Where the Source Material Originated

On a day in January 2000, I received a call from a woman who was wondering what could be done with the tapes that her late-husband had recorded many years before. She explained that she was calling me because of an article she had seen about my interest in old radio programs in our local paper and thought that the tapes might contain shows that I would find interesting. A meeting resulted in my acquiring about 200 reels of tape, most of which were paper-backed Scotch on 7" reels.

It was obvious that the original owner, Ed, was a fan of the big bands, as many boxes were labeled with names like Eddie Howard, Fred Waring, and Guy Lombardo. Other boxes indicated that their contents may contain news, sports, and even some Arthur Godfrey shows. Several shelves of reels contained recordings of family and friends who visited Ed's basement where he was master-of-ceremonies. Perhaps the most intriguing were the reels that indicated that they contained recordings of local events, some of which had been broadcast and some not. It seems that Ed used his microphone much like a camcorder is used today, picking up what he found interesting or important.

The bulk of the recording was done from 1948 through 1953. The recordings of radio programs were most likely recorded on a Brush Model BK-401 using a microphone sitting near an Atwater-Kent 735 or an RCA 10K1 console radio. The quality of the recordings are pretty good, though I will leave that judgement to you, the listener. You can see the Brush recorder, which I also acquired, by clicking here.

What You Will Find in This Collection and What You Won't

All of the tapes that contain Ed's personal recordings of friends and family will not be distributed.

That leaves over 100 reels of tape to sift through. And what an adventure that was. What we have left is a mixture of big band remotes, snippets of various old radio programs, news and sports broadcasts, music, and religious programming.

As I approached the project, I first listened to and catalogued the tapes, separating the personal recordings from the rest. The personal recordings were converted to audio CD for the family. As I listened to the remaining tapes I found that many contained remnants of previous recordings on the end of the reels. It was always exciting to see what sounds those 5 to 10 minutes contained. I decided to include most of those in the Odds and Ends section of the collection.

Getting From Tape to MP3

The tapes were wound, oxide in, on 7" reels. Nearly all the reels were made by Scotch (3M), and were a mix of No. 100 A (yellow box), No. 101 A (green box), and No. 111 (black box). The tapes are in very good condition, as are the boxes. They had spend the past fifty years in a cool, dry, Billings, Montana basement. Only a few needed splices.

Click here for pictures of the boxes and the tape inside them.

While the Brush might have been a logical choice to use for playback, it is in need of new capacitors and I wasn't up to doing a rebuild on it before sorting through the tapes. Although the Brush recorded a single track in one direction at 7-1/2 IPS, I found that the tapes played fine on my Akai GX-260D. I patched the output from one channel of the Akai to the soundcard of my computer, a Gateway G6-350 running Windows 98. I used SoundForge 4 to handle the recording. I sampled in mono, 16-bit, at 44,100 Hz. On a few recordings I applied a bit of equalization with SoundForge after making the transfer. I want to stress, I used a very small amount of equalization, not wanting to stray far from the original recording. All pops and static were left "as is."

Once the files were saved as .wav files, I used AudioCatalyst, Version 2.1, to convert them to MP3s. I used 32 Kbps and 22 kHz in that process. Yes, I know about the importance of preserving the sonic quality using higher rates, but after listening to the difference between the original tapes and the finished MP3, I decided that the difference was negligible and I did want to squeeze the data on to 2 CDs. Keep in mind that these recordings were made off-the-air. They are not from transcription disks.

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