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Significant Innovations 1950s-70s

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Tape recorders mid-20th century

Reel-to-reel tape recorders

When I first knew my husband, he had what was known as a tape recorder - although a tape recorder/player or reel-to-reel recorder/player might have been more descriptive.

There was no-one else I knew who had such a thing. He had built it himself from parts which were available in specialist electronics shops which grew out of war surplus shops.

I suppose that ready-made tape recorders must have been on sale, but they would have been very expensive, and I never saw any.

The appearance of reel-to-reel tape recorders

Early reel to reel tape recorder/player

Early reel tape recorder/player, screen shot from an old film

A reel-to-reel tape-recorder was a bulky thing, very like the one in the photo.

How the reel-to-reel tape recorder was used

In use, a full reel of tape on one side of the machine wound onto an empty reel on the other side. Before re-use, it had to be re-wound.

For recording, a reel-to-reel tape recorder was used either with a separate large microphone to record people singing, what they were saying or music straight from a radio. Playback normally required a separate speaker which was also bulky.

Reel to reel tapes

Blank tapes were available for purchase, but I am reasonably certain that there were no music tapes on sale anywhere. These tapes were bulky and sold open on their reels with no protection other than the reel itself - see the above picture.

Broken tapes

The tension of the tapes had to be just right. If it wasn't, the tape tied itself up in knots or broke.

Cassette tape recorder/players

Smaller cassette tape recorders/players were about a decade away. Only at that stage did the older tape recorders/players described above get their 'reel-to-reel' name.


If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased if you would contact me.


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