Before getting to the items I'm pulling out of my collection today, I wanted to respond to a couple of inquiries about just want is in these "Reel-To-Reel Catacombs" of mine. I can't really break the contents down into any categories or amounts, but thought the next best thing might be to offer up pictures of some of what's in my basement:
A significant percentage of these tapes are either unlistened as of yet, or have been simply scanned in order for me to get an idea of what they contain. This is one thing I'll be doing for the rest of my life. And now, on with the countdown...
I'm always excited to come across reel to reel tapes where the recording surface is on paper backing. As far as I know, only the earliest commercial tapes were produced in this way. The tape was not only more prone than later tapes to breaking under certain types of stress, but it also had the unfortunate tendency to simply tear. A fairly quick change over to a series of plastics and polyesters as backing solved this latter problem. I'm not quite sure when paper backed reels stopped being sold, but I don't think I've seen any that appear to be from later than about 1950 or 1951.
The result is that most of the paper reels in my collection contain recordings that are now more than 60 years old. And if they are media recordings, they are much cleaner, clearer reproductions of those broadcasts than any other medium that was available at the time. Or even than those which came over the next few decades - vinyl loses sound quality due to surface noise, cassettes deteriorate or get chewed up, videotape degrades. But here is a recording which sounds like it could have been made yesterday - that is if you discount the actual content.
But even that content, as stodgy as it is, may hold a certain fascination for some of you. This recording is of what I believe to be a rural - or at least local - audience participation show, being recorded in the small town of Renner, South Dakota. The host is a big sounding guy named Burl Thompson, who wanders the crowd of women, interviewing each of them with virtually the exact same batch of questions, and tending to answer their answers with a restating of what they just said. The contest is that each of them gets to guess how far along, in percentage of the desired amount, a local charity drive has gotten. After each lady gives her guess, he dedicates a song to her, one which is not heard, as it must have been intended to be "dropped in" later, with this tape stopped for the duration.
Admittedly not the most scintillating stuff, in and of itself, but for what it is, when it's from, and the sound of the material, a bit fascinating despite itself. I doubt there are many older broadcasts available in this sound quality. The main program is followed by about a minute of other material (including the end of another Burl Thompson show), which remained at the end of the reel.
From the "what the hell" file, comes this five inch reel of tape, labeled, as you can see, as "The Barbershopper and His Voice", and containing dozens of examples of the briefest moments of Barbershop harmonies.