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Dedication Speech: Stanford Libraries' Ampex Model 200A, 2012-11-13, by Larry Miller

Hello everybody! Thanks for coming!

Restoring this machine was an interesting and fun project. I would like to thank some people who made it possible:

First of all, thanks to Dr. Ray Dolby and Dolby laboratories for rescuing both of the machines in this library, as well as many more, from the wrecking ball. It was through Dr. Dolby's generosity that these machines survived at all.

Next, I would like to thank Professor Barry Katz for his interest in, and advocacy of, this project. It was in connection with discussions for Professor Katz's book on early industrial design in Silicon Valley that I got to see the entire Stanford Ampex collection and, in particular, the 200A.

I would like to thank Dr. Henry Lowood, curator of the Ampex collection, for being my advocate with the Stanford Museum and Library faculty. It was through his efforts that I was able to bring the machine to my home to work on it.

I offer many thanks to Mr. Jay McKnight. Jay is the owner of MRL, the Magnetic Reference Laboratory. For many years his company has supplied standard alignment tapes [which the IEC calls "Calibration Tapes"] to studios and other customers all over the world. Standard tapes made it possible for recordings made on one machine to be played accurately on another machine even though the machines and recordings were separated by large distances and times.

Unfortunately, the alignment standards for the 200A machine did not survive, and there was no surviving literature that would tell me how the machine's response should be correctly adjusted as it was originally made.

Jay's help came in two forms:

First, Jay made special test tapes for me that let me accurately measure and characterize the machine's response.

Second, Jay made available to me recordings of conversations he had with Frank Lennert and the late Jack Mullin back in 1998. Frank and Jack were heavily involved with Ampex machines, including this one, 50 years earlier. Their recollections were invaluable in helping me to determine how the machine should be adjusted.

With this help and many e-mails and conversations with Jay, combined with having the actual machine, I was able to determine the original setup of these machines—the “recipe” was recovered.

Finally, I would like to thank Mr. Scott Fisher for helping me build the museum case for this display.

Magnetic recording technology was a "spoils of war" prize brought back from Germany, where it had been in use for a number of years. Jack Mullin brought back two German machines and he demonstrated one in San Francisco in 1946. Everyone was amazed at the sound quality of the machine. Ampex people saw this demonstration and decided to develop a machine for the US radio broadcast market. The result was this Model 200A tape recorder.

This machine is historically important in two ways:

It revolutionized sound recording in the US. It was, and is, a truly high fidelity recorder. And the ability to edit the recording with scissors and scotch tape, combined with its half-hour playing time, changed forever the way music recordings were made. This hugely facilitated LP phonograph record production. Prior to magnetic tape, LP records had to be made by copying tracks from disk to disk, a process that was tedious and badly degraded the quality of the sound. With tape editing the original recording could be spliced into a final roll ready for disk mastering with no loss in quality. The improvement in sound quality was dramatic.

Just as importantly, this machine was what got Ampex up and rolling. Thousands and thousands of jobs and products directly trace their ancestry back to this machine. In the years following its delivery, just about every engineer in the Bay Area worked at one time for Ampex, Hewlett-Packard, IBM or a handful of other companies that became the foundation for what is now called Silicon Valley. The concentration of engineering talent and technology brought about by this machine and other products introduced after World War II have hugely affected the character of the Bay Area right up to this very day.

As the display placard says, this tape recorder was delivered in April of 1948. I was only 7 years old then. However, my father had a machine shop and he manufactured many of the mechanical parts for these machines. I well remember seeing these parts being made and hearing about Ampex and its founder, Alexander Poniatoff. My father was deeply impressed by the sound quality of these machines, and his enthusiasm led me to go to work for Ampex 10 years later, beginning with summer jobs when I was in high school. I worked at Ampex throughout my college years and for several years after I graduated, when I worked on the designs for the successors to this machine. I went on to other endeavors, but I always kept a special regard for my years at Ampex.

Though I was only 7 years old when this machine was made, we are fortunate to have with us a man who was not only involved in the manufacturing of this machine's electronics at an East Bay subcontracting firm, but who went on in engineering for the whole of the company in its formative years and who became a Vice President of Ampex. I speak of Mr. John Leslie, who was closely involved with everything Ampex did, including the invention of the first successful television tape recorder that you see out in the lobby. John has graciously agreed to give us a few of his thoughts and recollections of the early days of Ampex.

2012-11-24 rev --12-15

 
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