A Moment in Recorded History Goes Up in Smoke

Plus, two ideas to improve your comfort and your monitoring ability
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Our next radio origin story comes from Henry Engineering’s Hank Landsberg.

Hank writes that it’s 1963, and he’s 11 years old. He’s hanging with his best friend Dave at his house in Pasadena, Calif. Known by Dave’s mom as “Junior Scientists,” they are frequently experimenting with electrical and audio stuff, building mic mixers, fixing phonographs, running wires for speakers throughout the house and just having fun.

One evening, Dave’s dad brings home the coolest, most awesome “audio toy,” a SoundScriber office dictating machine. This large, heavy machine was built in the early 1950s and used by executives to dictate letters for their secretaries. What gave the SoundScriber machine its endless possibilities as a creative toy was the medium upon which it recorded sound: a vinyl record. The “recording blank” was a thin, flexible vinyl disc. It was green in color, 7 inches in diameter, with a quarter-inch, square center hole.

The SoundScriber machine looked like a phonograph but had two “tonearms,” one for recording audio onto the disc, the second for playing it back. It recorded audio by embossing grooves into the soft vinyl material. The grooves were very closely-spaced, not unlike a microgroove LP. The machine’s turntable ran at 33 1/3 rpm so the record, once recorded, could be played on any phonograph.

Two 11 year-old kids now had the ability to make their own phonograph records! Nothing could be cooler for a couple of creative minds.

Thankfully, the gift of the SoundScriber machine included a box of recording blanks, and Dave and Hank immediately began to record all sorts of interesting stuff, including sound effects. They also created “radio shows” by mixing in music and effects.

After a few weeks of producing a library of audio adventures, a crisis arose: The box of recording blanks was empty! The manufacturer had discontinued production of the green vinyl discs, and the machine itself was no longer in production.

Now what? The boys had a good machine to make records, but nothing to record them on. The Junior Scientists got to work finding an alternative — like flattened pie tins since the grooves were embossed, not cut! The pie tins worked OK, but were very noisy.

On to the next solution: re-using the existing vinyl discs. By heating up the vinyl, perhaps it would soften and the grooves would disappear.

To a way to warm up the vinyl: A saucepan inverted on a stove burner kept the vinyl from getting too hot. The process was slow, so the boys got distracted, leaving the kitchen for a while. Laden with groceries, Dave’s mom came home, opened the door and was greeted with an acrid, throat-searing stench. (Hank adds it was probably highly toxic, too.)

The kitchen was filling with smoke, and the green vinyl is bubbling away. The goo was dripping down the pan onto the stove, and the kitchen ceiling was covered with a thick black soot. At this point, Hank high-tailed it out of there, leaving poor Dave to take the brunt of his mom’s anger. But there was plenty for the both of them, as she called Hank’s mother, who was armed with a few choice words of her own for Hank when he returned home.

And that was the day their recording career ended in a blaze of black smoke and green vinyl glory.

A week later, the whole event was behind them. Hank was re-welcomed to Dave’s house, and he and Hank remain very good friends to this day. But they never tried to melt records on mom’s stove again.

Hank has recently updated the Henry website; check it out at https://henryeng.com.

 

Alpha Media Fredericksburg’s John Diamantis found a tractor seat cushioned drum stool at a music supply store. Manufactured by PDP and shown below, the stool is ideal for punching down analog/Cat-6 wires or for extended computer programming.

Use a PDP Drum Stool for support when working in a rack.

Use a PDP Drum Stool for support when working in a rack.

As you can see, the drummer’s stool with the tractor seat is sold for just under $100; plain cushioned drummer’s stools are in the $30 price range. The stool beats sitting on the floor to do your work.

 

Rural Florida Communications Cooperative’s Wayne Eckert responds to our temperature monitoring topic from the Sept. 12 column.

He says there is a simple and inexpensive way to monitor temperature anywhere using an LM34 Precision Fahrenheit Temperature Sensor. This is a low-draw linear chip that can be powered with from 5 to 30 VDC, and outputs a voltage that matches one to one the temperature it senses, +10 mV per degree.

Here is a link to the Texas Instruments data sheet, which explains its operation and provides example schematics: https://tinyurl.com/y9xwr4ns. And this link takes you to Digikey, where you can purchase the LM34: https://tinyurl.com/yaxvc9p4.

Contribute to Workbench. You’ll help fellow engineers and qualify for SBE recertification credit. Send Workbench tips and high-resolution photos to johnpbisset@gmail.com. Fax to (603) 472-4944.

Author John Bisset has spent 48 years in the broadcasting industry and is still learning. He handles Western U.S. radio sales for the Telos Alliance. He is SBE certified and is a past recipient of the SBE’s Educator of the Year Award.

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