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The sudden interest in Dictabelts

I was first introduced to Dictabelts around 2006. The Aba Eban archive contacted me and asked me to digitize about 300 Dictabelts that belonged to Aba Eban, Israel's most revered diplomat. The belts were believed to contain personal memos, dictations, and essential notes. The mechanics of the Dictabelt are relatively simple. Think of a vinyl made into a wide belt instead of a flat disc. The machine had a cutter head and a play head. You could record any message or dictate a letter to your secretary. The belts were sized so that when (lightly) folded, they would fit in a standard mail envelope and sent to wherever you desired. There was even a unique holder to keep them from creasing in the fold area. As someone who loves challenges, I accepted the job and hunted down a machine online. There was a learning curve on how to work the machine (pretty simple), but more importantly, there was a learning curve on how to deal with the belts. By this time, they were 40-50 years old, some were brittle, and almost all developed creases that had to be flattened before playback could even be attempted. Needless to say, I managed to recover these recordings, which are now in the archive.

For the next 20 years, I have had a request here and there, but mostly, the machine set in the closet, waiting for a project. But this year has seen a change. I have been working on Dictabelts constantly. All the belts I receive now are from private individuals who want to rescue family recordings of their parents, either playing with them or reading them a story, etc. I find this fascinating. Don't get me wrong, working with extensive archives puts bread and butter on the table, but nothing beats the thrill of getting an emotional thank you email from someone who heard their parents again after so many years. This is the part of my work I love the most.

Have a wonderful day, everyone.

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