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
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.
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.