Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Interview with an Audio Restoration Engineer at SABC Audio Restoration Department

Bags Farrell
This is part of a series of blog posts to gain a better understanding of the SABC Audio Restoration, as well as part of a series of blog posts about the SABC Media Libraries. It is a way of generating a better understanding of what we do in the different sections that we belong to.

The interview this week is with Bags Farrell, an Audio Restoration Engineer.
The Audio Restoration Section is responsible for converting the internally recorded collection of records (Transcriptions) to CD and re-distributing the music to all SABC media libraries in the country.  With a constantly changing technology and the switch to digital sound, the Sound Restoration Unit has had to keep up with the changes.

1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself. (Where you grew up, where and what you studied and your work experience before you joined the SABC Audio Restoration Section)

I have always been interested in sound. I used to do my own cassette to cassette editing before I even joined the SABC. I started work at the SABC in Main Control, where we would link up Regions and Studios for recordings or for discussions. One program I recall that we had to link up was “Test the Team”, where the quizmaster was in Cape Town, one team member was in Durban, another in Johannesburg and the third in Pretoria. Things didn’t always run as smoothly as they sounded when the program was broadcast!  From Main Control I moved to what was the called “Productions”, where we recorded programs for later broadcast.
Today, almost everything that is broadcast is “live”. In the past, it was all pre-recorded!! Whilst in Productions, I completed a Drama course and moved into the Drama studios. When Drama closed, I moved into Audio Restoration.
2. Please tell us about a normal day in your Studio. What audio do you give priority to?

My normal day starts with the collecting of a pile of records (Transcriptions) from Maryna’s office and then transferring them into the computer. As they go into the computer, they go through a set of machines that remove most of the surface noise, e.g. crackles, clicks and excessive hiss. Any noises that get through the first set of machines are removed using computer software. The tracks are then numbered, as per the information provided and the Restored Audio is transferred to CD.
No specific priority is given to any audio, but if a request comes in for a record to be transferred to CD for imminent broadcast, it is then given priority!

3. Tell us more about your collection and the scope of material you need to preserve in the Audio Restoration Section.

The Transcription Department was established to give up-and-coming artists a chance to record their music professionally, at no cost to themselves, and have it on a record for their private use. It also became a repository of local artists and local music for the SABC to promote local talent. In later years, it became a means of recording and preserving our local music.
  4. Do you struggle with technical difficulties, and if so, what?  

The biggest technical difficulty I had was switching from PC to Apple Mac computers. Everything I do with audio is done on an Apple and when I first started using the machine, it was very difficult switching to a new computer. My technical training for studio work was very good, so the biggest technical difficulty I have is to get styli for my turntable!
5. If you have an anecdote about a specific piece of interesting audio, please share it with us.
The most interesting piece I did was not necessarily the audio that I restored, but rather the circumstances.
I was approached by a presenter and asked if I could help him. He presented me with four pieces of a Bakelite record, that he had knocked and broken that morning! I started the restoration process by sticking the record together with masking tape. I then had to record the record into the computer. Although the music was only about ten minutes long, it took about five hours to record. The stylus wouldn’t track the grooves properly, so every time the stylus jumped a groove, I would have to go back and re-record! Eventually it was ready for processing. I started by taking out all the thumps, then the crackles and clicks and lastly the hiss. It was then transferred to CD. The original record was recorded in 1933. The CD today sounds as if it was recorded yesterday in the studio!! 
5. Tell us why you enjoy doing the work that you do.
Everyday brings new challenges!

Questions and blog post by Karen du Toit, Afrikaans Archivist in the SABC Radio Archives.


  1. Where do you get the turntable stylii?
    I'm into turntable repairs and it is my main technical difficulty as well...

  2. Hi Gerhard.
    I am waiting for my technical guys to give me the info. As soon as I have the info, I will let you know.


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