Magnetic Tape Recorder

May 16th Celebrates Magnetic Tape Recorder

Today on Days to remember we celebrate how on May 16th 1946, Jack Mullin showed the world the first magnetic tape recorder.

Our story begins when John T. “Jack” Mullin joined the Army in 1941.

His background in electrical engineering landed him in the Signal Corps and in 1944 he went to England to help solve radio interference problems caused by the radar installations that blanketed Britain.
Mullin became so intrigued by what he was doing that he would work till two or three in the morning, all the while listening to music on BBC radio broadcasts.

The BBC always signed off the air at midnight. In search of continuing late-night entertainment, Mullin discovered that the German stations were on the air twenty-four hours a day, broadcasting symphony concerts all night that sounded too good to be pre-recorded.

Shortly after the Allies liberated Paris, Mullin’s unit was reassigned there and given the task of evaluating captured German electronic equipment.

In July of 1945, Mullin went to Germany to look into reports that the Germans had been experimenting with high-frequency energy as a means of jamming airplane engines in flight.

While on the mission, Mullin met a British army officer who, after a discussion of music and recording, asked Mullin if he had heard the magnetic tape recorders used by Radio Frankfurt.

The officer raved about the musical quality of these recorders and urged Mullin to go to the station to listen. Mullin had already heard and evaluated the poor-quality, DC-bias tape recorders used by the German Army, and thought, “Either this guy is on to something or he has a tin ear!”

“On the way back to my unit, we came to the proverbial fork in the road,” Mullin recalled. “I could turn right and drive straight back to Paris or turn left to Frankfurt. I chose to turn left. It was the greatest decision of my life.”

Mullin continued, “The radio station was actually in Bad Nauheim, a health resort forty-five miles north of Frankfurt.

The station had been moved into a castle there to escape the bombing of Frankfurt, and it was then being operated by the Armed Forces Radio Service.

In response to my request for a demonstration of their Magnetophon the Sergeant spoke in German to an assistant, who clicked his heels and ran off for a roll of tape.

When he put the tape on the machine, I really flipped. I couldn’t tell whether it was live or playback. There simply was no background noise.”

After rebuilding the Magnetophon, Mullin showed them to audio professionals who were excited by the extremely high-quality sound and the ability to edit a first generation recording with no degradation.

On May 16, 1946 meeting of the Institute of Radio Engineers (IRE, now IEEE) in San Francisco, Mullin gave the first public demonstration of professional-quality tape recording in America.

Written & Designed by JD Mitchell
jdmitchelldesigns@gmail.com

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