1950. Babies were booming, Saturday morning programming for kids started (long live cartoons) and a first class stamp was about 3 cents. What you may not have known was 1950 also marked Japan’s first magnetic recording tape dubbed “Soni-Tape”. To battle the problems of a wire recorder (such as difficulty repairing, heat deterioration and limited recording length), this new paper-based technology was introduced.
Magnetic tape is basically putting a pattern onto a surface that has been magnetized. In this case a pattern that can create a sound. The more challenging aspect is creating 1) the right surface and 2) magnetizing that surface to produce the level of sound quality you’re looking for. For 1950, not an easy task.
At the time, the idea of sound recording on a non-wire recorder was unheard of in Japan and extremely rare in the US. Engineers tested a variety of components and first tried coating 8mm print out paper (from a telegraph machine) with ground up magnetic powder. What was used as paste you ask? Oh only ground cooked rice. It’s amazing to me that people can be so creative. After multiple tries using different chemicals (many purchased from specialty shops or pharmaceutical stores), the right cocktail of chemicals created a magnetic powder suitable to spray onto the paper tape. Additionally they discovered that the finer the magnetic powder the better the sound. The actual consistency was inspired by cosmetic beauty powder.
So as we download our digital files from phones, notebooks and PDAs here’s a little reminder that .files didn’t always exist. Why you ask? Cause it’s Flashback Friday.