John Crabbe: Firebrand Page 3

"The horn loudspeaker had been assembled for the first time in a room in that house out in Essex. We had got it working there. But then of course it had to be packed up, and we reassembled it in that tiny flat in Herne Hill. And it was there that Michael Lazenby of Wireless World came to see it, because I'd sent my article off to Wireless World—the horn thing—and it had been sitting there with them for ages. F.L. Devereux, the Editor, had said, 'Look, this can't be real, it's a papier-m‚ché make-up, don't believe it!' He'd sent Michael down to inspect it, and there it was, fully assembled and working satisfactorily. That was all the evidence he needed to publish it, although there was still quite a long gap. But he had looked at my gear and seen my pickup arm with the thread and weight. And he said, 'You ought to write that up as well!'"

John did so, and "Dynamic Sidethrust in Pickups" was published by Wireless World in May 1960, after which John's thread-and-weight bias compensator was adopted, first by SME and then by many other tonearm makers. In the meantime he'd also contributed an article on "Electronics and the Phonetician" (WW, July 1959); and another, written jointly with Dr. Peter Denes of UCL, describing the neat little portable transistorized audiometer John had built in the lab for testing children's hearing (December 1959).

In 1958, John became active in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, speaking and organizing meetings and acting as CND's recordist. In October of that year he went to Bertrand Russell's flat in Millbank, SW1, to tape an address by Russell, who afterward gave him tea. The following September he made a recording of "Stars in Your Eyes," a CND fundraising event at the Royal Festival Hall, emceed by J.B. Priestley. But it was also in 1959 that he entered journalism full-time.

"By then, I was so pleased to have had these Wireless World articles published that I thought perhaps technical writing was the way ahead for me, to get out of this lab position, so I started looking around for jobs involving that. A vacancy came up for assistant to the technical editor of Electrical and Radio Trading, a weekly trade paper. I was offered the job, largely, I think, on the strength of my published articles.

"That was my entrée into actual practical journalism, writing about anything and everything electrical—televisions, vacuum cleaners, tape recorders, the lot. I was going out visiting retailers and workshops, reporting on servicing activities. As it was weekly, there was tremendous pressure to get things out and turned around. While I was still at ERT, I was building my big built-in horn system at our new home in Dulwich, and writing about horn speakers for Hi-Fi News as a freelance contributor."

John's eight-article series, "Horn Type Loudspeakers," ran in Hi-Fi News from November 1961 to June 1962. The last three parts described the construction of the ambitious full-range stereo horn loudspeakers that now filled the recesses on either side of his fireplace.

"Then John Borwick, who had been technical editor of Hi-Fi News, left. I'd met him at press receptions and knew him quite well, and had a long chat with him about it and what sort of job it was, and I thought I'd try my luck. So I had the interview. The owner and Editor, Miles Henslow, also interviewed a contributor to the sister magazine, The Tape Recorder, but apparently he wasn't quite so efficient at getting his copy in on time and providing all the diagrams, so Miles chose me. I joined as Technical Editor."

By this time, Henslow wasn't doing much of the day-to-day stuff himself. "John Borwick had hinted that most of the work fell to him and to Alan Lovell, who ran things on the practical production side. Miles would just come in and write his editorial column under great pressure at the last minute. But of course I'd been so busy at ERT that I thought it would almost be a relief to go over to a monthly magazine.

"In 1963, only six months after I'd joined the magazine, I was knocked down by a car on a zebra crossing. I was knocked unconscious, had various broken bones down the left side of my body, and I was unconscious for nearly two weeks. I was taken across to Atkinson Morley, the specialist brain-injury hospital. When I became conscious again, I had to learn to talk without moving my jaw, drinking everything through a straw! I had no memory. What was I doing there? I eventually came to believe what I was told about what had happened to me, when the next copy of Hi-Fi News arrived and there was Miles Henslow's note about my accident."

John later wrote an article about this experience, "A Journey Through Concussion," for Medical World.

"The following year, 1964, Henslow sold Hi-Fi News and The Tape Recorder to Link House Publications. Their main office was in Store Street, in central London, but apart from Exchange & Mart, all their magazines were published down in Croydon, in South London. I moved with the magazines, as did David Kirk. David had come in straight from school as a general assistant, mainly to look after the tape-recorder side. I was supposedly Technical Editor of both magazines, and when Miles sold the two magazines as a pair to Link House, the idea was that David and I were part of the package, and I would become de facto Editor of both.

"Poor David, who was already traveling into London from Southend every day, now had to get down to Croydon. As had happened at Mortimer Street [HFN's first address], David did most of the practical work on The Tape Recorder, although I was nominally Editor. He would liaise with me on technical points, learning fast and hard as he went.

"It did seem for a while that tape recording was going to become a real hobby in its own right, separate from hi-fi as such, and that was the rationale on which The Tape Recorder was run. There was even an annual British Amateur Tape Recording Contest. People used to send in remarkably produced tapes of all sorts of practical performances, singing, or recordings of odd sounds. I was one of the members of the judging committee, and the chairman was Cyril Rex-Hassan, the man who ran the London Audio Fairs.

"But gradually, the practical activity seemed to fade away, and so the readership faded away too. David thought, Well, there are people on the technical side in studios, wanting to know about aspects of tape recording at a higher level, and he came up with the notion of moving it in that direction."

And so was born Studio Sound, for many years a leading magazine for professional recording engineers.

"David's great discovery and invention in tape recording, by the way, was that human spittle is the ideal substance for cleaning tape heads. He'd tried everything under the sun, but there's just something about the chemical mixture of spit which seemed to do the job!