|My new toy, the four-track Lafayette RK-710 recorder.
Oddly enough, this would be the third reel-to-reel machine to be under my roof. This past summer, I met my old friend Scott–we met in seventh grade at St. Mary’s Middle School. As the only non-Catholics in the class, we naturally gravitated toward each other. In high school, we discovered a mutual fascination with radios and iron oxide tape, so we spent many hours immersed in tape, patchcords, and microphones.
When Scott and his wife moved to a farm in Licking County, he decided to unload many of the possessions he no longer needed–a lesson I have yet to learn! So, we met for brunch at the Blue Danube, and, after long conversation and the usual filling meal, he gave me two portable tape recorders, a Sony and a Penncrest, both of which were familiar to me from the afternoons and evenings we spent using them.
I wanted to buy yet another machine because neither portable machine could accommodate seven-inch reels. Also, the motor on one machine seemed to be DOA, and the other did not record, at least not with the microphone that came with it.
The new Lafayette machine (pictured above) had one cosmetic flaw. The tone and volume knobs are both missing, so I turn them with a small slothead screwdriver that fits just perfectly. (The missing knobs did not concern me; I changed channels with a pair of pliers on the TV I had when I lived in Cincinnati.) Also, the machine’s 1 7/8 inches-per-second speed did not seem to work.
I tried some of the tapes that Scott had given me. (Since he no longer had the equipment to play them, he gave me his reel-to-reel tapes as well.) One was a three-inch reel of the audio of Star Trek‘s third-season episode “The Tholian Web” (Stardate 5693.2), and the sound quality and speed was erratic, which had me worried. I had better results when I took a five-inch reel at random, and heard a crystal-clear recording of Side 2 of Pink Floyd’s Animals.
My next concern was whether I had a two- or four-track machine. When I lived in Cincinnati, I bought a Wollensak reel-to-reel recorder from my across-the-hall neighbors, who sold it to me one night when they were desperate for beer money. (When you’ve got ’em by the addiction, their hearts and minds will follow.) Soon afterwards, the College Conservatory of Music had its annual record sale. At this sale, they featured commercially produced reel-to-reel tapes for $0.25 apiece. I bought two operas, plus a recording of an Israeli string quartet. (I had no idea what music was on the latter tape, since the liner notes and listings on the box were all in Hebrew.)
I came back to my apartment eager to try out my new treasures. I threaded one of the opera tapes into the Wollensak and pressed the PLAY button, and was utterly crestfallen. I had a two-track machine, and it was a four-track tape. While playing side one, the machine played side two backwards at the same time!
This afternoon, while Susie was having lunch with her Coming of Age mentor, I went to Used Kids (where, as faithful readers of this blog will remember, I bought four milk crates of 78 RPM records for $20 in November). The manager was nice enough to give me a piece of equipment I desperately needed and which did not come with the recorder–a seven-inch take-up reel. I spent $3 on a four-track commercial reel-to-reel album, Tribute to the Big Bands under the Tape-Mates label (TMS-102). It’s a three-hour tape which includes all the big names of the Big Band era, such as Glen Miller, Artie Shaw, Les Brown and His Band of Renown, Duke Ellington, etc. With trepidation, I put it in the Lafayette, and lo and behold, it played crisply, and only one side at a time.
My fascination with recording, and my tendency to want to hang onto things “in case I need them later” was the cause of an ongoing battle Steph and I had whenever we contemplated a move. The Wollensak came with me in 1995 when I moved from Cincinnati to Columbus, although I kept the same spool of tape on the machine and never played it (and never found a microphone for it). Steph kept urging me to get rid of it, but I was adamant that where I went, it went. The conflict was similar to a friend of Steph’s son, a teenager who refused to part with his Fisher Price farm set, which had been in a box collecting dust in the basement since he had been in grade school. He balked at allowing his mother to give the set to Susie, who was a toddler at the time.
I have owned a variety of tape recorders since I received my first one as a gift on my eighth Christmas. Most of them have been cassette recorders. As is the case now, I did not collect eight-track tapes or recorders. (Eight-track is the only medium that is explicitly unwelcome in my home.) Tape fascinated me so much that I began avidly following Watergate once Alexander Butterfield disclosed the existence of Nixon’s secret taping system. I also looked forward to Mission: Impossible reruns so I could see the way that Dan Briggs and Jim Phelps retrieved the recordings that would explain their next assignments.
(I was quite happy when one technophile posted a YouTube video showing the different makes and models that Mission: Impossible employed in the series.)
Susie is not a fan of Big Band music, so while I was trying out the new (to me) tape that I had bought at Used Kids, she put on her earbuds and listened to music from her laptop. I was in the dining room (which, among other things, is the place where I moor the Schwinn Meridian) with the tape recorder on a bookcase, and she was typing away at her TV Tropes and fan fiction pages, listening to the music she liked while I was listening to the various Big Band instrumental numbers, this time more to see how reliable the machine was, although I developed a liking for swing and Big Band music through my association with the old-time radio circuit.
Maybe I’m older than I realize. Just after I won the bid for the Lafayette, I proudly posted a picture of it on my Facebook page. One of my fellow bookstore co-workers, who is 20 or 21 at the oldest, posted, “What is that?” He had no idea what it was, or what I did. So, I explained, and then posted a link to Wikipedia’s entry on reel-to-reel recording.
That way, I can tell myself I educated someone, as well as spending money on a new toy.