WNYC Vintage Microphone Slide Show

WNYC History Notes Vol. 3, No. 4

Friday, March 16, 2012 - 11:30 AM

"This microphone is not an ordinary instrument,
For it looks out on vistas wide indeed:
My voice commingles now with northern lights and
   asteroids and Alexander's skeleton,
With dead volcanoes and with donkey's ears
It swims with minnows and it's in the Sphinx's jaw.
It drifts among whatever spirits pass across the night.
Here is a thought to fasten to your throat:
Who knows who may be listening? And where?"

                                                                   Norman Corwin

                    The conclusion to Seems Radio Is Here to Stay

When the late, great Norman Corwin wrote and produced this tribute to the medium in 1939, the radio microphone was the primary nexus to the world beyond our street, neighborhood, town and city. Television, as we know it, was in its infancy. Records were brittle and broke like fine china. There was no Internet, iPhone, iPod or iPad. Social media meant going to the movies, and the movie makers were just discovering technicolor — something the mind's eye had from the get-go with radio.

At the beginning of radio's long signal chain is the microphone, a kind of on-the-scene ambassador and interpreter. Whether unidirectional, omnidirectional, dynamic, cardioid, ribbon, carbon button or condenser, they all soaked up the voices and sounds of our world. Indeed, like a sonic sponge, for 87 years the WNYC microphones have been the starting point for broadcasts and productions featuring the mighty to the miniscule and more. Below you'll find some of them.

Cara McCormick
WNYC Shure 55 "Elvis" Microphone

This classic super cardioid (unidirectional) moving coil dynamic mic first came into use in 1951 was long favored by The King, as well as WNYC's Chief Concert Engineer Edward Haber. The microphone is designed for high quality broadcasting, public address and voice recording.



Cara McCormick
WNYC Astatic T-3 Microphone
Cara McCormick
WNYC Western Electric 630A "Eight Ball" Microphone

Often placed on a table between an interviewer and interviewee, this omnidirectional microphone dates from 1938 and was used well into the 1950s.

Cara McCormick
WNYC Amperite SR-80 Ribbon Microphone

Constructed in a rugged bronze and steel case and used from the mid-1930s into the 1940s, the SR80 is one of the finest bidirectional 'velocity' microphones found in this period.

Cara McCormick
WNYC Altec (Western Electric) 639A "Bird Cage" Microphone

Designed by the Bell Telephone Laboratories and originally manu­factured by the Western Electric Company beginning in 1938 the Altec 639A and 639B multi-pattern micro­phones have, for years, enjoyed an unprecedented acceptance by all phases of the audio industry. In 1941 Altec began putting their name on the microphone.

The 639A could be set to various direc­tional patterns while maintaining high quality performance. Using a velocity ribbon micro­phone in com­bination with a dynamic pressure microphone, the 639A offered three patterns. “R” pro­vided a “figure eight” pattern by utilizing just the velocity micro­phone. “D” selected just the pres­sure micro­phone for a non-direc­tional pattern. “C” provided a cardioid pattern by com­bining the two micro­phones in series. Fre­quency response in any setting was 40 Hz to 10 KHz. Western Electric also built a “B” version with six selectable pattern settings. For an excellent history of this microphone go to: MIC HISTORY.


Cara McCormick
WNYC Shure CR-41 "Green Bullet" Microphone

These high output and high impedance CR or "controlled reluctance" microphones were made sometime between 1949 and 1958.  Shure claimed it had a frequency response of 100 to 7,000 cycles per second. The microphone was popular with ham radio operators and used also for police, fire, and other commercial dispatch uses. The mic was tailored for good speech response, and was made to withstand temperature extremes, and to be practically moisture proof. It was unaffected by weather extremes and salt spray making an ideal choice for coastal areas. Obviously this was not a studio microphone but most likely used on remotes to communicate effectively with the studio or engineering office.

Cara McCormick
WNYC RCA BK-1A "Pressure Type" Microphone

The Type BK-1A was a high-fidelity microphone  especially designed for announcing and remote pickup. Its smooth response and frequency range (60 to 10,000 cycles) made it suitable for reproducing both music and speech. It is effectively non-directional when mounted vertically and is semi-directional when mounted horizontally. The mic was first produced in 1952.

Cara McCormick
WNYC Western Electric 633A "Salt Shaker" Microphone

Developed by Bell Labs in the late 1930s and used by WNYC well into the 1960s, the famous 633A is a rugged, low impedance dynamic microphone popular with radio stations for many years.

Cara McCormick
WNYC American D4T Dynamic "Harp" Microphone

The D4T is a high impedance moving coil (dynamic) microphone "for general use where clear speech and natural music reproduction are required," according to the manufacturer's original brochure. "While designed for maximum ruggedness, it is of convenient size and reflects beauty in modern lines." Often used as a public address microphone, it dates from the 1940s.

WNYC Archive Collections
WNYC Shure SM57 Unidirectional Dynamic Microphone

This microphone is exceptional for musical instrument pickup or for vocals. With its bright, clean sound and carefully contoured presence rise, the SM57 is ideal for live sound reinforcement and recording. It has an extremely effective cardioid pickup pattern which isolates the main sound source while minimizing background noise.

WNYC Archive Collections
WNYC Electrovoice 664 Dynamic Cardioid Microphone

This microphone dates from about 1953 and was designed for public address systems. At the time, WNYC was not only the city's broadcasting station, but also its major source labor and equipment for public events in the parks and other locations around town. In an ad from the period, Electrovoice touted the microphone as having a "uniform cardioid polar pattern [that] provides high front-to-back discrimination against unwanted sounds, without close-talking boominess."

WNYC Archive Collections
WNYC Electrovoice 666 Cardioid Microphone

This microphone was known for great for bass amp pick-up and used throughout the 1950s and 60s. Designed with the help of network radio and television engineers, the EV 666 was described in the early 50s as a "mircophone that meets the exacting requirements of present day telecasting and broadcasting."


More in:

Comments [1]

Ray Hauenstein from Arizona

Have 3 vintage ribbon Microphones for sale. RCA77DX - RCA 44JR - Altec/Western Electric 639.
If interested call

Jun. 02 2012 01:28 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.


About NYPR Archives & Preservation

Mission Statement: The New York Public Radio Archives supports the mission and goals of WNYC and WQXR by honoring the broadcast heritage of the radio stations and preserving their organizational and programming legacy for future generations of public radio listeners. The Archives will collect, organize, document, showcase and make available for production all original work generated by and produced in association with WNYC and WQXR Radio.

The NYPR Archives serves the stations staff and producers by providing them with digital copies of our broadcast material spanning WNYC and WQXR's respective 90 and 77 year histories.  We also catalog, preserve and digitize, provide reference services, store, and acquire WNYC and WQXR broadcast material (originals and copies) missing from the collection. This repatriation effort has been aided by dozens of former WNYC and WQXR staff as well as a number of key institutions. Additionally, our collecting over the last ten years goes beyond sound and includes photos, publicity materials, program guides, microphones, coffee mugs, buttons and other ephemera. We've left no stone unturned in our pursuit of these artifacts. The History Notes is a showcase for many of these non-broadcast items in our collection. 

In fact, if you’ve got that vintage WNYC or WQXR knick-knack, gee-gaw, or maybe a photo of someone in front of our mic, an old program guide or vintage piece of remote equipment and would like to donate it to us, or provide a copy of the item to us, write to Andy Lanset at   

The Archives and Preservation series was created to bring together the leading NYPR Archives related, created, or sourced content material at


Supported by