3517 RALEIGH AVENUE, ST. LOUIS PARK, MN 55416
Sometimes it pays to clean out your closets! Twenty-five years ago Don Betzold donated 16 RCA “Living Stereo” tape cartridges. They were home recordings of KDWB radio broadcasts that he had made off the air when he was a teenager in the 1960s. I thought they were lost until we started cleaning out a couple of rooms to make way for a major remodeling project. The rediscovery of these tapes inspired us to start looking for a machine that would play them.
This Bell No. 406 STEREO-PAK tape cartridge player had been sitting in a box in the warehouse for almost as long as we’ve had the tapes. It was in nearly mint condition and had a lot of potential. Although it was an early solid state design, hastily slapped together to get it on the market, the belts were good, so we rebuilt it.
Notations on the tapes were tantalizing. Initials like RC, LD, CB, SS, JO, and LR gave us little clue as to their meaning until we got to DKM, which had to be Donald K. Martin. Finally, one of the tapes had the names fully spelled out: Randy Cook, Larry Duke, Charlee Brown, Sam Sherwood, James Francis Patrick O’Neill, and Lou Riegert, the KDWB “Boss-Jocks” of the day.
Imagine our surprise when we started to play back the first tape and heard Larry Duke’s voice announcing that ticket sales had begun for the 1965 Beatles concert. What a goldmine! And what an interesting time for this to happen, almost 50 years to the day since the Beatles’ one and only concert here in the Twin Cities.
In spite of all our work, the first tape sounded pretty bad. We decided to rebuild another of the machines that we have here.
Our next choice was an RCA RS-195 portable. Although it looks like a cheap set, it’s actually well made, using a power transformer and all-triode amplification. Unfortunately, the tapes sounded as bad as they did on the Bell. Digging a little deeper we found a pre-recorded cassette that sounded good, leaving us to conclude that the tape we were listening to was simply poorly recorded.
The good news is that there are 15 more tapes, and since they’re really just quarter-inch standard tape running at 3.75 ips, we’ll try removing one of them from the cassette case and play it on a conventional reel-to-reel machine.
The RCA tape cartridge (also known as the Magazine Loading Cartridge Tape) was designed to offer quarter-inch reel-to-reel quality in a convenient format. It was introduced in 1958, the same year as stereo records. Like quarter-track stereo, the cartridge format offered four discrete audio tracks that provided a typical playtime of 30 minutes of stereo sound per side. The format never really caught on and was discontinued in 1964.