Tech Thursday: Reel to Reel Digital Preservation


Many collections in the Woodson contain open-reel tape recordings, but we unfortunately lacked the means to listen to them. These recordings languished for years, slowly disintegrating, but all of that is about to change. This summer, Will Robedee, the KTRU station general manager, donated a reel to reel tape player to the Woodon. The player was sent to Tom Tran at Save on Sound, a local expert on the maintenance and repair of all things audio, and came back ready to work last week. Currently located in the Digital Curation Lab, the Woodson’s Norie Guthrie and Fondren Cataloging and Metadata Services’ Scott Carlson began testing a process for digitizing and preserving these recordings. Given the player’s provenance, it’s fitting that Norie chose to start with a few samples of audio recordings from the Rice University KTRU Radio records.


The reels are mounted on the player, an OTARI MX-5050, and the audio is sent through a receiver to a Tascam Audio Interface, which is connected to a computer via USB. Using Audacity, metadata can be embedded into the audio files, which are saved in WAV format.



The information on open reel tapes is stored in the magnetic coating, which degrades over time. This kind of project is crucial for preserving the recorded information. The KTRU tapes were already in a bad way. After one play through the leader ends fell off and tiny shreds of the magnetic coating were accumulating on the cart, but thanks to Norie and Scott, the recordings are safe even if the original tape is lost.IMG_9744

Scott and Norie are the authors of Indie Preserves, a preservation blog geared towards independent musicians and labels. You can check out their amazing work here.

For a great post on the recordings (and a better picture of the setup), check out Rice History Corner.

One thought on “Tech Thursday: Reel to Reel Digital Preservation

  1. Good to see that the actual machine KTRU recorded with in the 90’s (MX5050B) is being used for this project.
    The older Ampex 1/4″ two-track studio machines used for production and news recordings were old but bulletproof hand-me-downs from SpaceSci (used for logging experiments in the 50’s), which would likely still be in use if anyone took care of them after the old guard moved on…

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