(Also submitted to ABC Wednesday and Magpie 93)
"T" is for "Tape" - Audio Tape
Try to picture this scene. I was young – this was years ago - and I was working at a New York radio station.
At that time, audio tape was very new; it had just come on the scene. For the broadcasting business, audio tape’s ability to reproduce music and speech in high fidelity was a fantastic breakthrough.
And now our radio station had received one of the very first audio tape recorders that was portable. The word “portable” wasn’t exactly accurate; you couldn’t carry the thing. It was huge. It was, in fact, a kind of blunderbuss. But it had wheels so you could lug it around.
(Today, of course, you can record with a device about the size of a pinhead.)
A press agent learned our station had this remarkable portable machine. He phoned one of his clients, famed movie star Ginger Rogers, who was then living at the Waldorf-Astoria, and told her she wouldn’t have to go to radio stations any more to do interviews. She could sit at her leisure at home, or at her hotel, and an interviewer would come and record her, and what she had to say would be on the air the next day in excellent high fidelity.
She thought it was a fine idea and was all for it. Previously she had phoned in interviews to radio stations from time to time but the voice quality of a phone line was very poor.
At the station, I had learned as much as I could about this new tape recorder. I could take it apart and put it together without a problem. So, callow youth though I was, I received this important assignment.
As you may imagine, this was about the biggest thing that happened to me during my time as a beginner in radio. Ginger Rogers! True, she wasn’t the world-famous star she had been a decade or so earlier -- the Fred and Ginger whose marvelous dancing brought joy to millions around the world -- but she was still a major celebrity; she commanded an imperial suite in the Waldorf. It was a fantastic assignment for a young guy.
I showed up, bright-tailed and bushy-eyed, right on time, lugging the huge recorder behind me. She greeted me in a friendly way, obviously pleased to be taking part in this marvelous new technological adventure.
(I knew how to behave with celebrities; I didn’t want her to think I was just part of a mob of fans. And I made sure I didn’t commit the faux pas of saying I had been interested in her career since I was a little kid.)
I was a bit surprised that she had chosen, of the various rooms of her suite, the smallest one for our interview. I guess it was because it was where she felt the most relaxed.
The room was full, chock-full, of literally hundreds of knick-knacks, bric-a-brac, gewgaws, curios – evidently just about everything in the form of an award or memento she had ever been given. The items ranged from the obviously expensive to junk that would have been jettisoned except that it was probably kept for sentimental reasons.
This small room was not only jammed full of stuff; there was only one place to sit – on something that used to be known as a settee. This small sofa, very much like the one in the prompt, was evidently also a memento of some kind. It was not new, not in good condition; perhaps the reason she kept it was that it had been part of her youth, a reminder of her home back in Missouri, where she was raised.
At any rate, it was a strange situation. I was sitting with her on this small couch, trying to rig up the equipment for the interview.
No one had told her that the recording machine for her interview was, as far as she could see, as big as a small house. Or that it took quite a while to assemble before it could operate.
So I began the process of setting it up. She sat next to me, still trying to smile pleasantly, though I sensed that she was beginning to wonder if this was such a great idea after all.
Perspiring a bit, I took the whole contraption apart, got out my eleven-inch reels, installed them, threaded the tape in the intricate manner of that time, unpacked the mike, attached it to its stand, found the power supply, made all the connections, did a test or two, etc., etc.
As I say, this went on for quite a while. The smile disappeared from her face.
Anyway, we finally got to the interview. I asked the questions and she answered. She covered the usual celebrity topics: she talked about her film career, her travels, her friends, how in Rome Alfredo had invented a special sauce for her, etc.
I then began the lengthy process of closing the infernal machine up for travel.
After I finished this, finally, I bade her adieu – she didn’t seem all that sorry to see me go – and I headed out the door.
As I mentioned, her room was absolutely stuffed with all these gewgaws and mementos. It was a place where no one should ever enter if you were lugging a large blunderbuss with you. As careful as I was, a portion of the huge tape recorder managed to bump against a couple of the items on display and knock them off.
Disaster. At least two, possibly three, of these bric-a-brac pieces broke into – to use a technical scientific term – smithereens.
I felt terrible. I had no way of knowing if I had busted something of monetary or of sentimental value, or both. I apologized profusely.
You could see she was angry but was trying to hold it in. She didn’t start yelling at me, though I’m sure she felt like it. I got out of the place as fast as I could.
Years later, to show my grandkids their granddad had hobnobbed with the stars in his youth, I told them about my adventure with Ginger Rogers. They were impressed.
“Who’s Ginger Rogers?” they asked.
1 year ago