Tape.  

Not duct tape, electric tape, measuring tape, packing tape or any of the 790-or-so other types of tape. Recording tape. 

Lives were impacted by this wonderful invention … creation … label it as you wish.  I was searching for old audio to assist a group of my friends who are on their adventure with a new group, Friends of Georgia Radio.  That search gave me the idea for the subject of this article: audio tape.

In the 1890s, Alexander Graham Bell and some friends came up with the way to record audio on wax cylinders.  Later, tape-recording pioneers and engineers changed the world by capturing audio with a more durable and efficient technology than wax that could crack, or even melt.  

The recording tape of our youth came in reels, 8-tracks, and cassettes.  Tape quickly became our “no static at all” friends. I wouldn’t even attempt to get into the technical side and history of how sound gets on tape.  We used reel-to-reel recorders in radio stations for many tasks.  Our commercials, shows, newscasts, anything audio was captured on a reel with a grease pencil, razor blade and splicing tape nearby to correct any errors.

Reel-to-reel people were the audiophiles of the time. The serious admirer of music had elaborate reel-to-reel machines powered by amazing amplifiers, and music was heard through high-end and often high-dollar speakers.  These walls of sound equipment stayed home and were seriously protected and maintained.

While listening to recordings from a great old jazz masterpiece to anything with a multitude of players and singers mixed together (sometimes with full orchestras), I stop and realize the greatness of these recordings made with limited editing capabilities. When one player or singer screwed up…back to note one.  Everyone had to start over.  Too bad those errors and outtakes weren’t preserved.  Can you imagine the historical gems we didn’t have the opportunity to hear?

Before smaller and portable ways to transport music, we had players at home. But when 8-track machines became a part of our automotive audio world, we were in music heaven. It was beyond cool and exciting to have an 8-track player in your ride and almost mind-blowing to hear an album in the car with no crackle or clicks we’d heard on well-played vinyl.

In the beginning, we had aftermarket players added to the bottom of a car’s dashboard. The add-on speakers were another cool accessory.  Even then, a tune would sometime skip if you bounced over a huge mound or encountered a pothole. Then there was the ongoing problem of the player changing to the next “track” in the middle of a song.  What a struggle.

Then, more-enhanced, factory-installed players appeared.  Musical styling was definitely happening.  While preparing this article, I learned National 8-Track Day was April 11 and that William Powell Lear was the guy who developed this technology.  Yes, the same Lear as in the designer of jets!  Who knew?

Then, the amazing cassette came into our world.  These invented by some Dutch Dudes in the early sixties.

Remember your first cassette recorder with a plug-in microphone and a suction cup to record phone calls?  We could record everything from family members singing happy birthday to grandma, to our own voice speaking – which immediately had everyone thinking, “Do I really sound like this?”

Then music became available on this more modern way to transport our tunes and our personal recorded memories with even better and more compact devices to play them. Factory in-car systems took us to the next levels of up-close-and-personal sound. The Sony Walkman changed everything again. Boom boxes came along with sometime ear-piercing decibels that could fill a room, or a large outdoor space. 

In those days you could stop at an intersection with roadside clutter that included cigarette butts and unidentified objects mixed in with a long piece of skinny brown tape dangling in the breeze.  This told me that someone’s music prize had bitten the dust.

Now we complain about slow internet, a poor signal, and weird wi-fi — just like our children and grandchildren. 

Happy bandwidth to you!

Kelly McCoy

Kelly McCoy is a veteran broadcaster who worked for more than four decades at radio stations in the metro Atlanta market.