Sunday, June 26, 2016

How Poke Press Came to Cassette

Putting my interviews on audio cassette has been an interesting journey, and I wanted to give you a summary of the process.

The Original Idea

I’m not sure exactly where the original idea came from, but I believe it was a combination of hearing news stories about the cassette revival (running hot on the heels of the vinyl revival), and the “How to Beat” videos produced by the “My Life in Gaming” YouTube channel. The former reminded me of how I used to conduct field interviews on tape (I didn’t get a digital voice recorder until about 2006), and the latter probably helped give me the idea to distribute my content in a more low-tech form.

Got a Recorder?

While I could have had the tapes duplicated professionally, I decided (for various reasons) that it would be better for me to get some blank tapes and record locally. In order to do this, I would need to get a tape recorder. Technically, I had a portable CD player + cassette machine, but it was pretty low-end and I didn’t trust it to be able to handle the repeated duplication. Therefore, during a visit to my Mom’s house back in April, I attempted to find a dual-deck recorder that I had used to archive episodes of a pre-PIRN audio blog I did for a few months in 1999. Unfortunately, I was unable to find that deck, but my sister Amy let me borrow the late-90’s stereo system she left behind when she moved to D.C..

Tale of the Tapes

I wanted to produce something that looked at least somewhat professional, so instead of buying standard blank tapes, I ordered tapes, cases, and labels from the National Audio Company, a Missouri-based tape supplier. Additionally, I picked up special cassettes for cleaning and demagnetizing the tape heads to improve audio fidelity.

Track Selection

I had already decided on the main interviews for the tape (to aid in selecting a tape capacity), however in order to minimize the amount of silence at the end of each side, I had to choose the additional tracks carefully. I came up with:

1. Intro (0:22)
2. Mark Chait Interview (16:58)
3. Midwest Regionals 2015 VGC (4:32)
4. Pam Sheyne Promo (0:59)
5. John Loeffler Interview (15:40)
6. Midwest Regionals 2015 TCG (7:04)

With the first four tracks on side “A” and the last two on side “B”. After adding a few seconds of silence between tracks, I wound up with only 30-45 seconds at the end of each side.


To create a “master” for the tapes, I burned a CD with the tracks I needed, and put that in the CD tray of the stereo system. The actual recording process involved labeling a tape (to make sure the “A” and “B” sides were correctly assigned), putting it in the tape compartment, and setting up the CD-to-tape recording mode. Once both sides were recorded, I did a brief check to make sure each side transferred properly, and then put the tape into a case with a J-Card.

Production Problems

While the story should probably end there, there were a few hiccups in the recording process. First, the outer plastic stop/eject button on the stereo system’s recording deck broke (sorry, Amy). I attempted to fix this with duct tape, but eventually that failed as well, forcing me to reach into the hole it left behind and press the inner button to stop and eject tapes.

The second issue I ran into involves the CD portion of my sister’s stereo system. After about twelve tapes had been produced, I noticed that the audio on the burned master CD was skipping. I tried the CD in my computer, where it played fine. I can only assume that either the CD portion of the stereo system is starting to go, or having been produced in 1998, wasn’t well-designed for recordable media. Fortunately, the system also has stereo inputs, so I was able to hook up a DVD player to it to make recordings, though I did have to burn another CD at a lower volume to avoid distortion issues.

The End Result

Overall, I found the experience of making tapes easier than I feared, but there were definitely some issues I didn’t anticipate. I do expect to keep making these, particularly as I’ve come to appreciate the “toy” factor that the medium has over CDs and vinyl. I’m definitely looking forward to working on a volume two once my supply of tapes runs out.

More Technical Notes:

-The cassettes I ordered are “tabs out”, meaning that they are protected from writing by most consumer tape decks. The typical way of getting around this is to put tape over the hole where the tabs would be, but instead I created a reusable “tent” that I could put on top of the cassette.
-The tapes also had the length of the tape stamped on top. Luckily, that can be removed with some facial tissue.
-I had repeated difficulty getting the labels and insert cards to come out correctly-my inkjet printer seems to print at a very slight angle, and I had to make sure to leave enough of a margin at the edges to avoid having things cut off.

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