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In the early 1980s, Calrec built two small digitally assignable analogue desks for BBC Radio, more or less as an experiment to see whether they would be more suitable than the previous J Series. The J Series, being unitised, came in modules comprising eight channels, eight stereo groups and auxiliaries, and an output unit with monitoring and metering which were hooked together with multicores. The problem with this was that for a large outside broadcast there was a lot of equipment to transport and set up, so even though the modularisation made this possible, it didnt make it easy or convenient.
They thought that if they replaced all that with an assignable console, they would just have a small control unit that they would carry up the church steps, or wherever, and have a piece of coax back to the truck where the rest of the equipment would be. We found from the prototype units that it was a little early for the technology but we were bitten, and we realised what could be done with digitally controlled analogue audio.
At the same time we were getting continuous requests from television to provide desks with in excess of 72 channels, with memory facilities and in a small size. One of the main advantages of a digitally controllable analogue desk is that it can be small, which saves you a lot of cost in the construction of the control room and makes it very easy to operate large numbers of channels, in addition to its memory features. We were being pushed by both BBC and Independent Television for this step in technology. Thames ordered the first one, the BBC ordered theirs shortly afterwards. We supplied a reasonable quantity of them for BBC, Thames, Channel 4, TSW, CNN and a number of other people, so it has been a successful product. We are the only company to have made it work utterly reliably, and more importantly give the right performance audibly. Reliability was the big worry that everybody had, that it was going into a live television studio and somewhere in the heart of it there was one microprocessor and if it popped off then it all popped off, and its true to say that thats the case with all these products, somewhere there is a component that will shut it all down. The first program that Thames did with their assignable desk was This is Your Life live, and it was the first time they had done the programme live as well. Our digitally assignable desks are very reliable in service. The beauty over the old analogue desk is that there are no switches or pots to wear out, and analogue audio has been very well developed over the years so you get good performance, very high reliability, and yet you can have the sophistication of digital control.
When had done all of that, we decided that the next step to go to was the fully digital desk. We were encouraged to do this by various people around us and we, like everyone else back in around 1985 which was when we started the project, felt that five years on everything would be digital. What I found was that by 1990 the digitally controlled analogue desk was only just starting to become accepted. The digital revolution certainly didnt happen as people thought it would, as far as mixing desks are concerned.