Pictured on the right is the infamous Otari MX5050BII reel-to-reel tape recorder. This machine, in its many variations, has been a solid part of the broadcast industry since the 1970’s. As far as I can tell, it’s the last tape machine to go. We sold a bagillion open reel machines.
As broadcasters… what have we lost?
– wow and flutter
– tape hiss
– splicing blocks, white china markers, and razor blades
– stretched or broken tape
– alignment and calibration
– incompatible head configurations
– denatured alcohol, cotton swabs, and head cleaning
Don’t get me wrong. I grew up with tape. It was an exciting technology that got me interested in audio gear. The list above weren’t considered to be “faults”, but just part of the experience. If you wanted to record your stuff, this was what you had to work with.
Then came the digital revolution. We started recording on CD’s, minidiscs, flash memory cards and hard drives. Compared to analog recording methods, it was cheaper, smaller, easier to do complex editing, and the sound didn’t degrade with each successive copy.
Hard drive space was relatively expensive at first, so many broadcasters would store the digital audio as .mp3 files to save space and cost. This caused poor sound quality by the time the .mp3 audio was re-inflated, re-compressed, and otherwise manipulated on its way to the listener.
When the cost of digital storage came down, it became practical to store the audio in an uncompressed format (.wav as opposed to .mp3, for example.) Finally, the audio being delivered to the listener was again worthy of being called “broadcast quality.”
On a nostalgic level, I will miss analog tape. (Analog tape is still alive and well in many recording studios. But it’s pretty well gone from broadcast.)
The editing skills, and the maintenance routines gave me a very close relationship with the audio. That’s somehow gone in the digital world. That’s progress, I suppose.
Do you have interesting memories of working with analog tape? Share them with the rest of us.