Revolutions Per Minute

    Martin Theophilus of The Museum of Magnetic Sound Recording, Part One

    Issue 144

    Martin Theophilus is the Executive Director of the Museum of Magnetic Sound Recording (MOMSR), a private collection of recording machines, tapes and other materials, along with a companion website. The site contains a wealth of information and photographs of vintage gear. J.I. Agnew interviewed Martin at length, and the first part of the interview is presented here.

    J.I. Agnew: When, where and how did you first experience magnetic sound recording and reproduction?

    Martin Theophilus: Initially I learned about magnetic recording as a ham operator and experimented with one of the inexpensive rim-drive 3-inch reel tape recorders [available at the time]. Then I bought a small generic mono portable from Western Auto in Alpine, Texas.

    My first on-location recording job was working for my mom at the Mitre Peak Girl Scout camp outside of Alpine. I strung together enough 12-foot extension cords [to run] 300 feet, to go from their headquarters out to their campsite to record [the girls singing] their songs.

    The first serious exposure to magnetic recording was at radio station KVLF in Alpine. David Forchheimer, a school friend, was a student broadcaster. Under the stage name Bob Young, he became a national DJ and later was Billboard’s country music programmer of the year.

    I would bicycle out with David to the radio station and met the two DJs, Bob Beall and Phil Wayne Evensburger. Over time I went to the station in the evenings by myself and ended up being a gofer, getting news off the teletype and actually being able to work with their Magnecord S-36B [recorder]. Later I noticed KVLF replaced their Magnecord with a Pioneer RT-707.

     

    Martin Theophilus with Ampex ATR-102 and 351, Teac/TASCAM Series 70, Fostex RX-8 and Technics RS-1700 recorders. The mics are an Astatic DR-10; American D22; and Electro-Voice V-2.

    Martin Theophilus with Ampex ATR-102 and 351, Teac/TASCAM Series 70, Fostex RX-8 and Technics RS-1700 recorders. The mics are an Astatic DR-10; American D22; and Electro-Voice V-2.

     

    JIA: How did you get involved with tape machines yourself? 

    MT: The Alpine High School band director bought a Sony 300 and I recorded some of the band concerts. Then, for my 1964 graduation, my parents went 50/50 with me to buy a Webcor Squire from the Montgomery Ward catalog. Also in 1964, a band called the Believers played for our high school prom. The manager recorded the dance and I asked for a copy of his tape. The Believers scattered for the summer, but their lead singer Grainger Hunt stayed in Alpine. He came by my house to hear the tape. The Webcor could do sound [on] sound (overdubbing), so Grainger asked if I’d work with him doing harmonies on his new songs. I helped him all summer with recordings and learned a lot in the process. I even was allowed to borrow the high school’s Sony 300 so we could make [tape] dupes.

    The Believers went to Accurate Sound Corporation in San Angelo Texas, owned by Ron Newdoll. He'd just produced [J. Frank Wilson and] the Cavaliers’ Number One song, “Last Kiss.” So, I was sure, being a recording engineer, I’d be successful. Ron became a lifelong friend and later moved to California, refurbishing Ampex recorders and building pro duplicating machines.

    I majored in music at Sul Ross State University. I began handling most of the music school’s recordings using an Ampex 600 [tape recorder] and 620 amp/speaker. Then I bought my own stereo Sony 600. We had a couple of 30-foot telescoping mic stands with Shure 556 and Electro-Voice 665 [mics]. I always believed that since my trumpet playing wasn’t that great, they let me stay in school because I brought a recorder to all the performances and tours, and produced an end-of-year album. Fun fact: because I was recording the concerts, I was able to take the college station wagon on the band tours with all the recording gear. So no bus rides; we could stop and eat where we wanted and [had a lot of] freedom. It was fun!

    During the 1965 to 1970 period, I formed a recording company in Alpine called Highland Sound Company and built a recording studio into my parents’ home by converting two bedrooms. When I [at first] tried to buy my Sony 600, there was no one in the area selling Sony. So I contacted Sony/Superscope and ended up being connected with Fred Tushinsky (later their CEO) who set me up as a distributor with Balco Sound in Lubbock. This not only enabled me to buy the Sony 600 at wholesale, but I was now the Big Bend’s area distributor for Ampex, Altec, EV, Garrard, JBL, Shure, Sony and all the other major audio brands.

     

    Highland Sound Company studio, control room built into Martin’s parents’ home. Some of the equipment pictured: Sony TC-600 tape recorder with Sony TC-263D for duplication; home-built mixer; Bogen MXM-A mixer with remote; Eico 2080 amplifier; Garrard Lab 80 turntable.

    Highland Sound Company studio, control room built into Martin’s parents’ home. Some of the equipment pictured: Sony TC-600 tape recorder with Sony TC-263D for duplication; home-built mixer; Bogen MXM-A mixer with remote; Eico 2080 amplifier; Garrard Lab 80 turntable.

     

    In my home studio we recorded a weekly Alpine School District radio show, provided remote recordings for KVLF radio, produced bands from Texas and Mexico and [did] two movie soundtracks. One was for a freelance movie by Pepper Brown called Coyote. The second one was for the photographer Peter Koch, for a film that enabled the Texas Big Thicket to become a national preserve.

    My mom, an industrial arts instructor, helped me build a portable console for on-location recording. Turned out it was too heavy and would not fit in my vehicle. It was a great stationary wooden console with custom mixers.

    In 1977, I went with Teac, purchasing their A-3340 [four-track deck], A-3300 2T mastering recorder and the Model 2 mixer. Basic, but functional. This and the on-location van [I had bought] really increased my abilities. We produced multiple albums out of that van with recordings in Dallas, Austin, Houston and El Paso. I recorded a big band at Austin’s Symphony Square and a country album, “Dan & Dave – Legends In Our Spare Time.” It was recorded over a few weeks at the Backroom in Austin using the Teac 80-8 8 track and a Tapco board. I also co-produced the Air Texas radio show, which [once] featured an interview with Stevie Ray Vaughn.

    I ended up working for the State of Texas for 25 years, [and] I was either producing media for the State, or working after hours and on weekends recording on location for myself. For a long time I had [the] van and was recording college bands and choirs, church choirs, all styles of bands, and everything in between. I was in Odessa, Texas (in the early 1970s), then El Paso. My goal was always to have a recording studio in Austin, as that’s where the music was happening. I finally made it to Austin in 1978. However, the on location recording [income] was not supporting us, so I kept on with the State. For a while I was chief engineer for Austin Custom Records. Many of the on-location jobs I completed in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and so on were sourced from Roy Poole at Austin Custom Records.

    While working for the University of Texas as a media producer from 1997 to 2000, the internet came on. I began looking for information about reel tape recorders, and found none. So I created the website reel2reeltexas.com. It’s still there; however, I have been combining three web sites into one – reel2Reel Texas.com, The Museum of Magnetic Sound Recording and one other (when time is available…which it’s not).

    Then came eBay. Around that time, my wife Chris and I were visiting her family farm in Suffolk, England when we came across an Edison cylinder player and decided not to get it. [But then,] from eBay, Chris bought me a beautiful Edison Standard cylinder player for Christmas. Thus the collecting began. I decided to recoup [all] the reel tape recorders with which I’d worked (about 15 to 20 in total).

    Chris and I married in 1985. Her work enabled our company, now called Phantom Productions, Inc., to grow, so I could leave State employment. We were managing [a number of] musicians. At a Midem [convention] in Cannes, we signed one of our country artists to Richie Valens’ worldwide publisher, the Montie Music Group. They in turn were able to secure a seven-album RCA Custom label record deal with Gene Simmons of KISS. In [getting involved with artist management], I’d sold off all my reel to reel equipment and we were now totally video-equipped to support our musicians. Chris evolved our company into [doing] corporate bookings and was booking 500 events a year. This included Texas musicians, but also Lee Greenwood, Helen Reddy, Lee Ann Womack and many others. She and her partner David Perkoff worked with Apple, Dell, Microsoft and many other corporations.

     

    Chris and Martin Theophilus at the 1991 MIDEM conference in Cannes.

    Chris and Martin Theophilus at the 1991 MIDEM conference in Cannes.

     

    Through eBay, I acquired the initial 20 reel tape recorders [I wanted to own again]. I began finding unique recorders like the Roberts 1000, which is a 4-track reversing reel to reel with a rotating black and white video head in the middle. It was advertised as [the recorder used] to videotape the moon landing. I found one of the first professional Teacs, still in its original crate. We acquired one of Willie Studer’s first Dynavox T-26s.

    Then an Ampex 200A came up on eBay and it didn’t sell. It was re-listed and I drove to Salinas, CA to purchase it. The 200A was from (record producer and recording engineer) Leo De Gar Kulka’s estate. The mother of the engineer who sold the 200A was friends with Kulka’s widow. The engineer [had] bought a storage shed of Kulka’s recorders for $10,000. There were Stephens, 3M, Telefunken and much more in the shed. I bought the 200A and asked if he would sell an Ampex 300 in the portable case. He said it would be a lot more than the 200A, so I passed and started to leave. [Then he said, “wait, the 200A and 300 have been together their whole lives, so I’ll sell it to you for the same as the 200A.” [Now] that’s a recording aficionado!

     

    From left to right: Brush BK 401, Ampex 300 and Ampex 200A (number 33 of 112 made) recorders, both previously owned by Leo De Gar Kulka and Golden State Recorders.

    From left to right: Brush BK 401, Ampex 300 and Ampex 200A (number 33 of 112 made) recorders, both previously owned by Leo De Gar Kulka and Golden State Recorders.

     

    Now [the Museum collection] is hitting 200-plus reel to reel tape recorders. [Also], 100-plus mics, plus mixers and accessories. It important to mention that many tape recorder collections I’ve seen are [simply] lined up on shelves for display. Almost all our [units] are working recorders, connected to sound systems for demonstration, and surrounded by brand-specific ads and accessories. I strive to regularly exercise the machines (not always successfully) and [do] complete maintenance where necessary. It seems that I can prepare for a tour, check which machines may have a problem, and fix them. Then, one that was working well at test totally fails [in] the presentation. They're just all getting older, like me.

    Speaking of tours: we’ve had classes from many different schools, [with] media folks and then the fun ones, which are [with] engineers that love seeing the machines they knew. I had one Austin TV station request a 20-minute interview. They set up in a rush, then looked around. They left four hours later. I’m not able to go that long as much [as I used to]; however, I thoroughly enjoy sharing our collection.

    In setting goals for the collection, these were my priorities: one, preservation of tape recorders that were the first, or early in a manufacturer’s line, and [also examples that are] the last in their line; two, were helpful to musicians prior to entering a studio; three, were specifically unique by configuration, electronics, past owner, or other history, and four, in good working order and cosmetically reasonable. I decided we did not have room for professional multitrack machines. A Fostex one-inch 16-track was as high as we went. Again, my passion had been helping musicians develop their songs in the initial stages of creation. So, not many folks could afford the 16-plus track recorders.

    As time went on, I continually upgraded as I found better examples of the core collection. For example, I went through five Technics RS-1700s until the one we have now, [which] is “as new.” Its perfect dust cover is the seventh one we’ve owned. This is true of almost all [our] large top-end recorders [like the] Pioneer RT-909, Akai GX-747, ReVox B77 and so on.

    JIA: How did the idea of the museum begin? 

    MT: The non-profit museum began in 2012 for two reasons. One, I believed [that] with [having] the Ampex 200A, the Studer T-26 and the excellent examples of so many recorders from the period, that I wanted to see them out for folks to enjoy. We were maintaining and still have over 10,000 digital visitors to our web sites per month, with over 1 million hits. Secondly, I was becoming concerned that Chris would be stuck with all this equipment if something happened to me.

    We formed the Museum with our long-time attorney (who set up the non-profit), our architect who designed our home/studio/museum and a design for the non-profit museum, a worldwide media sales CEO, and an international business consultant. Our longtime friend Christine Albert, who at the time was the Chair of the GRAMMY Foundation, was a strong supporter. Margaret Koch, now director of the Bullock Texas State History Museum, was a mentor. The Bullock has had our Ampex 200A on display since December 2019. Our museum won a public City of Austin contest for the proposed use of an old power plant building on the Colorado River. The University of Texas Architecture Department professor Tamie Glass' interior design class worked on our museum designs for an entire semester. One of the students, Raquel Torres, won a $30,000 Angelo Donghia Foundation Senior Student Scholarship in interior design for her MOMSR design. With all this support, we believed our museum would be a success.

     

    All these recorders are working and are integrated into the Museum's studio sound system. Akai GX-747 (one of the last Akai reel to reel recorders) sitting on an Altec Seville speaker; two Uher 4400 and 4000L battery-powered portable tape recorders; Teac/TASCAM 35-2 half-track mastering deck; Revox B-77; Ampex 601-2; Pioneer RT-2044 four track/four channel modular tape recorder (the deck and each amp have separate cases). Below the Pioneer are Sony TC-350 and Viking 86 machines.

    All these recorders are working and are integrated into the Museum's studio sound system. Akai GX-747 (one of the last Akai reel to reel recorders) sitting on an Altec Seville speaker; two Uher 4400 and 4000L battery-powered portable tape recorders; Teac/TASCAM 35-2 half-track mastering deck; Revox B-77; Ampex 601-2; Pioneer RT-2044 four track/four channel modular tape recorder (the deck and each amp have separate cases). Below the Pioneer are Sony TC-350 and Viking 86 machines.

     

    One other major museum asset is our documentation of the recording devices, [including] manuals, catalogs (Allied, Lafayette, Olson, RadioShack and others), ads, reviews, posters, accessories and memorabilia. All of this was digitized and loaded to the website. We also received the archives from Joe Tall’s daughter. Joe patented the EDITall tape splicing block. Rod Stephens donated John Stephens’ recorder information. Dave Boyers, son of John Boyers, who was the last of the founders of Magnecord, not only donated the original PT-6 prototype with its amp, Dave also provided a wealth of Magnecord documentation and advertising examples.

    From 2010 to 2012 I'd created and produced seven hours of video documenting our collection. The seven hours were released on a three-DVD set. Dave Boyers bought the set and showed it to his dad. Initially, Magnecord was developing a professional commercial wire recorder, [which] evolved into [their] magnetic reel tape recorders. His dad had Alzheimer’s, and when he viewed the segment I produced about Magnecord, Dave said his father was alert and really happy. John Boyers passed away shortly after that.

    This brought home that we were losing all these veterans. Folks who, after World War II, created recording companies like Magnecord.

     

    Magnecord 1024 recorder atop Altec 1592B, Sony (made by Shure) and Teac Model 1 mixers.


    Magnecord 1024 recorder atop Altec 1592B, Sony (made by Shure) and Teac Model 1 mixers.

     

    I found that Robert Metzner, founder of Califone A/V products, was in California. Califone produced A/V products that were, and still are, in many schools and institutions around the world. Metzner also founded Roberts Electronics with Robert Craig of Craig Electronics. Roberts provided machines that were more affordable for musicians than Ampex, or even Magnecord. I found Robert Metzner’s son Richard in Arizona, and he arranged for Chris and I to interview his dad and mom (Esther) in Beverly Hills. We spent a wonderful day completing an excellent interview with Robert, Esther and Richard.

     

    Richard, Esther and Robert Metzner.

    Richard, Esther and Robert Metzner.

     

    While Robert Metzner was known for Califone and Roberts Electronics, he’d accomplished so much more. In 1958 Robert and Esther travelled to Japan and solidified his agreement to design and have Akai build tape recorders that he would brand [as] Roberts. Akai agreed to stay out of the North American markets with Akai recorders until 1972. Akai built the recorders using Metzner's designs. Akai shipped their recorders to the US where they were inspected and sent out branded as Roberts. A few years later, the US government made five billion dollars available for educational media. Rheem (the air conditioning company) wanted in on the funds, so they bought out Califone and Roberts Electronics. Richard Metzner said in the interview, “that’s when I came home from college and my parents had moved from the LA suburbs to Beverly Hills.”

    Robert Metzner was not only about tape recorders. In the late 1940’s he and his son patented a plan to install metal rods under the streets of LA, and attach magnets to cars so the cars could self-drive. With an airplane fabricator friend, Robert Metzner also built and patented a hybrid car in the mid 1970s. He drove the car to Detroit, but Ford wasn’t interested given the gas prices at the time. He resented the fact that the Toyota Prius came out shortly after his hybrid patent expired. His prototype car is currently in the Peterson Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.

    To be continued.

     

    Header image: From left, Concertone 800 recorder (solid state with tube tone control); 1965 Roberts 400X (the only recorder Robert Metzner had retained in his Beverly Hills home); Teac MB-20 meter bridge on top of Teac Model 1 mixer; Philips N4506 recorder; Teac Model 2 mixer (also used for signal distribution); Crowncorder CTR-5400 5-inch tape recorder/player; Amplicorp Magnemite 610 VU with a Brush head, large flywheel on front, hand crank on right for spring motor, and a battery operated amplifier; below the Magnemite is the Akai GX-77 auto load recorder; Ampex consumer deck AX 300; multiple remotes. Top center: Webcor CP2550 “Professional”; below Tapesonic Model 70A; below that is a Concertone 505 (manufactured by Teac and also released as the Teac 505); on right is the Ampex AG 500 recorder with AA-620 amp/speaker (one of two in the room); Teac Model 1 mixer; an Ampex ATR-700 built for Ampex by Teac (same as the Teac A-7300); an Ampex AG-600 (solid state recorder). The Rolling Stone news tape on top has an interview with the Eagles in 1977. Also on top are Sony and Ampex handheld cassette recorders; Ampex AG-600-2 (solid state recorder); and an Ampex F44 Fine Line recorder. Mics are a Shure 516EQ (has built in mini eq switches and is one of a pair); Shure 55; and a matched pair of Ampex HO1390 mics (EV 623s) museum has original mic box and cloth Ampex covers. On floor stands are the Turner 99 mic and the EV 640 HiZ mic.

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