Do you recall my blog from earlier this year when I was waffling on about magnetic wire recorders? In that column I mentioned that prior to magnetic tape recorders there were magnetic wire recorders. In the case of these little rascals, the recording medium was a spool of wire that was pulled rapidly across the recording or playback head at around 2 fps (feet per second) (Click Here to see my original blog).
Ever since I first heard of magnetic wire recorders I've been interested in these little beauties. The way I did hear about them was when a guy from England regaled me with the tale about how his grandfather had built his own wire recorder in the 1940s.
When this guy found a box of his grandfather's recordings, he acquired and adapted an old Webster-Chicago wire recorder to play back the spools, whereupon he heard all sorts of interesting things, including the voices of his great grandparents and also his mother as a little girl.
Of course these days we are all so used to having digital video cameras and audio recorders that we tend to forget how relatively new these things are in the scheme of things. As recently as the 1930s and 1940s, however, it was rare for non-professionals to have access to any form of recording medium.
I don’t know about you, but I would love to be able hear my mother's voice from when she was say 10 or 15 years old in 1940 and 1945, respectively (I don’t mean that you would want to hear my mother's voice … stop being so picky … you know what I mean!)
Anyway, the reason I am waffling on about this now is that, a few weeks ago as I pen these words, I received an email from Rick Curl – an engineer who lives in Birmingham, Alabama, which is a couple of hours' drive away from me. A reader of EE Times in general and my columns in particular (he is obviously a man of fine taste and discernment), Rick had only just discovered that I "hang my hat" in Huntsville, Alabama. Since Rick was coming up to Huntsville to pick up some circuit boards that were being manufactured for him, he asked if he might drop round to my office on the way.
Well, Rick is a man after my own heart (not the least that he shares my love of Dr. Who). We had a wide-ranging chat about all sorts of things. For example, Rick brought an interesting circuit to show me (and almost electrocute me … I have a video of the occasion I need to post on YouTube). In turn, I showed him some of the weird and wonderful things I have lurking in my office, including my real-world ENIGMA machine, which had Rick drooling with desire.
All of this leads us to the fact that, just a few minutes ago at the time of this writing, a package landed on my desk. In it was a letter from Rick and a small box. In the letter, Rick said that he and his wife Cynthia had been at a flea market near the end of the day when they saw a seller about to throw away a spool of magnetic recording wire because he didn’t know what it was. Knowing my love of this sort of thing, Rick kindly sent the spool to me, and I just took a picture of it as shown below:
Her ewe see the spool itself in the upper-right -- a small pamphlet in the lower-right, and the box for the spool in the lower-left. The re-boxed spool now sitting in pride of place on the bookshelves in my office.
Now, I'm not sure if this is a virgin reel, or if it contains some recording gem from the past. Eeeek! Do you remember that incredible Dr. Who episode Blink
? This episode just popped into my mind. It has me wondering… what if I were to find myself an old Webster wire recorder and load this spool, would I hear an ethereal voice saying something like "Max, listen to this very carefully, because…"
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