Rust Never Sleeps
Posted On: 03/06/2017 - 3:54pm, Posted By: Jim DaMico, Curator of Audio-Visual Collection
One of the collections I get to manage are the Sound Recordings, and as you can imagine, we hold a pretty diverse spectrum of recording technology. Below are a few examples from our Oral History section and a little bit of history about some audiotape technology.
Audiotape is composed of a base, binder and pigment. Historically, the base could be paper polyvinylchloride (PVC), acetate or more commonly, polyester. Except for PVC based tapes, the binder in audiotape is polyurethane.* The most commonly found pigment is ferric oxide, basically iron rust. **
Audio cassettes in archival boxes.
Oral history cassette tapes in archival container. See how snug they are? We want to make sure collection items are not colliding into each other causing undue damage.
National Council of Jewish Women oral history cassette tapes in closed carrying case. Notice the 2 hinges? That shows there are 2 compartments which hold the cassette tapes.
National Council of Jewish Women oral history tapes in carrying case with inventory.
Individual audio cassettes without cases. This non-archival case was purpose built to hold cassettes in 2 sections. The tapes will need to be placed into cassette cases and archival boxes.
Cincinnati Ballet Company Collection. Top of reel to reel audiotape box that contains a recording entitled “Cincinnati Dance #4, 10-31-70”.
The Irish brand of audiotape has its history back to World War II in the studios of Radio Luxembourg and General Dwight Eisenhower’s order that no captured German audiotape was to be used by the Americans to make recordings. This order was the result of a speech recorded in 1945 of Eisenhower by the American Signal Corps on captured German audiotape that had remnants of a speech given by Hitler that came through when it was broadcast to occupied Germany. The recording went undetected by the Americans for several minutes. Needless to say the General was not happy. Producing new audiotape fell to a Major John Herbert Orr, an engineer from Alabama who served in the Psychological Warfare Division. Orr was tasked by Eisenhower to use captured German scientists to setup an American tape manufacturing facility. By 1950, Orr had formed OrRadio Industries to manufacture magnetic audiotape named “Irish” based on German research and development. In 1959, the Ampex Corporation of Redwood, California bought OrRadio Industries and continued to produce the Irish line of audiotape. ***
Cincinnati Ballet Company Collection, # 4. Five inch reel to reel audiotape titled “Cincinnati Dance”, October, 31, 1970.
Box Label: Cincinnati Dance #4, 10-30-70. Miss P.W. Manchester & Thelma Hill (formerly of Alvin Ely Dance Troupe), instructor in modern dance. Outcue: “…Again presents ‘Cincinnati Dance’. “ + Musical tag. Heads up. Stereo. 14:06. Radio-TV-Department University of Cincinnati 21, Ohio.
This represents a pretty typical label found on a reel to reel audio recording. We know the title of the recording: “Cincinnati Dance”; the tape number #4; individuals that may be on the recording: Miss P.W. Manchester and Thelma Hill; which direction the tape is in: Heads up means once you put the reel on a tape machine it will play back without having to be rewound first; type of recording: Stereo (2 channels) and duration: 14:06 (14 minutes and 6 seconds). The recording appears to have been made by the University of Cincinnati’s Radio-TV Department and may contain the musical track that was used in a dance taught by Manchester and Hill.
According to a biography written for the 3 part film, “Free to Dance”, Thelma Hill was an African-American modern dancer that was part of a dance troupe that formed in 1958 and included Alvin Ailey. In the 1960’s Hill’s teaching career included tenure at the University of Cincinnati. ****
For more information:
* "Analog Audio Tape." Analog Audio Tape - Wiki. Accessed February 28, 2017. http://www.conservation-wiki.com/wiki/Analog_Audio_Tape.
**The Free Dictionary. Accessed February 28, 2017. http://www.thefreedictionary.com/ferric oxide.
*** Bal, Marcos Sueiro, and David L. Morton, Jr. "How Irish Tape Saved Civilization." WNYC. Accessed February 28, 2017. http://www.wnyc.org/story/how-irish-tape-saved-civilization/.
*** Morton, David L., Jr. "John Herbert Orr and the Building of the Magnetic Recording Industry, 1945…1960." AES Historical Committee. July 09, 2014. Accessed February 28, 2017. http://aes-media.org/historical/pdf/morton_john-herbert-orr.pdf.
**** Swan, Derry. Great Performances: Free To Dance - Biographies - Thelma Hill. http://www.thirteen.org/freetodance/biographies/hill.html (accessed 2017-02-24).