In the 1950s and the 60s no voice recording devices were available to us and music for us meant music from the radio and the records played on the gramophones /record players. Reel to reel tape recorders also known as spool type recorders were the only familiar recording device which were not freely available in the market though. Rare imported sets of brands like Phillips,Akai, Grundig, Pioneer, Panasonic etc., could be seen in some affluent/fortunate households. Out of this, the Grundig spool tape recorders were the most seen. Despite various sizes of the spools and the cumbersome procedure to play them and record on them they were still coveted objects of music lovers. As youngsters, who could ill afford to buy even gramophone records and record players, they remained as one more item in our long list of gadgets to be acquired as and when our purse could oblige. The U.M.S. Radio factory at Coimbatore who used to manufacture the popular brand of UMS Radios under technical collaboration with Grundig, Germany, we thought, would bring out the Grundig model recorders in the local market at affordable prices. But our hopes were belied when the UMS-Grundig tie-up was terminated in 1970.
The position remained so till the beginning of the 70s when there was a revolution in the Indian music scene with the arrival of compact cassette recorders. The portability of the device, affordable price, operational convenience and availability of choice made cassette recorders a huge hit. Panasonic, Sharp, Akai, Bush, Philips and similar brands made in India were available to the consumers. Soon they totally replaced records and record players. Since then there has been a sea change in the way people recorded their music and voice and the recording industry has gained dizzying heights with the explosion of digital technology.
But the desire to acquire a spool tape recorder, though latent, remained strong within. Years later it was with great thrill that I could get an antique Grundig Reel to Reel tape recorder, the 1970 Model TK.141 made in Germany, in very good working condition. It has a spool size of 6 inches with four track recording facility. Even after almost half a century the set looks beautiful without any noticeable scratches inside or outside the box. Of course thorough cleaning and a bit of polishing along with servicing by an expert old hand helped. The famous Grundig logo is very much there on the box in all its glory. Yes, the Grundig TK 141 is a proud item on my shelf of old music systems.
Looking at my small collection of gramophone records, record players, old radios, compact cassettes and cassette players and so on I often wonder what purpose will it serve and what is the use of having all of them when clear, cultivated and enriched music is available at one’s finger tips from anywhere in the house with a smart phone and a bluetooth enabled speaker system. Occasional visitors and friends also expressed the same thoughts and a few of them, I thought, even felt sympathy towards me. I can see them wondering what will happen to these old gadgets when once I leave the scene sooner than later though what happened to the equipments then is of no consequence to me. But the fact remains that more and more people, especially the young generation, is taking keen interest in collecting these gadgets, mainly gramophone records, record players and old valve radios as evidenced by the huge demand for them and the consequent increase in price. People are prepared to pay fancy prices for them. A visit to some of the sites like E-bay and Amazon will prove the point. Vinyl records are staging a big revival world over with many music companies cutting new LP records.
Coming back to the point as to what drives the young and old to take to radios and record players, etc., the reasons appear to be different for each. For the young it could be their curiosity. For those pursuing it as a hobby it probably is a compelling need. For the old it is nostalgia, the pleasure of walking down the memory lane and enjoying music as they enjoyed it in the past. For the lovers of old music in general they offer a number of endearing features.
They feel that the warmth of sound, especially human voice, coming from an old radio or record player is nearest to the original. For them there is no better way of listening to Rafi, Lata, Talat,Noorjahan, K.L.Saigal, Hemant Kumar and so on, than on the radio or record player. They point out that, for many, an old wall clock with a pendulum chiming every hour/half hour is a dynamic presence in the living room. Similarly, for them, a record player/changer with a LP record turning in circles, filling the room with music and, at the end of the record the playing arm going back on its own and resting on its small pedestal is an enduring dynamic experience.This is ‘visible’ music for them. Besides, they feel that there is the need for active involvement of the listener in the process of listening. In a modern gadget a mere touch of the screen or a click/tap on the pad produces music. But on an old radio searching for favourite stations and tuning in becomes a skilled job! On a record player the process starts from taking out the record from its jacket, wiping it, placing it carefully on the turn table, adjusting the speed, switching the set on, lifting the arm and placing the stylus(needle)gently on the edge of the turning record without shivering of the hand and then adjusting the volume level. The ardent user took pride in placing the stylus on the record without the help of the cuing lever which many record players provide. Yes, it is music hands on! One more point. One can listen to music at random without an option to select the song. A radio offers this. The pleasure of suddenly hearing an old much loved song over the radio is immense. One can also select a favourite song and listen. A record player offers this.
These points may be real and valid. They may be imaginary and arguable. But the lovable, old music devices continue to fascinate a whole lot of music enthusiasts even today.
Tail piece:- Grundig A.G., the German giant in consumer entertainment electronics since 1930 and a very popular household brand in India went bankrupt in 2003. The brand GRUNDIG itself has now become memory!