By Norris Chambers


            Recorders come in all shapes and sizes now and record sound and video as well as other useful information. We Old Timers can remember when we began to see recordings  – usually on an old phonograph that played a cylinder type record.  For over seventy years I have been working and playing with many kinds of recorders. In this old tale I will tell you about my first experience with recording.

            The first recorder that I had experience with was very simple. A recording kit consisted of a phonograph needle with a sharp point and a flattened side that permitted it to be installed in the phonograph reproducer arm in the correct position. Also included in the kit was a package of flat, round records with an aluminum base and a coating of hardened wax or acetate. The coating was pre-grooved with the spiral pattern of an old 78 rpm recoding. These pre-grooved records were available in either 6”, 10” or 12” sizes. The recording needle in the reproducing arm vibrated back and forth and cut indentations in the sides of the groove as it rotated at the regular speed of seventy-eight revolutions per minute. The vibration of the needle was caused by the sound entering the horn that normally emitted music. In other words, when someone spoke or made a sound the phonograph’s horn captured the sound waves and caused the cutting needle to vibrate from side to side. This recorded the sound. When played back with a regular needle the sound was almost as loud as a regular commercial recording.

We had a console phonograph about three and half feet tall. A lid on top was raised to access the turntable and a crank on the side wound a spring that would play two regular recordings without rewinding. There was a nice grill and a record storage compartment on the front.

When the recording kit that I had ordered came I installed the needle and said a few words to see if it would work. When I changed the needle and played the record we were amazed at how well it performed.

Since I had been trying to learn to play a fiddle and my mother played the piano we slid the phonograph across the room to the piano and proceeded to see how well it would record our music. We made several records and were well pleased with the opportunity to hear our voices for the first time. By today’s standards the quality would be poor but it was almost as good as the commercial records we bought. In those days even  the master copy for commercial records was recorded with a similar instrument.

I still have copies of those records we made so long ago. The quality has deteriorated but the songs are still understandable. I later copied them to tape and to CD. I am making the very first recording available for easy listening  on the Internet - just go to www.norrisc.com/single.mp3 and listen!

After that first recording experience I have worked with many types of recorders, including the old Western Electric Professional, the Ampex Professional Video, and all kinds of tape, wire and digital recorders. The superb performance of these excellent machines has failed to excite me like hearing my voice for the first time.

When I listen to those old records and many of the newer ones I can see why I never succeeded as a singer or a fiddle player!

If recording and playback improves as much in the next seventy years as it has in the last seventy what will the folks be seeing and hearing then? When watching a 3-D video and a man gets hit will the audience feel the pain? If a skunk walks by will they smell the odor? If they are watching a snow scene will they get cold? Will they feel the heat if a building is burning? If it rains will they get wet?

Well, something has to change. Wouldn’t something like that be a lot of fun?  Maybe we had more fun with the old phonograph recorders!