Modern media diets can leave little to the imagination – our Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook photos are strewn about like cheap digital confetti.
The means to access nearly any voice, practically any song recorded sits neatly in our pockets and purses. For the kids of today, even CDs and VHS tapes must feel archaic, like something grandpa had to walk 10 miles uphill to buy at a ghostly Sam Goody.
And so, consider if you will, a long-used but now relatively-rare audio recording format: the wire recorder. Invented in 1898, the recorders pull a small metal wire across a recording head that magnetized the wire in accordance with the sound signal it was receiving. Wire recordings saw significant use in both World Wars and eventually made their way into American homes for personal use, with their popularity fading into obscurity in the 1960s and 1970s.
Through a bit of luck, Two Squares, a Brooklyn Park-based media conversion company, 6272 Boone Ave. N., acquired a functional wire recorder and player and is now offering conversion services.
“These kinds of recorders, there’s not that many of them around,” said Aaron Cackoski, production manager for Two Squares. “We had a customer who, her dad was involved in the early documentation of music. And so, during World War II, there was a kind of embargo culturally between America and Japan. And so there were all these Japanese composers that were making music, and her dad was kind of an audiophile guy. He was one of the first people to bring that culture back to America, so we converted some reels of old Japanese composer music.
“That was kind of his thing,” Cackoski continued. “He was the guy that got this, and then he moved on to being involved with other types of recordings and stuff through his career … she had her dad’s old recordings, and he had long passed, and so it was, ‘How do we hear what this is?’ And of course, once we had converted it, she didn’t have a whole lot of use for [the wire recorder] anymore, so we were able to get a piece that’s really in almost in perfect condition because it was a personal item.”
While earlier recordings were often made with wax cylinders, wire recorders offered a much more durable medium by which to transport audio, particularly for military applications, Cackoski said.
“Around the World War I and II era, this was huge for [the] military because now they’ve got all these audio recordings they need, and it’s on this durable hunk of wire that’s going to be able to go through seas and whatnot,” he said.
Two Square’s Webster Chicago-branded wire recorder, produced in approximately 1945, came complete with instruction manuals and hang tags.
“There’s not a lot of places that can do this. We’re probably one of maybe a handful in the country that have the ability to do these,” Cackoski said. “It’s almost like a museum piece, you know, you go through a broadcast museum and you see these things and go, ‘What is this?’”
Unlike some wire recorder units with built-in speakers, this unit has a custom cord allowing it to directly connect to Two Square’s digital recording interfaces.
Mike Fette, owner of Two Square, said he is curious how the recorder will impact its national business.
“To find this unit was kind of a big deal for us,” he said. “It’s pretty exciting to find this opportunity.”
Two Square is able to convert audio from a wire recording to a modern format, such as a digital file or CD for $50 per reel.
The technology used to create recordings on wire recorders eventually migrated to reel-to-reel style tape recordings.
Two Squares is no stranger to out of the ordinary media forms. A customer, “an older guy, maybe in his 50s or 60s. He had this old tin in his refrigerator since he was a kid, he remembered his mom putting it in there. He brought it into us, and it was an old 16mm film, but he goes, ‘I’ve never seen this, I’ve had it my whole life.’ It was old, Nazi-era films from when they had the Olympics in Germany––a propaganda film for the Olympics,” Cackoski said.
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