The mic is a 1929
RCA condenser weighing about 15 pounds. It was later used by
WKRC(AM) in Cincinnati.
(Click to Enlarge)
had a lot of trouble with Woody Allen,” he says. “I rented him 16
mics for a movie and he wouldn’t return them. He wanted to buy
them, but I didn’t want to sell. I couldn’t get them back,
so eventually I had to sell them to him. It took me eight years
to find replacements.”
not all glory in the mic collecting biz.
WROTE THE BOOK
his accumulated knowledge, Paquette authored “The History &
Evolution of the Microphone,” a tome that weighs six pounds and
comprises 840 pages in 8.5 by 11 inches format. There were just 500
copies printed, and it sells for $100 plus $10 shipping, available
only through his company at www.sssmilwaukee.com.
The first chapters detail the earliest efforts to convert acoustic
energy into electrical energy, and the others guide the reader
through various broadcast and non-broadcast uses of microphones and
this work covers primarily United States-manufactured products,
important designs from international manufacturers are also included.
oddities one might see during the museum tour include a big
horn-style speaker that was used behind the movie screen for the
earliest “talkies.” There are wire recorders, tape recorders,
recording lathes and a full replica of the B-17 bomber radio room,
circa World War II.
owns examples of all of the above-mentioned microphones and much
more, all housed in his museum. The Mic Museum is open to the public
at no charge, but by appointment only. To
schedule a tour in Milwaukee, call (414)
Deutsch still carries a Neumann TLM 127 around the house so he can
practice his “radio voice.” His wife is not amused.