Friday, December 12, 2014


Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated with tape recorders. I can remember back when I was about 15 and decided to form a band. I’d written a song and learned how to play two chords on the guitar, then taught the song to my friends Sue and Dee. Even though we sounded pretty much like a trio of wild geese when we sang, we were positive we were ready to make a demo tape to send out to record producers.

Back then, reel-to-reel tape recorders were just becoming all the rage. The only problem was, they were expensive, costing hundreds of dollars. I was so determined, however, to get a recorder for my band’s demo tape, I started to save my pennies for a $600 one I’d seen in Radio Shack. 

My father finally took pity on me, probably because he figured I’d be ready for Medicare by the time I saved up enough money, and surprised my band by renting a recorder for us.  I suspect it was because he figured if we finally recorded the song, we no longer would be spending two hours every day practicing it…and then his ears could stop bleeding.

The minute I touched that tape recorder, I was hooked. I loved being able to hear my own voice, tape my favorite songs and even act out skits like on the old radio shows. I nearly cried when my father had to return my precious machine to the rental place.

Over the next few years, I owned several tape recorders: a huge reel-to-reel that weighed about 50 pounds, a small reel-to-reel about the size of a box of chocolates, and finally, a cassette recorder. The cassette recorder was in the form of a big boom box, as they were called back then. It had a built-in radio and a cassette recorder and player. When the six D-cell batteries were in it, it weighed about as much as a small car.

I loved that boom box. I would spend hours recording songs from the radio or playing records and singing along with them on tape. While I was singing, I was certain I sounded as good as the next Streisand or Cher, but when I later listened to my best efforts, I was certain someone had stolen my original cassette and replaced it with a tape of cattle being branded.

Two weeks ago, I was looking for my storage chest of Christmas decorations down in the basement when I came across my old boom box behind a stack of boxes. I hadn’t seen it in years, and was disappointed it hadn’t aged well. It was dirty, rusty, the antenna was missing, the buttons on the recorder were bent and wouldn’t push down, and the batteries in it all were severely corroded.

A flood of memories came back to me and I found myself wishing I could use that old boom box again. But my common sense told me the only place it was going to get any use would be in the bottom of a trash bin.

A few days later, I happened to be driving through Pembroke Village when I saw a store called Bobby Dee’s Records. In the window was a sign that said they repaired audio equipment. My thoughts immediately turned to my beloved boom box. Even though I figured the repair guy probably would point at it and laugh hysterically, I decided I had nothing to lose by asking if, by some miracle, it could be fixed. The next day, I, lugging the boom box, walked into the store.

“Is there any hope at all for this?” I asked the man who greeted me. He turned out to be Bobby Dee.

He took the boom box from me and checked a few things on it.

“This is a great model,” he said. “One of the best ever made for sound quality.”

“I know,” I said. “I’ve owned others since this one, but nothing compares. Do you think it can be saved?”

“Well, it’s in pretty rough shape,” he said. “But I can tell you really care about it. So I’m sure we can fix it up as good as new. Maybe even better than new.”

I was both shocked and thrilled. He said he’d call me when it was ready.

Peter, Bobby and my boom box
I expected not to hear from him for at least a month, considering the sad condition of the recorder, but he called a day later to tell me it was all set.

When I walked into the store, Bobby told me to have a seat and close my eyes.  I did, and he put the boom box on my lap. When I opened my eyes, I was speechless, which was pretty unusual for me. It looked like a new machine – polished, shiny, a new antenna, a new cord, and when I pressed the buttons on it, they all pushed easily.

“Pete did all of the work,” Bobby said. “He really does a great job…he’s a perfectionist.”

Pete approached and I could see the look of pride on his face as he explained everything he’d done to the boom box, from cleaning it to finding an antenna for it, and replacing the old, worn-out belt.

That night, I dug out some of my old cassette tapes and listened to them. The sound quality of my boom box was even better than it had been when it was brand new. I tried recording a few songs from my computer, and it taped them perfectly.

A couple days later, I woke up feeling terrible. My throat hurt, my neck was sore and my voice was hoarse. I groaned, certain I was coming down with either a bad cold or the flu, or maybe even something like strep throat. I went back to bed in an attempt to fight it off.

When I woke up later that day, I felt much better, and that’s when the cause of my sore throat dawned on me. I burst out laughing.

I’d spent the night before playing with my boom box, just like old times, taping myself as I sang along with a variety of songs. My solo concert had lasted over two hours, and then I’d had a good laugh listening to myself on tape.

My “flu” turned out to be nothing more than a bad case of voice strain.

I blame Mariah Carey, Janis Joplin and Michael Bolton. No mortal human my age ever should attempt to sing along with them and try to reach those high notes.





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