Hi Nicholas -- I'm real sorry to hear that -- I can only imagine the disappointment -- but it was worth trying "just in case"
I wish I could hear my mom and dad talking from when they were young
Strange to think that folks today grow up with every expectation of being able to see videos of themselves throughout their lives...
It is even a challenge to play back the old reel-to-reel tapes sometimes, since the cloth belts used as take-up reel clutches in some of those Webcor machines are hard to find replacements for. My 3-motor tape decks are much simpler, but they don't handle 1 7/8 IPS tapes.
I also found a stack of tapes, in an old house being demolished. One of them sounded a whole lot like Aretha Franklin singing at somebody's birthday party. Unfortunately there is nothing available to verify that.
Listening to a wire recording is more challenging because those magnetic heads have a tendency to wear out, and the wire is a bit of a challenge to work with. The "new type" plastic leader that should be on the reel in the picture did make threading the machines much easier. And a playback amplifier can be a simple 3-tube package, not hard to duplicate at all.
Sadly you don't always get what you hoped for from old recordings. This is my sad tale.
I found some reel-to-reel tapes from the 1960's, which based on the label I thought contained a series of my grandfather's relativity physics lectures. When I paid to get them converted to CD I found they were just a series of old programmes record off the radio. No recording of my grandfather exists anywhere, so he is gone forever. I've never been so disappointed.
I need a time machine to fix this, but ironically he didn't leave me a recording of the relativity physics needed to make one. Of course if I could build a time machine from that information then one theory states that "cosmic censorship" may have occurred, which deleted the recordings to prevent a paradox!