Vintage ‘Wayback Machine’ Plays Old Reel Tapes – In Stereo | Chroniclers


Growing up as a preacher’s child, I didn’t always listen carefully to what he said from the pulpit. It didn’t occur to me that I would one day wish I could flip a switch and hear my dad preach again.

In the years following my father’s death, I occasionally went through his files for handwritten notes and sermons. These are scripts written in his voice with certain passages highlighted, underlined or in all caps for emphasis.

If a line had to be repeated, it was written twice. He would study the completed work by reading it over and over again – even preaching in a low voice – so that he could then stand up and deliver it without notes. I saw him do this when I was hanging out in his church office as a kid.

Lots of people can work, study, and train to get an audience’s attention. Few have the drive, talent and gifts to do it two or three times a week for more than 50 years. Dad did this as a pastor, and for most of those years he also kept a busy schedule as an after dinner comedian.

I’ve been writing stupid observations in a weekly newspaper column for 25 years. If I had to write a column out loud, it would take maybe three minutes. Dad was good at incorporating three-minute staggered observations into his speech to animate a 30-minute theological message.

I had wanted to hear him do his thing again for a long time. There’s a lot of reel tapes in daddy’s stuff, but the machine that was used to record them is long gone.

Working reel-to-reel players are hard to find these days, but I managed to catch one recently during a real estate sale. It’s a 50-pound “portable” Sony. I set it up on my mom’s dining room table, where mom and I started listening to those old tapes.

Tape machines of all kinds are foreign to my daughters of the digital age. It makes me feel old, but I’m young enough to never have played with a reel machine before. Fortunately, YouTube has instructions for use.

The first tape I put on contains demo recordings from Daddy’s songwriting years in the 70s. Another appears to be a random recording from the WABC radio station in New York City in the 60s. It includes a commercial cigarette jingle with the phrase “The natural sweetness of Pall Mall is so good for your taste”.

The third tape we walked contains a full church service from July 28, 1968, at the Baptist Church in West Albemarle, North Carolina. The recorder microphone had to be placed directly under daddy because his singing was high above everyone during the hymns.

So good to hear. I could almost see him swinging on his tiptoes like he always did during hymns.

The sermon was a real reminder that every day is judgment day. And to think that there were some parishioners who gave my father a hard time not to preach often enough on this subject.

Labels on several of the other tapes indicate more sermons to come. It’s nice to be sitting in church with mom again.

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