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September 21, 2011 / Randy Coppinger

Tape Machine Again

Last week I met Ryan Canestro at Aaron Burch’s house to see Aaron’s studio and geek out. Aaron said his reel-to-reel tape deck wasn’t working and wondered if we would have a look at it. But when I asked where he got it, and his answer was my Alma Mater, I got chills.

Otari 5050

Otari 5050

Sure enough, Aaron showed us his Otari 5050, the same recorder from my college radio days. I am positive this is one of the two decks I used to first learn recording and editing over 20 years ago. When I hit the power switch the deck lit right up. Threading tape through the transport mechanism felt instantly familiar, like I had done it before hundreds of times. Well, I had.

Sadly, the transport was sluggish and the unit wouldn’t record, so we couldn’t press it into full service. Now I don’t miss cleaning heads, waiting for the tape to roll back to the top or identifying edits with a grease pencil. And there are certainly better sounding analog tape decks than this model. But I had a good run with the 5050 all those years ago: learning fundamentals, getting work done and creating audio magic.

It was great to hang with Ryan and Aaron that night. But I also felt far away — alone in a little radio studio producing spots — just from seeing that deck again. I’m pretty sure my fondness for old school VU meters can be blamed on this machine.

It’s not just me… these are sexy, right?

Otari 5050 Meters

Otari 5050 Meters

5 Comments

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  1. Matt / Sep 27 2011 5:26 pm

    Crash Coppinger’s still got the touch, eh?

    • Randy Coppinger / Sep 27 2011 5:37 pm

      Heh heh. Apparently I can still thread tape through a half functioning machine. 🙂

  2. chris / Oct 19 2011 10:13 am

    I used a couple in my radio days as well. A few years back, I was gifted with a used, but in mint condition, Akai reel-to-reel machine and a sack full of blank reels as well as commercial productions like Elton John and ELO.

    Back when I was in radio, one of the over-night guys (new guy on the block) called up the PM around midnight and said “the tape ran out on the reel machine…what do I do?” The PM walked him through the process and then said “never call me again.”

    I still can’t believe he was never taught how to thread one of those…or that he couldn’t figure it out on his own.

    • Randy Coppinger / Oct 19 2011 10:31 am

      That’s pretty funny, Chris. I doubt many people have experienced a reel-to-reel deck first hand. Do you ever use that Akai to record or listen?

      • chris / Oct 19 2011 10:42 am

        Many times! Back when I still had a record player (remember those round thin disks!?!), I’d use the record player, tape deck, and CD player to make a mix-reel with the reel always recording while I played from the other sources. Every once in a while, I’ll play one of my early mix reels or something else on a reel.

        I do love the glowing VU meters.

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