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This Is Your FBI #85, 'Murder By Accident', from Nov 15, 1946

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This feature will attempt to showcase and explain as much state of the art equipment as we can assemble, for use in collecting, archiving, cataloguing and preserving your Golden Age Radio collections. We'll concentrate on the most appropriate technologies applicable to a particular facet of the Golden Age Radio collecting hobby.

It will be our aim to provide information on everything from transcription disc cleaning and preservation, to audio restoration equipment and state of the art, cost-effective equipment for preserving and archiving your Golden Age Radio recordings as safely and securely as practical with today's evolving technologies.

I've asked many of you to help with various other features of the Digital Deli Online, and I'll be asking for even more help, tips, and suggestions should any of the equipment or technologies I suggest here prove to be less than ideal for a specific collecting task. If you know of better techniques or technologies to apply to a specific facet of Golden Age Radio collecting, preservation or archiving, please never hesitate to suggest it.

  1. Research Equipment and Technologies are the broadest category, but to the extent that we can break down the most useful technologies currently available, we'll illustrate several new technologies that are proving to be highly useful in doing the real dog-work of collecting Golden Age Radio -- identifying, researching, and compiling information on a specific aspect of the hobby
  2. Restoration Equipment will comprise technologies such as transcription disc restoration technologies, tape restoration and transfer equipment, analog to digital transfer technologies, and specialty equipment or service providers best suited for some restoration projects.
  3. Cleanup Equipment and technologies will comprise those best practices currently in use for both physical and electronic cleanup of Golden Age Era Radios, recordings, media, and test equipment.
  4. Preservation Equipment will comprise technologies, media and software with which to accurately and safely preserve Golden Age Radio recordings and technology for the greatest longevity.
  5. Archiving Equipment will range from physical and solid state storage media to the equipment best suited to the archiving processes.
  6. Equipment for Enjoying the Result of these efforts will comprise such technologies as embedding digital audio technology within, for example, cathedral and floor model antique radios, to assembling a state of the art, digital, wireless audio system in your home, as well as defining the most sensible and state of the art portable media players with which to enjoy Golden Age Radio away from home.

A growing number of emerging technologies are very creatively being applied to research activities; both physical research activities, and digital research activities, such as the growing number of technologies available for performing internet searches and compiling the results. Here's a few that you may have overlooked, for starters:

  • Solid state portable audio recording devices
  • Digital Cameras
  • Portable digital scanners
  • Wireless PDA's, iPads, iTouch, tablets and hand-held computers.
  • Portable micro-printers

The old tried and true research equipment has also undergone some timely updates and are finding new utility in their application to research activities. And of course the most successful and time-proven technology of all is your own diligence, inventiveness, resourcefulness, and plain old shoe-leather.

This has traditionally been a very highly specialized field, and the state of the art preservation technologies are often prohibitively expensive (entry costs from $1,500 to $15,000), depending or course, on the volume of your holdings and their relative enduring value. Among the available technologies are automated transcription and vinyl record restoration equipment, as well as a relatively small group of specialized audio restoration and transfer services.

Some of the available equipment-based technologies for restoring LPs, vinyl records, and shellac or aluminum transcriptions are:

  • The CEDAR (Computer-enhanced Digital Audio Restoration) family of equipment and software

  • The Keith Monks "Archivist" Record Cleaning Machine transcription, vinyl and shellac disc cleaning and treatment system (see Cleanup Equipment)

  • The NittyGritty family of LP and transcription disc cleaners (see Cleanup Equipment)

  • Specialized audio and data transfer technologies
  • Digital Audio Workstations such as those provided by Soundscape Digital Audio of Belgium

  • Cambridge, U.K.'s CEDAR audio processing workstations, and the SADiE family of audio processing workstations, based in Nashville, TN

  • The SonicSolution family of professional audio restoration software and workstations

Reel to reel and other magnetic audio tape recordings pose problems of their own, and suffer more distinct, common deterioration issues.

Magnetic recording tape was never designed as a long-term storage medium.

The deteriorating condition of most of the magnetic audio tape recording holdings in America and around the world is primarily attributable to a single issue: proper storage and handling. Tape is not physically remarkable. Tape -- in and of itself -- makes no sound, provides no picture, and to the casual observer appears unchanged over time. But as with many other older storage technologies, magnetic tape decays when exposed to harmful environments.

There are three primary environmental factors that cause tape to decay:

  • Moisture can be absorbed directly from the air. This causes a chemical reaction called binder hydrolysis. Molecules in the recording and backing layers interact with ambient moisture and break down, leaving a sticky residue. Eventually the tape becomes too sticky to use. Binder hydrolysis is the factor most experts use in predicting the life expectancy of magnetic tape. This process is commonly referred to as 'sticky tape syndrome'.
  • Heat aggravates binder hydrolysis. It also causes tape to expand and contract producing creases, stretching and structural damage.
  • Dirt and debris contaminate the surface of the tape and block playback machinery from reading the signal. A single speck of dust is 10 times larger than is necessary to block the signal on a tape. Dirt also gets inside tape wraps, causing deformation and abrasion of the tape surface.

Storage environments must be cool, dry, clean and relatively stable to maintain tape in good condition. Proper storage can extend tape life by years or even decades. If you're already experiencing playback issues with some of your tapes, you should consider taking action now before additional tapes deteriorate.

There are a few simple tests you can perform to help warn of danger:

  • Walk around the area where your tapes are stored. If normal activity causes you to sweat, cough or sneeze, the environment is damaging your tapes.
  • Open the container in which a tape is stored and sniff the tape. If you detect a smell that can be characterized as "waxy," "dirty socks," "astringent/pungent" or "vinegar" your tape is beginning to chemically decay.
  • Check the interior of the container and any visible tape. Everything should look clean and uniform. If something catches your eye, it probably shouldn’t be there.

The other crucial issue in preserving or restoring magnetic audio tapes is ensuring that the tape is rewound correctly prior to every return to it's storage repository. Simply playing and rewinding the tape is not sufficient to ensure that it's rewound safely. There are three essential geometries to observe to ensure that your audio tapes are correctly and safely rewound in relation to the flange and hub -- pack slip, popped strands, and flange slip:

All above illustrations are from the
'Magnetic Tape Storage and Handling Guide', published by
The Commission on Preservation and Access,
copyright 1995
(Click Here for a copy of The Magnetic Storage and Handling Guide in .pdf)

As indicated in Figure 7 above, improper rewinding, can place harmful additional stresses on tape reels, accelerating the deterioration processes. This is as much a by product of misaligned head, drum, guide pin and capstan geometries, as well as poorly maintained tape transport motors, pulleys and belts.

Many of the above LP disc and transcription disc technologies can be employed to restore, rehabilitate, and maintain magnetic tape media. As must seem apparent from the above discussion, proper maintenance of tape transport mechanisms is absolutely essential prior to any attempts to restore magnetic tape media. In addition, we can't stress enough that issues such as 'sticky tape syndrome' are best resolved by specialists with the type of equipment and experience needed to best enhance your hopes of successful restoring or rehabilitating valuable magnetic tape media.

Religiously adhering to the suggestions for tape handling and retensioning are also essential to any effort to rehabilitate marginal tape media. Retransferring magnetic tape media is the next logical step in fully restoring magnetic tape media recordings after activities such as cleanup and preservation have been optimally applied.

As must be apparent from the above, Restoration activities, Cleanup activities, and Preservation activities share some equipment in common. But there are also specialized technologies and equipment most appropriately suited to both physical cleanup of salvageable media, as well as a wealth of digital cleanup software and software/equipment combinations targeted towards specific cleanup activities.

For Transcription Discs and Vinyl LPs:

As applies to magnetic auto tape media cleanup, the following specialized technologies may also prove invaluable:

As a valuable adjunct to these software/hardware system technologies, there are a growing number of software-only solutions available for digitized media transfer and cleanup. This collection of technologies would also include the growing selection of cleaning solutions and products targeted towards specific media.

Many of the Restoration and Cleanup technologies and equipment can prove just as useful as Preservation technologies. The added technologies in this area would be those technologies specifically applicable to sealing, rehabilitating, retransferring, and forensically retrieving or reassembling audio content by digital means.

This suite of tools and technologies would also encompass media preservation preparations and chemicals, specifically targeted towards enduring preservation of otherwise fragile media, as well as protecting the resulting media in an effort to arrest or at least limit any possibility of further deterioration of preserved media.

Archiving equipment, software and technologies are the most rapidly evolving sector due in large part to the expanding awareness of and sensitivity to the very fragile nature of many of our most valuable respositories of recorded media -- digital, audio, video, photographic, and print.

We'll be exploring the following technologies in greater depth as this feature evolves:

  • "Thumb Drives" also called solid-state digital USB storage devices. With their dramatically added capacity in recent years, you'll find thumb drives that will hold as much as 256 gigabytes now.

  • External USB or Firewire based storage drives -- both hard drives and CD/DVD read/write drives (both single layer and dual layer technologies)

  • High capacity micro-drives (2.5" to 1.4" platter hard drives) and CF II Slot microdrives. Useful for both cameras now, as well as increased capacites up to 30 gigabytes now. 2.5" External drives are now at capacities of 1.5 Terabytes, for around $200.00.

  • Solid state memory storage employing permanent, solid-state memory chips, as well approaching capacities of up to 16 gigabyes.

  • Remote, off-site storage providers and streaming media repositories
  • Magneto-Optical, high density storage drives and media

  • Solid state and hard-drive powered standalone .mp3 media players such as the iPod, iPod Touch, Zune, and Rio player families. Indeed even cell telephones these days serve equally well as mp3 storage and player resources.

As these technologies continue to evolve, we're seeing even higher data densities and speed in the solid state devices and higher areal densities, spindle speeds and cache sizes in the hard drive based, stand alone players. The iPod as a case in point, currently employs the Hitachi family of high-speed, 1.4" and 2.5" form-factor hard drives with as many as 3 internal platters, and with the following specifications:

  • 7200 rpm spindle speed
  • 32 Mb cache
  • Exceptionally quiet operation
  • 4 Mb, 20 Mb 40 Mb 80Mb and 160 Mb (the iPod Photo) storage capacities, depending on the number of internal disc platters
  • High areal density

Likewise, DVD burners are also undergoing a dramatic increase in both capacity and speed. The current state of the art is the Dual-Layer, multi-standard, 16X Single Layer and 8x Dual-Layer DVD+R, DVD-R, DVD-RW burners capable of also burning CD's at 24X speeds. These burners can create single-layer DVD's archiving as many as 500 Golden Age Radio episodes (200 - 300 hours),or a dual-layer DVD archiving as many as 1000 Golden Age Radio episodes (400 to 600 hours).

This family of technologies is the ultimate reward from our diligent stewardship and preservation efforts -- the payoff, if you will. And by extension, this equipment and these technologies tend to be the most tangibly fun and creative aspects of the hobby. Having devoted so much effort and stewardship to the research, restoration, cleanup, preservation, and systematic archiving of these irreplaceable media, the ultimate enjoyment of the resulting audio archives should be enjoyed to the very fullest, by employing the best -- and most appropriate -- audio reproduction systems and technologies that we can reasonably afford.

There are as many preferences in this aspect of the hobby as there are available technologies for enjoying them. While there are precious few recordings that can be rehabilitated to the level of 'audiophile' quality, the vast majority of us not only tolerate, but take great pleasure in the many audio artifacts that remain in even the most meticulously restored and preserved Golden Age Audio recordings. This is how many of us heard them as children and young adults, and it's these very authentic audio shortcomings that provide the most visceral experience of the memories we share of the quality of first generation radio transmissions that we experienced firsthand.

The technologies with which to enjoy these Golden Age gems will range from iPods and other dedicated, portable .mp3 media players filled with our favorite Golden Age shows to the full-blown, all out media rooms currently in fashion among those blessed with the means to assemble them.

Somewhere in between these extremes, we each tend to find that combination of audio reproduction technologies that are both most appropriate to our budgets, as well as most appropriate to the nature of the material contained within this class of recordings.

In this regard, I suppose I tend to be more of a radio nostalgia traditionalist. My Dream System for Golden Age Radio audio reproduction would be somewhere along the following lines:

  1. The finest flush-mounted speaker system I could practically afford, in as many rooms of my home as practical.
  2. A wireless transmission network with which to transmit the resulting audio through as much of my home as practical
  3. A means of selecting or controlling the available selection of my recorded material from as many places in my home as possible, and if practical, a means of selecting alternative selections in different areas of my home, by any of it's inhabitants or guests
  4. And last, but by no means least, the centerpieces of the system; two or more classic antique tabletop, cathedral or console radio restorations from which to experience and enjoy these recordings, complete with glowing dials, and the auditory pleasure that can only be obtained or reproduced by genuine, authentic tube amplification and audio transmission. Of course these radios would contain dedicated computers, hard drives and DVD drives inside, remotely controlled and programmed by a dedicated programming computer -- preferably a laptop or handheld computer. The ultimate bonus would be a fully restored and functional world band tuner and state of the art external antenna

There's my Dream System. Yours will vary to suit your own tastes or loyalties to a particular sound reproduction technology. But for me, reproducing as much of the entire visceral experience of Golden Age Radio audio reproduction is my personal Holy Grail. You'll note the absence of any specific high-end stereo reproduction technologies, since the vast majority of Golden Age Radio recordings are monophonic. Those few stereo-broadcast shows originated during the era will do just fine with the 6 yr old Sony amplifier/receiver in my entertainment system. But if played through an updated antique classic radio console or tabletop radio, the sweetness of the tube-amplified circuitry would more than compensate for any loss in discrete stereo reproduction.

At some point in time, I think I'd take great pleasure in operating my own micro-transmitting station as well for the potential enjoyment of others, as well as providing a means of exposing yet more new Golden Age Radio devotees to this amazing time capsule of our history -- and it's values.

So let's explore what's both currently available, as well as what's on the horizon among those emerging technologies best suited to the reproduction and enjoyment of Golden Age Radio recordings. Here's a taste of the one's we'll be exploring as this feature expands:

(Roll over above for selections)

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