Monday, February 17, 2014

Digitizing “Old School” - or - Where There’s a Will There’s a Way

I got a new laptop this last Christmas to replace my old dinosaur of a desktop, and the change has been marvelous. I love the increased speed and portability. There have been a few drawbacks as well, though. So many of the external devices that worked so well on my old computer just can’t be made to work on this one. First it was my scanner—a hardship for a genealogist, but one I rather expected because that scanner is close to twenty years old. It was a little more surprising that the printer wouldn’t work, but I’m still holding out hope for that one, having not yet tried everything.

Then this weekend came another big test. I located another cassette tape of an interview with Uncle Lowell. Somehow this one had been missed several years ago when I was digitizing all the family tapes. Would my analog converter work with my new computer? It was worth a try. After spending the day going back and forth between home and the library (because I currently am waiting for my new router to arrive in the mail, but in the meantime have no internet access at home), I was able to get the software working, and it said the device driver was properly installed, but I couldn’t get the program to recognize it in practicality.

And then I discovered there was yet another problem. My old trusty stereo system was turning on me. For some unfathomable reason, when I put it in “tape” mode—and only in “tape” mode—after about five minutes of perfect cooperation, it begins a loud, high-pitched humming. This goes on whether a tape is playing or not. So, even the idea of just putting my ipod next to the speakers and being really quiet while the tape was playing wouldn’t work.

But the idea wasn’t a bad one. After all, that’s how we recorded Grandpa’s records onto cassette tapes for me when I was a little kid. We had gone over to Grandma and Grandpa’s house, picked out some records to play on their record player, set up Mom’s boom box to record them, and danced as quietly as we could around the living room while recording the likes of Perry Como singing “The Wang Dang Taffy Apple Tango” or the McGuire Sisters singing “Space in a Spaceship.” (I still know all the words to both of those songs.) But wait—I have that very boom box in my possession. It’s speakers aren’t as good as my stereo, but they might be good enough, or I might even be able to hook it up to the stereo. I decided to try it the simple way first. Now, this boom box is quite possibly older than I am, and was in its time known not as a boom box but as a ghetto blaster. The thing will play the radio, cassettes, or 8-tracks, which is really the main reason I still have it. You never know when you might suddenly need to play an 8-track. But when I put the cassette tape in, I observed that the machine was showing its age a little bit. There was a grinding noise at a certain point in each revolution of the heads, and no amount of head cleaning seemed to be able to put a stop to it. What was I to do now?

I had just one more chance: my truck. It has a tape deck. Sitting for a half-hour at a time in my truck in my driveway with the motor turned off wasn’t quite how I had envisioned my evening, but that was how I spent it (to the amusement of my neighbors, perhaps). I turned up the volume full-blast, perched my ipod (in voice memo record mode) on the dashboard equidistant between the two speakers, and proceeded to listen to and rerecord voices from the past.

The recordings turned out remarkably well considering how they were made. There is a little more background noise than if I had been able to feed it directly into the computer, but it will do quite nicely for the time being. Perhaps I should try a similar method with some of my favorite records!

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