This is the second in a series of articles about my recent quest to replace a broken VCR in this era of DVDs, DVRs, and other newfangled gadgets. Click here for the beginning of the series.
I’ve always been fascinated by tape recording ever since I was about four years old and our family friend Stu Byram recorded me singing “I’m a Little Teapot” on an old reel-to-reel tape recorder. When I was about 8 or 9 years old I got a small 3-1/2″ reel-to-reel machine for my birthday. Being the pioneer that I am… I remember taking the tape recorder to the drive-in movie with me to record music from movies like “Mary Poppins” and “AHard Day’s Night“. I swear I’ve never taken a camcorder into a movie theater but I sure was ahead of my time when it came to bootleg soundtracks. It’s a shame that drive-in movies are so rare these days. It sure would be easy to sneak in your camcorder into a drive-in. However the sound quality sure would leave a lot to be desired.
When I was about 12 or 13 years old I moved up to a regular audio cassette player/recorder with a built-in AM/FM radio and my bootlegging ways continued. I would sit there listening to the FM radio waiting for my favorite songs to come on and I would flip it to record as the song started. In fact I would sit there for hours sometimes hitting record just as the DJ would stop talking in hopes that I could catch more of the beginning of the song. If it was a song I didn’t want or already had, I would simply stop the tape, backup little bit, and cue it up for the next song. I was very popular among the kids in the neighborhood because I had a great collection of the latest music and it didn’t cost me a dime.
Another favorite pastime I had was making comedy recordings in the form of a man-on-the-street interview where all the answers to my questions were a line out of a song. I had figured out how to wire into my record player so that I could directly connect it to my tape recorder even though the record player didn’t have a “line out” jack. I would use a microphone to ask a question like “What is your name Miss?” And then I would record a brief few seconds from the Beatles song “Elinor Rigby” from a 45 rpm record. I would then ask “How are you today?” And I would play few seconds of James Brown screaming “I feel good!” And the comedy would deteriorate from there.
I always figured if I was a little bit smarter I could figure out how to connect a television to a cassette recorder but of course if that was possible, somebody would have done it. Audio cassette recorders barely have enough capability to record decent audio let alone the amount of bandwidth you needed to do video.
It turns out that in 1987 Fisher Price did make a toy black-and-white camcorder that used a standard audio cassette for recording. It was called the PXL-2000 PixelVision KiddieCorder. I never owned one because by that time I already had a real camcorder. But I always thought it was great they figured out how to do it. One recently sold on eBay for about $50. Also check out this article from Wikipedia.
Later in high school my fascination with video recording led me to hangout briefly with the high school Audiovisual Club at Northwest High School even though it was the nerdiest group of people in the school. They had a black-and-white camera and video tape recorder that they used to tape basketball and football games for the coaches. Unfortunately all of the tape to place high in the bleachers or a press box so I couldn’t help out with that and I really didn’t have much time to participate in extracurricular activities because the bus would pick me up about 15 or 20 minutes after my last class.
It wasn’t until the early 1980s that my dream of video recording in the home would come through when I purchased my first VCR. Read all about that in our next installment.