Ongoing History of New Music

Ongoing History Daily: Cool History of Audio Tape, Part 2

The first recordings on magnetic tape weren’t done on tape at all; they were done on magnetized rolls of wire.  By the end of the 1920s, the technology had evolved to using tape–but the tape was made of steel. 

It worked reasonably well, but the tape came on reels that were two feet wide and could only hold 50 minutes’ worth of material.  And to make things even more interesting, the machines ran at 1.5 metres per second.  Can you imagine having to work on a tape machine with a thin strand of tape running past you at that speed? 

No wonder they had cages built around them.  And yes, you could edit this tape, but you needed a soldering gun and a welding torch. 

More on the history of audio tape next time.

Check out Ongoing History Daily: Cool History of Audio Tape Part 1 here

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38562 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

One thought on “Ongoing History Daily: Cool History of Audio Tape, Part 2

  • Hey, Alan. I haven’t listened yet, but a friend of mine did his Master’s thesis on audiotape. FWIW, he told me he’d interviewed an old guy (American, I think in the Army at the time?) who’d figured out the magnetic tape needed a coating so the rust particles wouldn’t rub off. There was a bottle of floor wax nearby, so he dipped his index finger and thumb in the liquid wax, and spun the reel of tape between his fingers, let it dry, and voila. The rest is history.


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