Part 1 _ Wire recorders
When I was a kid back in about 1949 or so, we were all very excited because my Dad had acquired a Webster wire recorder. Up until then, the only recordings we ever heard were on gramophone records but that’s a whole ‘nother story.
The Webster was an American machine in a box with a flat top. Against the back edge of the top but central between the sides was a record/playback head. Silver wire was drawn from a bobbin on the left of the deck, passed through a groove in the head and rolled up onto an initially empty spool on the right hand side. During recording, the sound from the microphone amplifier or radio created a magnetic field in the groove of the head and as the wire passed the head, it was magnetized to a varying degree in accordance with the sound. Later, the same wire could be run past the same head and it would create an electrical signal in proportion to the magnetism in the wire, thereby theoretically reproducing the original sound. The wire would frequently break or stick, and the speed would vary depending on mechanical limitations in the system. The playback sounded pretty lousy. It was also true that the magnetism induced in the wire did not stay exactly where it was put because each particle of the wire slightly re-magnetized the adjoining particles. In other words, the magnetism spread in the wire to some extent and this caused a loss of fidelity when the wire was played back.
Everybody had lots of fun sending each other recorded messages etc but the wire recorder wasn’t much good for anything else. You couldn’t go down to the store and buy a piece of music recorded on wire. A better system was needed and sometime in the 50s or so, domestic tape recorders started to become available. Professional tape recording had been around since the 1930s but home equipment only happened about 20 years later. It was better than wire for various reasons. The tape was made of an acetate base of some sort with a layer of very fine metallic dust embedded into a varnish-like surface. The tape would be passed over a recording head and the magnetic field in the head would magnetize the separate metallic particles in the surface layer. Because these were not touching each other, the magnetism could not easily spread through the tape and the reproduction was very much better that wire recording. The system was however still fraught with problems and the quality was still not good.
But more about that in a few days time.