Fred Vobbe is an avid radio/television enthusiast, and broadcast engineer. He is also an instructor and speaker on the topics of radio and television management, and specializes in motovational and improvement topics for people working in the broadcast industry. His instructional programs have helped to improve productivity and profits in business.
The following is an article written for After Dark Eight, a publication of the National Radio Club's DX Audio Service.
Airchecking As A Hobby
By: Frederick R. Vobbe, May 1998
Many DX Audio Service members enjoy recording radio stations on open reel, or cassette tapes. This action, or hobby, is called "Aircheck Collecting".
Over the years the hobby has changed, and evolved into what some call, "an art", due in part to how people perform the hobby. Collectors record using cassette machines, open reel tape recorders, DAT machines, or even HI-FI VHS video recorders.
This article will hopefully inform you on different aspects of the hobby. I will warn you up front that I will offer my opinions, but take what I tell you and mold it to suit your personal needs. I'm not an expert on the subject, but I have yet to meet anyone in the past twenty-five years that does qualify as an expert, (even though a few people have indicated that they are the ultimate authority on the subject).
So what qualifies me as the expert on this subject? To put it in black and white terms, I have no right to say I am an expert. However, one thing I have done all my life is to listen, learn, observe, and chronicle situations and human behavior on a variety of topics. I have written several articles on these subjects looking at the situation, the transactions, and the end results. One of my favorite subjects in school was history, and I firmly believe that if you look at a historical event and what happened, you can improve your abilities and productivity by not repeating the errors, and using the positive points to better position your plan for success.
WHY PEOPLE AIRCHECK
People aircheck for different reasons. Perhaps it's to record their favorite station, or a particular format they like. Maybe it's because the DJ or announcer is someone who is interesting. Or, they could be trading tapes with others to just hear what radio sounds like in someone else's community.
I personally like tapes of stations with Oldies and Adult Contemporary formats. On the professional side I analyze the format and presentation, and put it into perspective with the station's profitability and ratings placement to see what makes a successful station. On the hobby side, I just like to listen to what radio sounds like in other areas of the country and the world.
Everyone seems to have different type of preferences towards what they like to listen to. An acquaintance of mine collects airchecks of gospel stations. Another friend likes the Contemporary Hit Radio format. Another friend collects only "classic" airchecks of stations where the tape was recorded ten or more years ago. And yet another collector of airchecks looks for recordings of pirate, or unlicensed stations.
It doesn't matter what you collect, and chances are there are others out there who collect something like you do, or close to it. While some just record a radio station and put the tape on the shelf, others document in complicated databases everything from call letters, the date and time span the recording was made, to the announcer's name, and even include all sorts of symbols to denote things like formats, news networks, signal quality, audio fidelity coding, frequency of the station, the format of the tape, and if the tape was recorded in mono or stereo.
My first rule of this hobby is, "if it seems like work, it's not a hobby." If collecting tapes starts to become a chore, and I have to take time out from my family, spend a lot of time sending E-mail and letters to people, typing up documentation, and spending oodles of money on postage to send tapes, then it's really not fun. I guess this is the reason that most people I have known who have started out with a mission to aircheck and collect everything on the air have all but vanished from the hobby. Don't make work out of your hobby. Don't put yourself in a position where you have to stress yourself out just to enjoy aircheck collecting. It should be fun and relaxing, and not something that you know will increase your stress level. Make things as easy as possible and you will enjoy it.
Rule number two is don't let others dictate what is proper protocol for collecting. This simply means that as "your hobby", there should not be constraints or restrictions placed upon you. I remember many years back when I collected jingles, traders would often mandate limits such as, "I'll give you this, but promise not to give it to Ron or Suzie." Or, if you didn't collect what types of jingles they did, then you were somehow not fitting in with the "normal jingle collector". If people are setting rules and telling you that this is the way it's normally done, then I suggest that you just quietly move onto someone else. For every dictator, there are many, many others that enjoy trading without rules.
Having said that, let's look at the different things that make up the hobby, and "aircheck speak". Again, I'm going to offer my thoughts, but feel free to modify anything to suit your personal tastes. After all, it is your hobby.
WHAT IS AIRCHECKING?
Having found no description of it in a Webster's dictionary, let's consult "Fred's History of Life" Dictionary, 30th edition. Airchecking is simply the recording of a radio broadcasts off a radio. The term was started in the mid 1950s by disk jockeys who recorded their shows so they could analyze their program and polish their presentation. Prior to that, recordings were made of stations but mostly for archival purposes, such as theatrical performances and music events. I guess you could say that Orson Wells "War of the Worlds" or any classic radio broadcast is technically an aircheck, but typically these are defined as "recorded shows" rather than airchecks.
I personally look at airchecking pertaining more to the recording of AM, and FM broadcast stations in the local area. However, I do know people who aircheck short-wave stations, television news broadcasts, police scanners, remote broadcasts on radio RPU/1 channels, data transmissions, SCA and SAP/2 programming, and just about anything which can be picked up. I personally do not look at recordings of distant stations, or DX/3 , as being airchecks, unless the recording is very good quality. A recording of a distant station, or DX, is a "proof tape" of a DX reception. I also think of airchecks as long passages, or timelines, of a specific station. Bits and pieces of broadcasts, jingles, and just the Top of the Hour identifications from stations are not airchecks. To sum it up, an aircheck is a recording of a station whereby you can follow and understand how a particular radio station sounds at that moment in time.
SCOPED VERSUS NON-SCOPED
Sometimes you will hear the term "Scoped". What this means is that the tape has been edited to cut down on the storage of the program on the tape. Editing can resolve a three hour broadcast of a music show down to one side of a C-60 cassette. Some people do not like scoping tapes as they say it ruins the integrity of the program. Personally, I prefer scoped tapes because I can get more of the station's breaks on the tape. After all, once I have heard "Teddy Bear" by Elvis, I don't need to hear it again. Here is how I scope a tape.
I first start recording a C-90 tape 5 minutes before the top of the hour so I can get the stations legal ID at the start of the recording. When the tape comes to the end, I flip the tape over and record the other side. I may even use multiple tapes to record several hours. When I edit an aircheck tape, I will allow the music to play for about five to ten seconds after the announcer quits talking over the intro of the song. I then stop the recorder, and restart it five to ten seconds before the announcer starts speaking again. I also cut out the commercials in the same manor. All I'm looking for on my tapes is to get a good idea of how the station is formatted, how the station and announcer handles breaks in the format, and how the announcer presents himself or herself on the air.
I don't care to hear the whole song or any long spot clusters. I do, however, restart before promos, live read commercials and live local news, weather, and sports, so I have that presentation in a complete form. Most of the time I will trim national newscasts like I do music.
Scoping can save a lot of time on the tapes, but it does cost you some time. I'm lucky that I have a computer audio workstation, so I simply load in the three hours of broadcast, then cut and paste till I have it cut down as far as I can. This also helps me as I can edit the aircheck and determine if it would best fit on a C-60 or a C-90 tape. It can take a couple of hours to properly edit a tape, so you have to weigh the pros and cons of editing. On one side of the coin, you have a final tape where the presentation is complete, and you get just the station's "feel", but you also had to invest some time into making the tape. When in doubt, fall back to my first rule… don't make it a full time job.
If you are interested in editing using your computer, sound editors like "Cool Edit" or Digital Audio Labs "EdDitor Plus" can be found on the world wide web, or at any broadcast equipment distributor, and will allow you to be very creative in your sound editing.
Another term you may hear about is studiocheck. This is simply an aircheck which is made at the station's studio, off the program line, and not off a radio. Back when I was in radio in the nineteen-seventies, it was common to have a tape deck dedicated to the program line, and it would turn on by the announcer turning the microphone "on" in the studio. While the studio check is usually pristine quality, I find that levels can be all over the place, and not necessarily representative of the station's sound. You may not only lose the compression which is used to keep modulation levels at a set standard, but also things such as equalization or reverb.
Also, since the recording was controlled by the announcer turning on and off the microphone switch, it is scoped, and in some cases much tighter than the five to seven seconds that I usually allow in scoping a tape.
Another term you will hear is the word "dub". Dub means to make a copy of a tape, double, or duplicate it. If a collector wants a dub of a tape, all they want is for you to copy the tape.
Many collectors will speak about "one to one". What this means is if you send me one tape, I'll send you one tape. After you get to know the other person better you can perhaps increase that to two or more tapes, as well as tell them what you like to hear.
Ratings are another term which people use. This usually pertains to a figure the different rating companies use, and it's a good guideline to go by when asking someone in another city to record something for you. The number usually refers to the "share" or "quarterly cume". The share is basically a percentage of the total radio listening audience. For example, you might hear that in the Detroit market that station WXXX has a 23 share. What this means is that around 23 percent of the people in Detroit listen to WXXX, while the remaining 77 percent listen to other stations. Another way you hear this referenced is the most popular station in rankings to the least popular. The number one station in the market is the station holding the largest share of listeners.
Keep in mind that while the major market stations usually hold the number one through ten spots, there are usually some good sounding stations in the suburbs. As DX Audio Service member Marc Marino showed us on one DX Audio Service issue, some of the outlying stations can be very interesting to listen to and have very good programming.
One last set of terms you will encounter is AM Drive or PM drive, overnights, mid-day, evenings. All these words mean is the time of day the tape was recorded. AM drive is typically the shift between 5:30AM to 10AM. Mid-day is 10AM to 3PM. PM Drive is 3PM to 7PM. Evenings are from 7PM to midnight. And overnight is midnight to 5:30AM.
You may encounter some other radio terms and abbreviations. The most of the common ones are found in the index of the National Radio Club's "AM Radio Log" available from the National Radio Club's Publications Center/4. These terms might designate network, format, or something else pertinent to the indexing of the aircheck.
METHODS TO RECORD AND ARCHIVE
Just about every aircheck I have is recorded on cassette tape. I do know people who record on HI-FI VHS at slow speed, DATs, reel to reel, digital WAV and Real Audio files. One fellow takes four radios and records a different station on different tracks in discrete four channel sound, or as he calls it, "a market minute".
I like cassettes because they are small, inexpensive, they store ample amounts of audio, quality is good, and you can easily duplicate tapes for your friends. I don't see the need to record a radio station on a CD quality source unless the program material is really good quality or very valuable. After all, how good is the quality of a transmitted AM or FM signal? Does it make sense to record an AM station in digital quality?
Recording in mono or stereo is subjective. It's your personal taste. I have many airchecks recorded in mono of stereo FM stations, and they are not any less valuable to me due to being in mono. It's simply your choice. The way I look at it, I'm collecting for a snapshot of a station, and for the presentation. With the exception of jingles out of breaks, and short bits of stereo music, not a lot tends to be in stereo in a scoped aircheck.
Cassettes are inexpensive, and most people I know use the C-90 length. A C-90 offers a good amount of storage, at a decent price, and is good quality.
Speaking of quality let me address "cheap tapes". I use only music grade tapes which I buy in bulk from a company called Audio Video Distributors/5. The tapes are sold "bulk" in 100 count cartons, and available in a variety of lengths and shell colors. If you don't want a fancy cassette label on your tape, an Avery FF-3 file folder label is more than sufficient. If you do not want to purchase in bulk, I would suggest sticking to the TDK or Maxell tape brand.
I never use bargain brand tapes for several reasons. First is that they always fall apart with age or just do not record good. I know people who use them simply because it's a cheap tape to give away to friends. I prefer not to trade with people who use cheap tapes. It's not because I want them to spend money on tapes for me, but because I prefer anything I collect to have some longevity to it. I also believe that if I go to the trouble to send someone a decent tape, they should do the same. Tapes are cheap, especially if you buy in bulk lots. If you don't have the resources get 100 tapes as a time, you can get a twelve pack of very good quality tapes for fewer than ten dollars at most discount stereo shops and even Wal-mart.
Recycled "good" tapes are OK, but old tapes from the 60s and 70s that you have purchased, old reading service tapes, and bargain brands just don't hold up over time and give very disappointing results. They could also turn a lot of people off in wanting to trade with you, especially if you are using them to send out airchecks in an effort to get rid of your junk.
Keep in mind that every form of archiving tapes has its risks and costs. While using good tape may be expensive, I can't tell you how many cheap tapes I have lost or had to re-record simply because they fell apart over the last decade.
A quick note on tape. Tape is a plastic film with oxide particles adhered to the film with a bonding agent. Tapes can be damaged if not stored correctly. Over the past twenty years there has been a lot of discussion about the proper storage of tapes. First of all, keep them in low humidity areas. High humidity can break down the bonding agent, which soaks through the oxide, so when you play the tape, it either jams in the machine or squeals as it plays. When this happens, the tape is usually a total loss. Sometimes if you are able to copy it to a good tape and save it, but count on some work and effort.
Cassette tapes, as well as reel to reel tapes, do not like heat. Storing them on the dashboard of a car, or on top of equipment is not advised. When storing tapes, I recommend storing tapes in wall racks or vertically on shelves. Stacking a bunch on top of each other tends to cause weight on the inner hub of the tape, which causes warping. The warping translates to the audio going in and out on playback, and there is nothing that you can do to correct a warped tape. Finally, many manufacturers say that when you fast-forward or rewind a tape and then store it, the tape is loosely packed on the hub. This can cause some storage problems. It's always best to store tapes after they have been played through to the end. One final note on tapes. Do you know what the best thing is about airchecks recorded on cassette tapes? If the tape is not to your liking, you can always erase it and put something new on the tape. Try doing that in record collecting, stamp collecting, and other hobbies!
At this point, you might wonder how to record an aircheck. As I explained, I like to start recording at five minutes before the top of the hour. In most cases this allows you to catch the station identification, and their local news. However, in these days of ID's at ten till, and no news at the top of the hour, you might want to make exceptions to the rule.
As soon as I start recording, I fill out the label or cassette card for the tape. This way the information is fresh in my mind. Nothing is worse than finding a tape that is months old and try to figure out dates and who the announcer was. It's also difficult for someone else to know the details of a tape you send them unless you send some documentation with it. Just think for a second, if I sent you a tape of an Oldies show where the announcer said only "K-102" and never gave a mention of his name or the date of the show, how would you know?
When I record, I use several methods. At my home I have a tuner which can be directly patched into my digital sound recorder. After I record an hour or two of the station, I'll scope it down, and play it to a cassette tape. You can do the same thing, except patch the tuner into a cassette deck's "line in" jack.
When on the road, my system is a little simpler. I take my Sony ICF-2010 or GE SuperRadio III, with a Marantz PDM-221 cassette recorder. A patch cord goes from the radio's earpiece jack to the "line in" on the cassette deck. It's simple, and the equipment with a stack of 50 tapes fits in a camera travel case which I found at a garage sale for $15.00.
I've only encountered a few problems while recording outside of my home. When in a motel room you may experience FM multipath, or interference from other transmitters nearby. In fact, when I visit Las Vegas for the National Association of Broadcasters Convention each year, I try to record stations. I miss three to five automatically because the signal is just not clean enough in a hotel room. When recording AM stations, the problem is usually man-made noise from television sets, motors on elevators and air conditioners, and security lights which cause severe buzzing in the stations signal.
I have recorded while driving my car by connecting a cord from the pre-amp outputs of the radio in the dash, to the cassette machine. Most airchecks come out real nice, but a few get messed up when I drive under power lines or a bridge. I remember one time when I was trying to record a station while driving on Chicago's loop. It seemed that everytime the announcer would speak, there would be some noise, and when they gave their top of the hour station ID, I happened to be in the tollbooth where the signal was almost gone!
Try to get the best signal possible by connecting your FM tuner to an outside antenna, or use a pair of "rabbit ears" mounted on a high shelf. For AM you might want to consider using a loop antenna, or at the least something which will allow you to maximize the signal, and minimize the noise. You can buy loop antennas from some ham radio outlets, or build your own from plans available from the National Radio Club's Publication Center/6. When recording an AM station, try to use the "wideband" mode of the radio for best clarity.
Always use a patch cord from the radio to the recorder. Using a microphone might be a quick way to catch something unique, or a news event, but the quality is always very poor.
If you are recording on a cassette machine with an automatic level, or "AGC", keep the level going into the recorder to a moderate level. You can run into two problems with the AGC of a recorder. First is that some AGC circuits will distort as they process the audio. Also, the compression can change the sound of the station as it tries to track the audio and make adjustments. If you can use a recorder with no AGC circuit, or one you can turn off, you will likely have better results.
As far as types of cassette recorders, you can find monophonic recorders in portable configurations for as low as $39 all the way up to home component systems in the $500 or more range. Wal-mart has small radio/recorder units for as low at $19.97. Features aside, what you want is cassette recorder which will record cleanly and with high quality. If you are shopping for one, ask the salesperson to hook it up to a tuner and record a station. Then compare the playback of the station to what you hear on the tuner. Listen for distortion, or if the highs seem to disappear on playback. These are signs of inferior products.
Some cheaper cassette recorders do not have a "line in" jack. If you try to feed a line out from a tuner or headphone out from a radio into a microphone input, it will likely overdrive the microphone input causing distortion. If this is the case, you need to purchase an attenuating patch cord which will drop the audio level down about 50 to 65 dB.
No matter how you record the tapes, you can save them as is, scope them down for archival later, or simply erase them if you feel that the content or the recording quality was poor.
WHEN TO RECORD
When you collect tapes of airchecks, keep in mind that what you are recording is a moment in history. Can you honestly say that the station you are listening to now is the same station you listened to five years ago? Was the morning talent there five years ago? What else has changed about the station? Radio changes like the seasons. Case in point, I started to write this article in mid February. Here in mid May I'm publishing the article. In March at 5:00PM my local station on 93.1 started playing a loop of "Another One Bites The Dust" in preparation for a format change from classic rock to hot country. Do I have any aircheck of them when they were rock? Sadly, no. I never got around to recording them, so this station with the rock format is lost forever.
From one month to the next, there is no guarantee that the station you are listening to now will be the same format, or will have the same people on the air. You might wish to periodically record a station and tuck the tape away. Use a calendar or some reminder so you aircheck on a regular basis. If in six months you record the station again, and nothing has changed, you can consider erasing the first tape. But suppose the station changes, if you did not record it, it's lost forever.
Another time to record, especially if you are a news and information junkie, is when a natural disaster is looming, or thunderstorms are coming in. You might record a great news story as it happens, or your local station could go off the air, leaving you access to a station which you could not receive prior.
Keep your ear open for news of ownership changes. Sometimes when a new owner comes in, they will dismiss the entire air staff, and sometimes radically change the format. Wouldn't it be nice to have a "before and after" aircheck of such a station.
And finally, keep in touch with people in the broadcasting community. You might get a piece of information such as "WZZZ will be changing formats this Monday… oh and this is a secret".
You also need to take care of your collection unless you know that in the future there will be no regrets for lost or mislabeled material. I lost about thirty-four hours of priceless Toledo and Detroit radio material from the mid-sixties which were on unlabeled reels of tape which were lost in my many moves in my radio career. I also lost my database in the mid nineteen-eighties because I lost the computer file in my old Tandy TRS-80, Model 1. I didn't have a printout, I had no backup, so I have to figure out what is on tapes number 0001 to 0632.
If you have a lot of tapes in your collection, you need some way to catalog them in some common form. I know collectors who are at both ends of the spectrum. Some don't have a clue what tapes they have unless they pull them out one by one and listen to them. Still others painstakingly detail everything in a massive database. One fellow whom I traded some tapes with lists the exact time (to the second) of the recording, if the tape is a copy or master, whom he got the tape from or if he recorded it. If he did recorded it he notes where he recorded it to the nearest small town. He notes if the tape was a studiocheck or aircheck, if recorded in mono or stereo, if it's an AM stereo aircheck, and more information than most of us would like to know. It's your choice how much work you want to put into it. I prefer the simple method.
When I record a tape, I jot down the following information. The date, station call letters or name with possibly the city, and then the announcer. A typical entry might look like this. "02/02/74 WTUU Fred Vobbe", or "02/02/74 WTUU-Toledo Fred Vobbe". That's it. To me, everything else is inconsequential as far as the tape is concerned. A friend of mine will index his tapes with the date as part of a number. A tape recorded on 02/02/74 might be indexed as #740202.
Each tape is assigned a number. I write the number on the tape and on the plastic box. That way if the two are separated, we can get them back together. I use the hard plastic boxes for cassette storage that I buy from a company called Polyline/7. They cost about seventeen cents each. I use a label like the ones sold under the Avery name that are used for file folders. Office Max has them with no colors as "Pres-a-ply #30531". A box of two hundred and forty-eight labels is a few dollars. You can print on them the tape number, plus some info. The labels also seem to work well in most Braillewriters.
At one time I stored my tapes in trays which I got from Radio Shack in the late seventies. That was good then when I had about a hundred tapes, but as my collection grew I found the trays were a pain because if I wanted tape 602, I had to think if it was in tray 46 or tray 59. You get the picture. I found some inexpensive cassette holders that mount on a wall from Long's Electronics/8. They hold about 100 tapes per rack. Although they do take up wall space, I found it was easier to locate tapes than pillage through trays, boxes, and drawers.
Now that each tape has a number, I can keep a list of my tapes. Again, I know people who keep no lists at all, and those that have lists that can equal a CIA database. I keep mine simple, and I feel accurate. I use a simple form of Word97. I made a three column table, with the first column being the tape number, the second one being the type of tape (a physical description of a tape, such as C-60 or C-90 cassette), then the third column details the contents of the tape. The reason for noting the tape size is so if someone asks me for a copy of a tape, I know what length of tape to use for his or her tape. An entry in my log might look like this;
|0665||C-90||07/06/88 KITS Dr. Don Rose, and 1985 KFRC Bobby Ocean|
Some may argue that this is not enough, and would say that if they wanted to find all my Dr. Don Rose airchecks they would have to go through a lot of trouble. Nonsense. In Word97 it's easy to locate them with the Control-F command. Likewise, if I post the list on a Web Page, anyone can search for an entry the same way. My Netscape 3.1 has the search function using Control-F and the F-3 key if you want to find the next occurrence of the search.
Perhaps the only valid argument is if I print the list and send it to someone. However, if I'm printing a list of every tape I have on my fancy H.P. Inkjet printer, I'm doing this as a courtesy, and I can't custom build lists and databases for everyone. Remember that this is only a hobby.
I may put comments in the list such as "1987 Jock Reunion" or "First Day on Air", but for the most part I keep it simple and to the point.
NETWORKING FOR CONTACTS
Contacting people who share like interests can be a bit of a problem. First of all, you are dealing with a group of people on the radio end which moves around a lot, which leaves us "normal" people who are content to trade tapes. I have never known of any publications or magazines, other that the companies that sell tapes, that offer a forum for people to connect up.
In my personal experiences, I have tried ads in trade magazines, newspapers, and even subscribed to some E-mail reflectors on the Internet, but the results were not too good. The magazine ads brought in people, but they were typically the ones that wanted a lot of what I had, but didn't have anything to trade. On the other side, I was very disappointed with one Internet E-mail reflector to which I subscribed. Most of the banter was heated arguments on who was the best jocks, or which station played the most Spice Girls songs, or debates by make-believe program directors on what they would do if they ran a station. The people who I did correspond with typically traded "a tape", but complained heavily that my stations in Lima didn't sound as good as theirs, or that I did not label the cassette to their standard, or insulted me in the public forum for offering to trade a tape which I had as "scoped".
Just a personal comment at this junction. I have always maintained in many of my discussions that Internet E-mail has two drawbacks. Drawback one: I feel it was E-mail and Newsgroups were invented so that some people who can not normally communicate in a civilized manor have a platform in which to display themselves without being chastised for their actions. When using these modes of communications people will often say things that they would ever say to your face or put in a conventional letter. For some reason those typing the messages feel an invincibility towards their action. Some of the folks in these newsgroups were the most dysfunctional group of people I have ever met. Secondly: E-mail has a tendency to instill urgency or the perception of being able to do things quickly. Because you can send a message from one side of the world to the other, some people seem to think, incorrectly, that trading tapes can be done with the same speed. Case in point, let's do some math. Suppose someone asks you to record 5 morning shows on C-90 tapes. If you work, chances are that you can only record one tape each morning unless you have multiple tape decks and radios. It would take a few days to record the material, box it up, and a week or so for it to get to the person who requested it. However, I can't tell you how many times people who use E-mail will write only two days after making a request asking, "did you send the tapes yet?" For some reason those that use E-mail seem to perceive an urgency to their request which has priorities over your daily routine. For these reasons I don't like to use E-mail as my forum for contacts as it can be counter productive. The people trading by conventional mail are typically a lot nicer.
Where can you go to get good results? One is in your own backyard. Your talking book magazine. I'm amazed at the number of people who trade tapes, yet many are unaware of the other collector's presence. If you want to trade tapes, the best thing to do is make yourself and your intentions known."
For those of you who are worried about privacy, it's not unusual to trade strictly by mail, with a Post Office Box. I did it for many years, and made it a policy to let traders know that I didn't give out my home telephone number. It was not because I was being a snob, but because I worked morning drive at a station and got up at 3:00AM. I just didn't want calls at 8:00PM waking me up just to talk about tape trading. For $36.00 a year I got a small post office box, and that was more than sufficient for all my trading.
The best thing you can do to enhance your trading is being up front with the people you trade with. Tell them what you want, how often you wish to trade, what they can get in return, and your commitment to the hobby. As long as traders know what the other person can do, there are seldom problems.
In my opinion, I would be skeptical about ads in magazines about collecting, especially if the person puts in some kind of pseudo company name. I've seen names in trade magazines like "Joe's Airchecks" or "Pete's Real Time Radio". Most of these people are looking to either make a buck off you by selling tapes, or they have not gotten along in the normal aircheck hobby groups and are using this as their venue to attract people. I have nothing against free enterprise; it's just that I've never found one of these individuals to have anything to offer me which I really wanted at the price they commanded. I could do much better to just trade tapes with someone, and not involve money in the deal.
In my opinion, the best way is to leave a personal ad on your talking book magazine, and pass the word around your local radio community that you are interested in collecting tapes. In fact, why not record your local station, and send the jock a copy of a scoped down tape of his show. Include a note just mentioning that you collect airchecks, and you might find that the announcer has tapes to trade, or knows other tape traders. As you meet more people, your list of traders will get bigger.
Be sure that you keep addresses and phone numbers of people you normally trade with so you can send out material periodically, but out of courtesy of privacy, don't share this information with new contacts unless you have permission to do so. Some people don't like their personal information distributed. On your contact sheet, keep track of that person's interests so when you have an opportunity to record something they may like, you can send them a tape of the material. You will often find that they will then watch out for stuff for you in the same way.
I'll touch on this subject later, but, be courteous. Don't make demands on people, or their time. Treat others as you would want to be treated, otherwise the network of "word of mouth" will have you labeled as a pest, and nobody will be willing to trade with you.
This is an interesting subject, because there are so many people out there trying to sell you airchecks. Some are very reputable businesses with long good track records, while others are just someone who is trying to make a buck off their own collection. You have to be careful when buying tapes as you could be buying a copy, or something that is overpriced for what you wanted. A couple of companies, which I feel are decent, are Tom Konard's "Aircheck Factory"/9, and another is "California Aircheck"/10. These people have been around for years, and they can be trusted to sell you a good "original" product. There are other companies, but they have yet to answer my inquiry which leads me to believe that something is not quite right.
If you buy a tape, the going rate is typically between $5.00 to $15.00, postpaid, for a C-60 to C-90 tape. I have seen solicitors on the Internet trying to sell airchecks with fillers at the ends of the tape containing jingles for as much as $50.00. This is absurd. If you want to pay that much for a tape, go right ahead. But I would rather put a "Ulysses Grant" down for something of better value. If someone were selling DAT tapes or CDs, I would question that a digital media recording of an analog station would offer any benefit. Unless the DAT tape is three hours long, I don't see the need. Some of the people selling airchecks simply take a tape which they got from someone else, or from a legitimate aircheck tape company, and copied it. You know as well as I do that making a copy of a cassette is easy.
About a decade ago there was argument through the courts over airchecks being used in rebroadcast. The courts ruled that one station could not just play an aircheck of another station without prior permission. However, to my knowledge, there is nothing illegal in making a copy of a recording of a radio station for another person. If someone knows of such a law please contact me but be prepared to site a legal source, including the specific case in a court of law.
I guess to sum it up, as the saying goes, "let the buyer beware". You can find some good stuff from people that sell tapes, but you might also be able to find this material and much more from people whom are willing to trade this material to you for something they want.
To start off your trading, try the "one on one" with someone. After you get to know them, and feel comfortable in trading, then you can increase the number of tapes. Be sure to articulate your desires of what you are looking for, and the number of tapes you wish to trade in each exchange. If you like oldies stations, and you tell someone to record you "something", then don't be offended when you get a tape of "NPR Morning Edition". Specify what you want.
Be up front with people about your ability to tape trade. If you have a job that demands your time, let them know that tapes will be recorded at a leisurely pace. Keep in mind that not everyone keeps your schedule, your flexibility of hours, and has the freedom that you do. The most common problem I have seen is when someone who is unemployed or on part time work trades with someone who is full time or has a busy schedule. While you may be able to record ten tapes a day because you have no work demands, it does not mean that others can do the same. Be realistic, and flexible in your requests.
The normal arrangement collectors make is to send one of your own tapes to a trader, and he or she sends one of their tapes to you. For this reason, you should always use a good quality C-90 or C-60 tape. Old reading service tapes and odd length tapes should not be used for airchecks unless you will not be offended by a voice quality C-32 tape coming back to you. But let me say this, not many people trade using old tapes.
It's always best to trade one tape at a time, unless you have both agreed to multiple tapes. By trading one tape, you will not over-burden the trader you are working with. Sending three or more tapes may be generous, and your hopes are that the trader will return three tapes, but you may be increasing the traders workload. Keep it simple at the start.
Postage in the U.S. is simple for tapes. One fifty-five cent stamp pays for a cassette. That is first class mail. If you send more than five tapes, I would suggest putting them in the Priority Mail cardboard envelopes and send them two-day, for three dollars. Also, write on the outside, "Cassette Tapes - Do Not Crush".
Never, ever, send tapes in a letter envelope. The post office sorting machines will often destroy a tape, and I don't think it's fair to have to subject someone you trade with to have to deal with a broken tape, let alone having to bring it up uncomfortably in your next discussion that the tape was received damaged. You can get small boxes from Radio Shack or even the National Radio Club's Publications Center to mail a cassette in. Or, you can simply go to Office Max or Staples and get a floppy disk mailer and put the tape in it. Jiffy size "AAA" envelopes are more expensive, but I have yet to receive a tape in a padded envelope which has been destroyed by the Post Office. Just remember, don't use a business envelope. My feeling is, if you mail a tape in an envelope, and it gets destroyed in the mails, you are obligated to replace it without a single complaint. Use some common sense.
Include documentation on the tape. Just write the date, call sign, and announcer's name on the tape. I would not speak on the tape, unless you just say something like "WHFD Fred Richards 7/28/79" and that's it. Nothing bugs me more than having someone go into a 12-minute dissertation on the history of the station at the beginning, and limit the amount of the aircheck. If you want to speak it, say it quick with just the call sign, announcer, and date. Save the long explanations for a separate tape, or put it in a letter.
If you have the ability to make a list, it's often handy for someone to know what you can record in the market. The list need only be the frequency, call sign, and format of the station. That way, someone from out of town can tell what you can record. It will also save you having to explain in correspondence, or on the phone long distance, what you can record. You may even wish to compile a small sample tape of the stations in your market which would not only give someone an idea of what your area sounds like, but also the quality of the station signals you can record.
If you catalog your collection, make sheets available in print, or cassette form. A web page is great, but not everyone has access to the Internet. If requesting such a list from someone please offset their costs. Remember, the list is being provided to you as a courtesy. Send a couple of dollars, a $3.00 priority mailer, or even just some airchecks of your local stations for their collection. Don't assume that anyone is under an obligation to provide you full documentation because you "want it". Lists are a courtesy, and not an obligation.
Be as prompt as you can when trading tapes, but keep in mind priorities in your life. Try to turn tapes around quickly within reason, but don't give up your family obligations. Your copies should be as good quality as possible. When you send a tape be sure to include documentation, and thank the trader for tapes they have sent you.
Finally, don't believe that by sending a tape to someone obligates them to immediately return a tape back to you. Allow some latitude in your trading. If you're going to count beans and keep totals, you best move on. This is a hobby, and not high finance.
If you love to listen to broadcast band radio, airchecking is a great hobby. No matter if you are a collector of formats, personalities, or just for the historic sake, there is something available. It's the only hobby I know where you can keep or recycle your collection. It's a hobby where you can collect from others, or just build your collection from what you are able to record. It's a hobby where a $9.95 pocket transistor radio and $29.00 cassette machine can get you started. However, remember that it is a hobby, and not a job.
The satisfaction of the aircheck collecting hobby can be great when you get things that you want, and your collection starts to grow. It's also a great way to meet people, and talk about radio. Unlike DX'ing which is limited to DXers and engineer types, aircheck collecting can cross into the avenues of people who working in the media making the broadcasts. Plus, you can be an aircheck collector and a DXer at the same time
If you have not airchecked in a while, record your favorite station right now! Stick that tape away for two, three, or six months, the pull it out and listen to it. See if you don't enjoy a slice of history, made possible by "the aircheck".
I'm Fred Vobbe . Thanks for listening and be sure to start those tapes recording tonight!
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(c) Frederick R. Vobbe, May 1998