Voices of Yesteryear

June 11, 2020

Three vinyl records came into my studio the other day. These weren’t the commercially made rock or pop albums most of us grew up with. These were homemade disks recorded at 78 rpm that were made over 75 years ago. I know this because it was written on the label.

In the 1940s, there were dozens of “Voice-O-Graph” machines sprinkled up and down the Coney Island boardwalk. They looked like telephone booths and by inserting 25 cents, you could actually record your voice and have it scratched into the grooves of your own personal record for all of posterity.

The three records I received and transferred to digital audio files for their preservation had my client’s father crooning familiar standards and pop favorites in the style of Bing Crosby. What a wonderful treasure for the family to have. Sure, there are scratches and pops throughout the recording but that only adds to the charm of being able to hear voices from the past, recorded as they lived through what for them was their present. All three records were dated June, 1944… shortly after the D-Day invasion. The songs were upbeat, filled with hope and promise, with just a tinge of melancholy. I’d say it was a perfect capsulation of the mood of that time. I am honored to have been a part of preserving this personally impactful and historic moment.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio Mount Dora specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

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Cracking up

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There are pros and cons to every digital format. DVDs and CDs, although they are digital, they do have their drawbacks. First, there are clear signs that the industry is moving on and it will only be a matter of time that the disk technology will go the way of the 8-track and VHS tape. That may not happen for a few more years but it sure looks like it is an eventuality.

The other problem with disks is pictured above. They are not indestructible.  They can crack if handled improperly and once cracked, they are pretty much unplayable and the data may not be able to be recovered.

We are happy to provide DVDs and CDs to our customers. We still have that capability and a lot of our customers prefer them to any other option. But we always recommend that they also consider getting their memories stored on a computer file or open a DVA streaming account with us so when the DVDs stop working, the memories that were preserved don’t have to be converted for a second (or sometimes third) time. Food for thought. Whichever format you choose, having your memories digitally preserved is infinitely better that keeping them locked away on inaccessible analog media that will eventually corrode.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotape, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

 

Mysteries Solved

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You’re doing some Spring Cleaning and you come across something you didn’t know you were storing. It may be an unmarked videotape. Or a reel of film that has no label on it. It could be some audio recordings you don’t remember ever making.

Whatever the case, in almost every home, in almost every state, there is some unmarked, unlabelled piece of media that can’t be viewed or heard because the equipment to play it no longer functions. No one alive knows what is on it and the current owners can’t play it to find out. But they just can’t bring themselves to throw it away because of what it might contain. So they continue to hold onto it. Move after move. Generation after generation. 

We are happy to say we can convert such items to a digital form so our clients can view what up to that point was un-viewable. We recently converted some unlabeled 16mm film and delivered to our client footage of his parent’s honeymoon vacation from the 1950s. Something he had never seen before.

On the other hand, we salvaged some badly damaged film from the 1920s for a client who had no clue as to what it contained. After we cleaned it up some and converted it,  we played it back to find that what we had captured was some silent movie footage (Harold Lloyd I think) as well as some silent video cartoons of that era. (Anyone remember Dick Tracy?) I was expecting the client to be upset that the film did not contain footage of his family. Instead he expressed his gratitude for delivering to him the footage that contained his grandfather’s great passion for the arts of his time. 

I suppose the point is, we all have these mysteries caused by obsolete media that we keep stored in boxes or closets. We can’t bring ourselves to throw them away but we can’t watch or enjoy them either. Home Video Studio is the solution. We take the old media and transfer it to a format that can be played on today’s equipment  Who knows what is contained on those old unlabelled tapes or film taking up space in our homes? It could be nothing… It could mean everything. We can help you find out.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Schnitzel Me This

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We here at Home Video Studio have a pretty cool business. We are in the unique position to have access to a huge storehouse of personal memories because families bring their recorded treasures to us to preserve and protect. And in the process, we get to vicariously experience things of which we may have no personal memory. For example, I had never before heard of or listened to Professor Schnitzel. And yet, I had the opportunity to hear three of his recorded comedy routines that were presented to me on vinyl 45s.

But in researching this name, I came across something very interesting. There were at least two Professor Schnitzels that became popular in America. One operated on the west coast in the 1920s and the other on the east coast during the 50s and 60s. There is no indication that the one was aware of the other’s existence.

The first Professor Schnitzel was played by a man named Clarence Coleman in the 1920s.  A realtor in San Francisco, Coleman created the character for a radio show in 1927 called Blue Monday Jamboree which aired on KFRC-AM. While CBS eventually picked the show up and syndicated it nationally, Professor Schnitzel was sadly never added to it as a regular character. Over the next few years he would make appearances on other shows up and down the AM dial.

The second Schnitzel made his home in Reading PA. Theodore L. Rickenbach was best known for performing his character in front of live audiences and for producing a series of 45rpm recordings for Butch Records.  It is this Professor Schnitzel that I heard yesterday when I transferred those 45s into CDs for my customer.

Both men based their humor by adopting a thick, almost unintelligible Pennsylvania Dutch accent along with a folksy demeanor to tell jokes and make funny observations about life, language and everything Pennsylvania Dutch. Audiences of the day howled.

By the way, the word schnitzel, if you didn’t know, comes from the German for “slice” and refers to a dish where a cut of meat is pounded flat, coated with breadcrumbs and fried. Typically made with veal, chicken, beef, turkey or pork. The veal version is known as Wiener Schnitzel.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Alvinnnnn!

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I was transferring a reel to reel audiotape yesterday. One of the elements to be aware of is that reel to reel machines allowed users to record at different speeds and unless you match the original speed during playback, the result will not be what was intended…unless you were Ross Bagdasarian Sr.

Known better by his stage name, Dave Seville, Ross was an Armenian actor working in Hollywood in the 1950s. He landed a few bit parts in films like “Rear Window” and “Stalag 17” but finding regular work was a struggle. He had written a hit song a few years earlier with his cousin, playwright William Saroyan, called “Come On A My House.” With his last $200, he decided to buy a tape recorder with a speed control and practice recording his voice at different speeds. He used this technique for the novelty song “Witch Doctor” which became a number 1 hit in 1958.

When Liberty Records asked him to create a new novelty song for the upcoming Christmas season, he decided to create characters to match his sped-up voices. After a random encounter with a chipmunk on a California road, his concept became reality and Alvin and the Chipmunks were born.

Following Ross Sr.’s death in 1972, his son Ross Jr. picked up the chipmunk reins and began releasing new Chipmunk material eventually leading to their re-emergence into popular culture with a string of Universal feature-length films.

To understand more about the recording technique used to create the Chipmunk sound, it is eerily compelling to slow a Chipmunk song down to listen to the normal human voice singing to a slowed down musical track.  This is how it would have sounded in the recording studio. Click on the link below to hear an example.

 

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio of Mount Dora specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotape, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Now, What Did I Come In Here For?

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When you reach a certain age, you have probably have had this experience: You’re sitting in one room of your house when you suddenly get up and walk into another room for a reason… but when you get to that room, you find you can’t remember why you went there.

Memory is sometimes fickle like that. One moment you can recall with absolute clarity the finest details of your past and other times the memory you are searching for seems just out of reach like it is hidden behind a veil. You know it’s there but you are unable to reach out and pull back the curtain to reveal it. It is frustrating.

Having your memories stored on devices that can no longer be played is just as frustrating. All the events, occasions, and family times that were important enough to record for future reference were supposed to be available to us when we reached the future. But technology had other plans.

Fortunately, there is a way to retrieve those memories and bring them with us to our current day and time. If you have a 8mm or Super 8 film but no projector to play them on; or a VHS, hi-8, or mini-dv videotape but no working tape player; if you have boxes of 35mm slides but the irreplaceable bulb in your projector is dead; or you have photos so faded you can’t see the people in them clearly; or if you found an old audiotape that you don’t recognize or a vinyl album you vaguely remember but lack the equipment that can play them… there is a solution.

My company, Home Video Studio specializes in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of old analog media. Bring us a 8mm film, we’ll give you back that footage on a DVD or a computer file that you can play today. We can even offer you the ability to stream that home movie to your smart phone or tablet. Same with all those videotapes you haven’t seen in decades. And as far as the slides, photos and audio recordings go, not only do we give you the access once again to view or listen to those memories, our digital products take up much less space than their bulky analog counterparts.

Your memories deserve to be preserved and protected. More importantly, they ought to be remembered. At Home Video Studio, we make sure they can.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio stand ready to help you protect your memories. And right now, we are in the midst of our Christmas in July sale, offering up to 40% off many of our transfer services. Call 352-735-8550 for more info or visit our website.

Music To My Ears

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Usually, when I am transferring a homemade audio tape of a musician or band, I don’t pay much attention to the sounds coming from the speakers. No offense intended but the quality of self-recorded performances from garage bands or shower singers typically leave more than a little something to be desired. It is usually better to listen from afar… like in another room. Such is not the case these days.  Because it’s not every day a world class pianist walks into the studio.

Tzimon Barto is something of a Renaissance man. He speaks seven languages, is a published novelist, reads ancient Greek, Hebrew and Latin, studies philosophy, writes poetry, and, oh yes… he plays the beauty of Schubert and Chopin while possessing the physique of Schwarzenegger or Stallone.

Born Johnny Barto Smith Jr. in Eustis FL, he was given the name Tzimon by famed Julliard instructor Adele Marcus with whom he studied. She later claimed she was joking about the name change in response to his concern that Johnny Smith might be too plain a name for a classical pianist.  But the name stuck and is now known around the world.

He first started studying the piano at the age of 5 under the instruction of his grandmother. His studies continued at Rollins College, the Brevard Music Center and, as stated earlier, Julliard. Since then, he has performed with nearly every major international orchestra including the New York Philharmonic, Berliner Philharmoniker, the London Philharmonic and the NHK Symphony Orchestra Tokyo.

If you’re unable to stop by the studio to hear some of this brilliant artist which will be our background music during the next few days while I transfer his tapes, here’s a video of him performing Mozart’s Rondo for Piano and Orchestra in A major with the SWR Symphonieorchester.

 


Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio of Mount Dora specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotape, audio recordings, photos and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Voices From The Past

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It has always been a toss up to me as to what might carry more emotional weight for someone… seeing a familiar image or hearing a familiar sound.  Today’s memory leans towards the audio vote.

I had a man come into the studio today carrying an armful of 1/4 inch reel to reel audio tapes. He was specifically looking for one he thought existed but none of the tapes were labeled so he didn’t know if he had found it. I had some free time so we starting playing through them. Most contained music that must have been performed 50 or more years ago. There was one consisting of a number of sermons recorded by the same preacher. And then we came to the last tape. At first we thought it was blank but we ran it through to the end and reversed it on the machine. When we started playing the other side, we were stunned to hear the clear and delightfully young voices of this man and his siblings playing with the tape recorder.

Immediately, the emotional level in the room red-lined. The man got quiet, his head bowed; my wife became visibly stirred, even I got a bit misty-eyed watching him drink in the voices from his past. His sister, no longer with us; his father, now in a nursing home but then a vibrant young man playing with his new family; and his own sweet pre-school aged voice. It was a touching moment and one I was quite privileged to experience.

Tomorrow, a video may evoke similar feelings but, today, just the sound of a few forgotten voices that electronically survived the passing years was able to melt three adult hearts… two of which had never heard them before. But there was that one heart who remembered them only too well and we felt and shared the emotion that flooded his soul.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

I Wanted A Hot Dog, Not A Math Problem

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One of the great imponderables of life has always been: How come hot dogs come in packs of ten and hot dog buns come in packs of eight? The only way to come out even is if you decide to buy 40 of each (4 packs of dogs and 5 packs of buns.) Unless you have a huge family to feed, how much sense does that make?

While there have been logical explanations provided by both meat packers and bread makers defending their respective packaging decisions, it really isn’t what I sat down to write about. You see, the recording industry has its own version of this dilemma.

A CD is designed to hold 74 minutes of audio recording. There’s a bit of an old wives’ tale stating that engineers developing the technology wanted to ensure the entire performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony would fit onto a single CD. I’m not sure if that is entirely true but it is an interesting folk tale. Regardless, the 74 minute length didn’t cause many problems at first when transferring vinyl records or early audio cassettes to a CD format as both analog types were typically under 60 minutes of playing time beginning to end.

But as audio tape manufacturers continued to develop their products, audio cassette lengths increased and 90 minute tapes became commonplace (45 minutes of recordable tape per side.) And try as I might, I have never quite figured out how to squeeze 90 minutes of recording onto a 74 minute disc.

So, when faced with clients who have 90 minute tapes they want digitalized, I have to inform them that what they will receive (and what they will have to pay for) is a two disc set as the full recording is too large to fit on a single CD.

And in case you were wondering, if you wanted to come out even… bringing in enough 90 minutes tapes to fill each and every CD to their fullest 74 minute capacity,  the number of tapes you would need to bring in is … 37  tapes. That will exactly fit onto 45 CDs. And I would be more than happy to handle that job for you.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio of Mount Dora specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of films, videotapes, audio cassettes, photos and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

A Ship By Any Other Name

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A bit of history walked through the doors of Home Video Studio yesterday. But before we get into that, some facts:

The first USS Ticonderoga was an 18-gun schooner that was in service from 1814-1825.

The second USS Ticonderoga was a screw sloop-of-war in commission from 1863-1881.

The third USS Ticonderoga was a former German cargo ship that served in the Naval Overseas Transportation Service during World War I.

The fourth USS Ticonderoga was a long hull Essex-class aircraft carrier that served during WWII and beyond; from 1944 -1973.

The fifth USS Ticonderoga was a guided-missile cruiser that served from 1981-2004.

The Ticonderoga name has served our country well in all its forms. But it was her fourth reincarnation (the aircraft carrier) that brought her to our attention. Yesterday, I was presented with reel to reel audio tapes containing the actual mission control recordings for the Apollo 16 and 17 moon missions and the Skylab recovery mission.

Back in the day, before the space shuttle and the Space-X automated re-entry boosters, space capsules returning to earth splashed down in the ocean. It was up to assigned US military vessels to be on hand to retrieve them. The Ticonderoga ( the aircraft carrier) was assigned to recover the capsules during the aforementioned space expeditions. The tapes from mission control were given to the historical society that is tasked with maintaining the official archives for the Ticonderoga. They, in turn, passed the tapes to me for digitalization and preservation.

It is an honor to be a part of this history. Just as it is an honor to be a part of yours.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio of Mount Dora specialize in the preservation of family memories. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit www.homevideostudio.com/mtd.