December 27, 2012 – My Own Personal Time Capsule

I have a box full of old cassette recordings that I made when I was a kid, and I’ve been meaning to digitize them before they disintegrate and become inaudible. (One of the recordings is in fact the one I made with my late grandmother, Ray Zall, in 1978, and which I featured in my piece about using DNA to help trace my ancestry). There’s quite a few of them – here’s what the pile of tapes looks like:


So, I’ve finally started the digitizing. Many of the tapes are labelled – others aren’t, so I am not sure what I am going to find over the coming weeks as I listen to tapes that I haven’t played for the better part of 35 years. Truly, it’s my own personal time capsule.

One of the first tapes I digitized was a recording I made of my mother’s thirty-sixth birthday party, in 1978. I had recently turned eleven. The “party” consisted of me, my mom and dad, and my sister, giving my mother her presents and cards, and then eating cake and ice cream. (We all couldn’t stop saying how delicious the cake was. At one point (before we eat the cake), my father remarks on how expensive the cake was, and then asks my mother, “How much would this cost you to bake, a dollar?”).

I guess I really was born to be a radio journalist: the tape begins with my announcement of the date and the fact that it is my mother’s birthday party, and the party is followed by immediate interviews with all the participants about what they thought of the party. Talk about instant feedback!

Listening to the recording is bittersweet: My father died in 2005, so it’s both wonderful and sad to hear him joking around, leading the chorus of “Happy Birthday,” being silly and making me laugh. As for me, I sound REALLY young; still very much a little kid. My sister, who is almost 14 in the recording, sounds older – but still childlike, and is very much the big sister being mean to the little one (I can’t help but feel indignant on behalf of my younger self when I hear her making fun of the elaborate cards I made for my mom!). One shocking thing about this recording is that my mother was just 36 years old. THIRTY-SIX!! Younger than I am now – and, as she says on the recording, “still the youngest mom in the class” – meaning that all the other mothers in my class and my sister’s class were older than she was at the time.

Anyway, the real fun of these tapes is in hearing them, so here’s a snippet from the beginning of the tape, in all its raw, unvarnished glory:

As you may have been able to tell from that clip, my parents grew up in New York. And speaking of New York accents, I’ve also digitized another tape – this one was a kind of spoken letter, recorded in 1984 on a cassette and then sent to Israel when I was spending a semester on a kibbutz there in high school. Both my parents and my maternal grandparents recorded messages, for me as well as for my sister, who was also doing a semester abroad, and my aunt and her family, who lived in Jerusalem. I found it particularly enjoyable to listen to my grandfather, Izzy, who died in 1994 – I’d forgotten what a good sense of humor he had, and I also really enjoyed hearing his accent and his manner of speaking again. Listen to this section – it still made me laugh today:

Finally for today, I will finish with another snippet from the 1978 cassette. After the birthday party, there are other random recordings – me talking to my mom, me singing in my room, and so on. The clip below marks me out as a fully paid-up member of Generation X – it’s me, singing along with my 45 of “We Are the Champions” by Queen. I make no claims for my singing ability (I sound pretty bad, in fact), but there’s something about the recording that captures the essence of being eleven years old in the late 1970s – singing along to my records in my room, knowing that nobody else could hear me.

I’ll post more from my time capsule in the coming weeks as I go through the tapes.

(Next up: More Ridiculous Blasts from the Past)

2 thoughts on “December 27, 2012 – My Own Personal Time Capsule

  1. Jennifer

    I liked reading this and it made me think about the tapes I have that need to be digitized. How do you go about doing that? I probably have a tape sent to me in Israel from my sisters in the same year since we were there at the same time.

  2. cszall Post author

    Hi Jennifer, thanks for checking out my old tapes! Digitizing cassettes is a little complicated. I was able to do it easily because I work in radio so I have recording equipment and audio software at home. Essentially, you’ll need to find something that can play cassettes, and that has a “line out” output or something similar. Then you’ll need a cable to connect it to something to play the tape into, such as a flash recorder, or perhaps you could plug it straight into your computer and record it there. You would record the file as an mp3 file or a .wav file. You’d also need to have some audio software on your computer to handle the new file you are creating. So, it’s possible. On the other hand, I think there are lots of places these days that will take old tapes, VHS, etc. and digitize them for you – might be easier, and I don’t think it’s terribly expensive. Good luck!

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