The first problem we encountered a few years back is pretty universal these days: Our ancient 8-mm Bell & Howell movie projector no longer worked. It just sat there, frowning at us – no power, no projection lamp, no nothin’! Then, we went searching for a VCR – you remember those, don’t you? We have literally hundreds of VHS and BetaMax tapes gathering dust in the hall closet. But where the heck is the VCR! And those vacation slides? Forget it! I haven’t seen our slide projector in at least twenty years.
Photo albums? What a hassle that is! Some are stored in the attic; some are in the garage; none of them are labeled very well, and all of them are in danger of decomposition! The color is fading; the plastic sheeting covering the pages now sticks to the photos, often making it impossible to move them around. It’s a nightmare! I’m afraid we’ve already lost a ton of memories that my six-year-old grandson will never get to see.
Well, luckily I happen to be in the audio and video production business, and I just happen to have all of the old equipment needed to transfer nearly any medium to the newest formats: From VHS and Beta tapes to DVD; 8-mm or Super 8-mm movies to DVD; photos and slides to CD; audio tapes and discs to CD; and much more. Please excuse my crass commercial plug, but transferring these things has been a wonderful activity over the past couple of decades.
I learned way back in the 1980s that audio and video tapes deteriorate, slides and photos fade, and home movies become practically useless if not stored properly. And all of these media can be damaged or lost. The solution to protecting these priceless memories is to move them onto the newest media available.
As part of my business, I have transferred thousands of tapes, records, movies, and photos for customers around the country. Some of the materials have been difficult to save, but nearly all of them have been engaging to watch and hear.
In the early 1990s I received a 7” reel-to-reel audiotape. The material on the tape was simply an old lady talking. As I listened to the tape, I heard the woman, who sounded quite ancient, describing her father building a privy on the back of their home. She became confused for a moment as she discussed which one of her brothers was helping her dad. “Hmm? Was that John helping out? She wondered. “No, no, that couldn’t have been John; he wasn’t born until ‘98.”
I was confused. I was transferring her tape in 1996. Was she “losing it?” Then, I looked at the tape box and found this information: “Grandma’s 100th Birthday Party – May 12, 1952.” I realized that Grandma’s brother John was born in 1898 not 1998, and that I was listening to the voice of a woman who was born in 1852 … eight years before Lincoln was elected President of the United States! Had Grandma been alive on the day I was transferring her tape to CD, she would have been 144 years old!
Another example of the thrill I experience when transferring old media to new media is typical. I frequently receive small, 3” audiotapes for transfer to CD or, now, mp3 files. I was working on a tape of a soldier who was in Viet Nam in the late 1960s. He and his parents exchanged these small tapes frequently.
On this particular tape, the soldier is describing where he was sitting and what’s going on. Suddenly, we can hear gunfire off in the distance, and the soldier says something like, “Hang on Mom; I’m gonna leave the tape running. ‘Charlie’ (the Viet Cong enemy) is firing on us!”
I then listened to a rather terrifying firefight in Viet Name from more than forty years ago. You can have your “reality TV.” This stuff is magical!
Around Christmas a few years ago, a lady and her husband brought an old transcript record over to my studio. It was basically a round piece of cardboard with a vinyl layer on top. It was in pretty bad shape. The mailing envelope was yellowed, and obviously it had been hit with moisture. The record inside was terribly scratched and damaged. I looked at the date on the envelope; it had been mailed in May 1944.
So, I put on my headphones and worked on the record for about twenty minutes while the lady and her husband sat behind me in the control room. When I had finally resurrected the voices from the record, I turned on the studio speakers and said, “Would you like to hear this?” She nodded, and I hit the play button.
The recording contained two voices – an announcer and a soldier. The record was an example of the kind of patriotism Americans demonstrated during World War II: Pepsi had paid for the American Red Cross to send recording engineers into the European War Zone to capture messages from soldiers to mail back home to family and friends. The Pepsi and the Red Cross logos were printed on the mailing envelope.
As we listened to the short recording – about 3 or 4 minutes – I turned to see the lady with tears streaming down her cheeks. I asked her who the voice on the recording was? She said, “That’s my dad!”
I thought, “wow,” that’s pretty cool. She’s hearing what her dad sounded like, during the war, nearly seventy years ago!
It gets better! Recall that the date on the Red Cross envelope was “May, 1944.” The lady leaned toward me, wiping the tears from her eyes. She continued, “I was born in September, 1944.” She paused for a moment as her husband put his arm around her shoulder. “My dad was killed in action in July, 1944. This is the first time I’ve ever heard my father’s voice.” Did you just experience the same chill running down your spine that I felt at that moment?
Keep those old records, tapes, slides, movies, and photos safe by getting them transferred to new media. I’d be happy to help, of course, and I know of other studios around the country that can also do the work for you. In the meantime, happy holidays!