Ambisonic Drama Pioneer

Mark Decker, sound designer

Mark Decker was a sound designer at BBC Pebble Mill and a pioneer in broadcasting Ambisonic surround sound. He decided on his own to start recording in UHJ all radio dramas he made. He lists having made 90 Ambisonic radio plays between the years 1986 and 1997, some of them series of 3-5 episodes.

But the work didn't stop there. He recorded 7 to 10 radio plays in UHJ every year, plus most episodes of the the world's longest running radio "soap" beloved of the British - The Archers. One episode every weekday (with a repeat) and an "omnibus" of all the week's episodes on Sundays. No surprise, Archers was Ambisonics, too!

Mark once said he started using Ambisonics because he felt two channel stereo too limited for radio plays. Also, UHJ encoding was free of programme licenses (which wasn't true with Dolby Surround in the 90's). In the times of analogue FM radio these were the only possible encoding methods for surround sound. You may ask for discrete 5.1 today, but Mark didn't stay waiting, he used what was available and made the best of it. He surely did his share to remove the chicken and egg problem.

In 1990 his employer forbade Mark to use the words "Ambisonic" or "UHJ" in the programme information. As a national broadcaster, the BBC didn't want to promote a surround sound system which only could be received with decoders from a limited number of manufacturers. However, they never forbade him from making the programmes, so he kept on doing that :-)

Mark did also a lot of design work; the brand new drama studios in the Birmingham "Mail Box" broadcast centre are largely from his pencil. He also gave lecture tours about radio drama and surround sound in the USA and even in Russia.

I remember Mark as a friend and a teacher. Always friendly and polite, and ready to help.

Eero Aro – sound designer

See a list of Mark's UHJ radio plays