In the 1990’s, I opened a transfer business that was closed at the end of 2021.
The purpose of the transfer business was to provide services for those who
found old media and had no means of transferring it. Before then, I generally
avoided consumer formats because almost no one adhered to the instructions
printed on the box or the standards that were developed for audio tape.
However, that changed when I realized that there was a lot of family history that
needed to be transferred.
I worked long and hard on each transfer and I made sure that the end result
would be listenable.
When it came to records, I would often make several transfers using different
size styli and picked the best sounding one. I didn’t charge for the extra work
because it was my way of giving back some of the knowledge and expertise that
I had gained over the years.
Reel-to-reel audio tapes were often a guessing game because so few consumer
tapes were properly documented. I determined the length and other necessary
parameters while prepping the tape. A lot of reel-to-reel tapes were recorded at
different speeds or different formats on the same tape. It was not unusual to
encounter a change in speed while transferring a reel-to-reel tape to the digital
domain. I always stopped and transferred the section at the correct speed so
that the tape hiss was kept intact. When the audio cassette was popular, the
length was usually printed on the label and the speed was usually constant
which, made the estimate process easier since I charged a minimum fee or for
the running time. If the running time of the media exceeded the minimum fee,
the fee was waived.
What I didn’t anticipate, were the stories that were associated with the media
and here are some of them;
There were so many customers who heard the voice of a long departed relative
for the first time that I lost track of them all. Some had lost them when they were
very young and some heard their own voice for the first time as an infant or a
child. When the final product was delivered, I often received an email thanking
me for all of my effort which, was all that I needed.
In the 1950’s, an interview was conducted at a radio station and recorded on
reel-to-reel audio tape. That tape was sent to me for transfer. However, the
recording on the tape was music, not an interview as indicated on the tape box.
It turned out, that the tape had been recorded over by the owner when she was
a teenager. She had the presence of mind to make a tape copy of the interview,
which was later found and sent to me for transfer.
One customer, stopped and bought a portable cassette recorder on his way to a
family gathering. The purpose of the recorder purchase was to record the stories
of the oldest family member who, among his other accomplishments,
had worked for Thomas Edison.
However, there were a couple of problems with the recording;
The recorded level was so low that it was hard to listen to and the recorder was
passed from person to person without any regard for microphone techniques.
The microphone handling and occasional laughter was the only thing that could
be heard on the tape at normal listening volume. The tape was listened to once
and never played again. In fact, the tape was never rewound.
After transferring the contents to the digital domain, I edited out all of the
microphone mishandling and the other anomalies that I could and then reduced
the level of the laughter and microphone mishandling that was left.
Then, I increased the overall level & filtered out most of the increased tape hiss.
When I finally presented the results, the customer was able to hear
the recording for the first time.
Voice letters were typically sent to a person in the military who was overseas.
In fact, some USO’s used to provide a recording and mailing service for free so
that voice letters could be sent to military personnel because it was a morale
booster. I transferred voice letters that were on a couple of types of media and
I transferred voice letters from the three wars where the technology was
available; WWII, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
While figuring out the recording format of some reel-to-reel audio tapes that
were used as voice letters, I finally concluded that the parents, who were in the
US, had a tape recorder that was a ½ track mono format and their son, who was
in Vietnam, was using a ¼ track stereo machine. This had me chasing my tail for
awhile as each tape had both formats on it and sometimes the message had
been partially recorded over. It took 2 tape decks to complete the transfer.
During WWII, a young lady walked into a recording studio in New York City and
recorded some of her thoughts. She then sent the disc to her fiancee who was
fighting in the Pacific Theater. Her fiancee carried that instantaneous disc (also
known as a ‘Lacquer’) in the bottom of his Duffel bag until he returned home.
Years later, it was found and sent to me. After a thorough cleaning, the disc
played remarkably well, considering what it had been through.
Some were not so lucky and the instantaneous discs that were sent to me were
in very poor condition. Surface cracks or de-laminating can look like a
skate board ramp to a stylus and cause the stylus to mis-track. Often, the media
had been played too many times if it was an instantaneous disc because there’s
a limited number of times that those discs can be played at full fidelity.
I often used the term ‘Played to death’ when describing the disc.
I usually observed the situation during the cleaning process. If there was a lot of
gray dust in the grooves, I could be sure that the disc had been over-played.
It seems that people treated instantaneous discs as though they were the same
as the commercial releases in their records. Perhaps they were never warned.
However, I spent the time to extract something and that something was always
accompanied by an explanation.
After all, we’re talking about someone’s family history!
One such disc was recorded on a portable machine that was designed to make
instantaneous discs. The disc was plastic with a fiber center and it was known
as a ‘Recordio’ disc. Fidelity was generally poor for Recordio discs as the
frequency response was barely above the human voice and surface noise was
always a problem.
The person in the recording was a young lady who had broken her leg on a farm
and had to be transported, across the state, to a hospital where the leg was set.
While in the hospital, she organized the other children in the ward to sing the
song “Jingle Bells” because it was Christmas. Although the event was recorded,
in the years that had passed, the disc was trashed.
Now, that young girl in the recording was about to turn 90 and her son wanted to
present her with the contents of this disc for her birthday.
So, it was up to me to extract something, anything, from that disc.
I was able to extract enough of the recording to make some sense.
After flattening it, I transferred the disc at 16-2/3 RPM and then sped the files up
to 78 RPM using a digital audio editor. When the result of my effort was finished
and delivered, I was told that there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
Some instantaneous discs were poorly recorded. Usually, the problem was
groove depth (lack of it) because the record cutting mechanism was set too
high. What you have to do is to use more weight on the stylus than normal.
Recordio discs are notorious for this problem. However, some Recordio’s were
cut too deep causing the substrate in the center to show.
Delaminating lacquers were the worst. They were always very labor intensive.
I used paraffin wax to secure the loose parts. If the disc had a crack, I often
used a black crayon. I would carefully brush the liquid paraffin in the direction of
the grooves while holding a hand held heat gun or hair dryer then play the disc
a few times with an inexpensive stylus.
I would record everything. Cracked or broken 78 RPM records, known among
collectors as ‘Shellacs’, were carefully glued then treated with paraffin.
Today’s restoration software does things that couldn’t be done a few years ago.
I can only imagine what the future will bring.
I transferred about 50 wire recordings. I thought that there would be more.
Besides the popularity of dedicated machines, there were a number of record
players adapted as wire recorders so that they could play an instantaneous disc
or a commercial record and play a wire. Some combo units had radios built into
them. Apparently, wire recording was popular as a dictation format and used
aboard aircraft to record military and commercial pilots radio voices. Wire was
the original black box. Wire was also used in spy recorders because the spools
of wire could be made small.
I only had one wire get so tangled that I couldn't save it. It was during during the
process of rewinding. I was using a finger to control the tension and the
threading slot on the reel grabbed my finger. While I was nursing my finger, the
wire tangled. Although I had to deliver the tangled wire in a plastic bag, I had
already done the transfer, so all was not lost.
© Corey Bailey Audio Engineering
DO IT YOURSELF?
BAKING AUDIO TAPE
LUBRICATING AUDIO TAPE
REPAIRING A BROKEN 78
FLATTENING A RECORD
A Little About Sound
Optimizing your PC
Packing Records for Shipment
People I have Known
Playing Records Wet
Playing a Wire Recording
Saving Your Family Video
The Ken Slater Tapes
Tubes vs Transistors
What Type of Wire?
Your Digital Data is at Risk