Meeting Topic: Shure Vagabond - Early Wireless Mic
Speaker Name: Michael Pettersen, Shure
Meeting Location: Zoom
The January meeting for the AES-LA featured a sequel to the Shure presentation from December. Returning as our guest was Shure's Director of Corporate History, Michael Petterson, this time to do a presentation on the ahead-of-its time Shure Vagabond, an early wireless microphone system.
The history of such systems starts surprisingly early: a British patent for a wireless microphone, using radio waves to send signals to a receiver, was filed in 1917! In 1933, Shure themselves had a product called the Model 99, which let you use an AM radio as a rudimentary wireless PA system (you connected your microphone to the Model 99 AM modulator, which broadcast the signal to your AM radio).
The late 1940s saw several simultaneous developments: the National Supply Company's Ultra Mike, which combined a microphone and a radio modulator into one unit; professional ice skater and ice-skating show impresario Reginald Moore's system for using wireless mics to add singing and dialogue to his productions (a scheme which ran afoul of the BBC's reserved radio frequencies); and Shure's Ben Bauer (inventor of the Unidyne) suggestion to replace the microphone cable with a radio frequency link. Similarly to Reginald Moore's travails, Bauer's idea ran afoul of FCC regulations (the conflict between wireless mic users' needs and government regulation of the spectrum appears to be a constant theme right through to the present day). There is also a (possibly apocryphal) tale of a 1951 system to use wireless mics on baseball umpires for television broadcast.
Things started to become commercially viable with the 1953 rollout of a system from Stephens Tru-Sonics designed for live theatre and motion picture production. And then, also in 1953, Shure released the Vagabond, marketed towards clergy, businessmen, educators and sports announcers. The first installation was at Chicago's Holy Name Cathedral, the Cathedral having been tipped off by a parishioner who saw the system demonstrated at that year's Chicago Electronic Parts Show!
Through the 1970s and 1980s as other manufacturers developed wireless mic systems, Shure avoided the market, instead selling SM85 elements to other companies making these systems. At some point they realized that every wireless mic sold was a Shure wired mic *not* sold, so they determined to get back into the wireless game, deploying the Shure Wireless W series (jointly developed with Telex). And of course today, 30 years on, we've all moved onto into he digital realm with the Shure Axient digital wireless system.
Microphones are of course at the very core of what we do as audio professionals, so the AES-LA would like to again thank Michael Petterson for providing this interesting history and overview.
Written By: Daniel Schulz