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Going digital

The digitisation process

Most of the recordings at the heart of Revealing Voices were on reel-to-reel magnetic tape dating from the 1960s, 70s and 80s,  and had been recorded originally on the large format recording equipment at Radio Stoke's Conway House studios, or portable Uher tape recorders for outside interviews. A few recordings were on cassette tape.

As magnetic tape is a perishable format, the most urgent task was to digitise the content of the recordings to prevent the material being lost forever before the tapes deteriorated beyond rescue.

We are grateful to the HLF for funding professional digitisation and restoration of the tapes, which has been expertly undertaken by Great Bear Analogue and Digital Media.

We began by providing Great Bear with a range of sample tapes to evaluate. They proved to be of good quality and in good condition, suitable for digitisation. After the sample batch, including tapes of different lengths, age and tape stock had been evaluated and successfully digitised, it was an exciting moment when we delivered several crates containing 440 tapes to the Great Bear studio in Bristol on 5th November 2016. 

Digitisation of the tapes was a time-consuming and painstaking process. Each recording had to be played back and digitised in real time, with the technicians making adjustments to suit each individual tape, according to the type of equipment they were originally recorded on, and the condition of the individual tape. Our 440 tapes produced 530 sound files, representing 152 hours, 45 minutes and 8 seconds of recordings. The shortest recording was 15 seconds long; the longest over an hour. Most recordings were between 15 and 30 minutes in length. 

Most of the tapes had survived in remarkably good condition, with only a few requiring restoration work or other specialist attention if they were on unconventional tape stock. Some tapes turned out to have more than one track, which Great Bear were able to separate, which is why we received back more audio files than the number of tapes that we had delivered!

In short, the recordings have gone from being stored in private premises on perishable, archaic reel-to-reel tapes requiring scarce and obsolete equipment to be played, to being held in a future-proofed digital format that can be stored easily by the archives service and can readily be made available to the public via commonplace IT equipment.

Tape stock

The collection included recordings on a range of professional tape stock, including

  • Racal-Zonal
  • EMI
  • BASF

Great Bear

We are grateful to Great Bear for the interest, enthusiasm, care and attention that they have brought to the project.  Their blog entry about the experience of working on Revealing Voices is at:

Great Bear Analogue and Digital Media