The 600 Reels Project

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About This Project


This project is, in a way, related to the Paper Tape Archive project that I did back in 2003. In that project I acquired about 200 reel-to-reel tapes from an estate and went through them to document what was on them. I found numerous off-the-air recordings that are now shared on the site linked above as well as many live recordings. The live recording were of two types: family/personal recording and various recordings made around Billings, Montana. The personal ones were digitized and shared with the family. Some of the remaining ones are on the web site and others were shared with relatives of people who were on them.

About a year after I completed the Paper Tape Archive, I stumbled upon another batch of tapes at an estate sale. Since there were so many, and there was no way to determine what was really on them, I bought the lot in hopes of finding at least a few things that were interesting. Along with the tapes I picked an in Akai X-2000S, one of the few tape machines that played reel-to-reel, 8-tracks, and cassettes.

Going through the about 600 tapes was a daunting endeavor and one that I've kept putting off. It seemed too overwhelming and, as I tend to dive into a project and do nothing else until it's completed, there just wasn't the time to devote to just to this job. Now, about 15 years later, I have come up with a way that breaks it down into bite sized tasks. My plan is to go through the tapes, a reel at a time, a week at a time. I might miss a week here and there or I might do more than one reel per week, but this should, at least, move the project along, even though it may take a few years.

The Tapes

The tapes themselves are a real mix of brands. Most are 7” but there are a few 5” and 3”. Some of the tapes are labeled, many are not. The labeled tapes indicate either recordings of broadcasts or copies of LP records. The broadcasts labels indicate they are mostly religious recordings. Some are political. There are some commercially pre-recorded albums, mostly of the easy-listening genre.

The Process

I plan to go through the tapes, a reel at a time. I will scan through them and if I determine that they contain something other than copies of LP records, that is, non-copyrighted material, I will transfer the content to a computer and prepare them for sharing. Each tape will be listed on the web site with what was found on it. I will do my best to determine the dates of the material.

I am playing the tapes on an Akai GX-260D. I am using both a Windows XP computer and MacBook Pro to digitize them. Which machine I use depends on the workflow at the time. On both machines I am connecting the Line Out of the Akai to the computer through a Ground Loop Isolator. On the Windows machine I connect to the Line IN of the sound card and am using a very old version of SoundForge to do the recording. On the Mac, I connect to the USB port using a Griffin iMic and record using Audacity.

Occasionally, additional processing is needed, such as to convert to the correct speed. Some tapes play back correctly at 15/16 ips. Since my tape deck only plays at 3-3/4 and 7-1/2 ips I play the tape at 3-3/4 and convert to the correct speed using the Change Speed option in Audacity. I do this on the Mac regardless which machine I recorded on because my Mac is much faster than my Windows machine. I also use the Noise Removal tool or the Equalizer to clean up the recording. Based on the source material, there is only so much one can do. Some of the tapes are real puzzles as they contain a variety of formats and speeds, sometimes on the same tape. They could be two-track stereo, ½ track mono, or 4-track mono.

I will also provide pictures of the tape boxes, reels, and any accompanying documentation. Keep in mind that the reels proabably do not match the boxes they are in.

Regarding the source of these tapes, I was told that the individual who previously owned them used to buy tapes as thrift shops. He may, or may not, have the recording we find here. I do find it interesting what people found important enough to them to commit to to tape. It is much like going through a family photo album.