Tape Recorders - History of Tape Recorders

Tape Recorders

Digital records, mp3s, and Internet music players dominate the entertainment scene of today. Rapid technological advancements have left the tape players from the 80s forgotten in thrift stores and buried in cardboard garage boxes. However, without their creation, and their history, modern technology would not exist.

Alexander Graham Bell patented the first tape recorder in 1886. It consisted of a beeswax covered paper strip. To record sounds, this strip ran underneath a sharp needle sensitive to sound vibrations. Therefore, whenever a sound was made, the vibrations resulted in the needled forming a unique pattern on the wax strip. To play back the sound, the same strip just needed to be fed under a rubber stylus, which worked to reproduce the sounds by funneling them through a long tube to the listener's ear. Although effective, this construction was never made commercially available.

The development of the more modern magnetic recorder was implemented by Valdemar Poulsen in 1898. Instead of a wax-covered strip, this design used magnetic tape coated with a moveable magnetic material. To record sound, an electrical signal was produced, representing the sound, and a pattern would form on the magnetic strip. This could be played back through a reader that decoded the pattern back into sound.

It took until the 1940s before the magnetic recorder approach began to advance the recording field. Bing Crosby, a famous movie and singer star from that time period, was tired of having to perform all of his shows live. At that time, all of radio was performed live, as the quality of recorded shows was quite low. Bing worked for two years to persuade NBC to allow him to record his show. Finally, in October of 1947 Crosby was asked to test a new recorder and to pre-record his show. It was a huge success, and introduced a new ability to edit audience laughter and responses at will. Soon, every actor was crying out to use a recorder for his or her show.

Over the next fifty years, tape recorders continued to develop and became quite diverse. Eventually, there were two-track and multi-track recorders able to record and play multiple channels. Some were even developed to be controlled by an external computer! Today, a large variety of these machines still exist for recording and playback of music. Although considered vintage, these devices were crucial to the current success experienced today by a variety of different television, radio, and video productions.

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