Cassette By Jack MannCassette

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Trading for old radio programs can, like most things, be pleasant, fun and rewarding. Conversely, it can be frustrating, unpleasant and downright maddening. Many newer traders are unfamiliar with the so-called "rules" of trading that more experienced traders take for granted, and conflicts sometimes arise.

This guide is an attempt to explain these "rules" to the inexperienced OTR traders and to veteran traders who never took the time to learn them. They are actually suggestions and opinions gathered from many of my trading friends and from OTR Digest readers that took the time to answer my request for trading information. They are not "laws" never to be broken, but rather guidelines that hopefully will smooth the way for all OTR traders.


You'll obviously need a trading partner if you want to trade OTR. I've found that the great majority of OTR collectors are willing, even eager, to trade, so it's simply a matter of finding a good, reliable partner who has the shows you're looking for. So how does one find a "good, reliable" partner? Look for OTR clubs in your area (or start one!), place an ad in your local newspaper. Place ads in the various bulletin and trading boards on the Internet. Here are a few URLs you can try (these were good as of 1/7/98):

OTR Bulletin Board: http://www.old-time.com/wwwboard/wwwboard.html

OTR Trader Message Board: http://www.wwwhelper.com/collectors/otr/

Old Time Radio Internet Digest: http://broadcast.airwaves.com/otr.html

When someone answers your ad you'll have to decide for yourself if this is a person you want to trade with. Don't send your home address or phone number until you feel comfortable enough to set up a trade. Here are a few things to look for:

  1. Does the answer include the person's name and information about his* collection? I once placed an ad for some Suspense shows and got this reply: "I saw you ad on the bb." That was it! Would you want to trade with this person?

  2. Does the person seem friendly? Intelligent? Honest? You're the one reading the answer, so you'll have to make the call. Look for people who tell you a little bit about themselves. Did the person sign their name?

*I'm using the male gender throughout this guide to save myself from having to write "he/she" or "him/her". There are many wonderful female traders and no disrespect is meant or intended.

When you've found a compatible trading partner, you'll want to exchange lists of the shows you have. If you have a very large list, you may want to send just the series your partner is interested in. I have about 700 Suspense shows, so I send a cassette list and an alphabetical list. The cassette list gives numbers and the "A" and "B" sides of the tape, such as:

The alphabetical list is self-explanatory. It is a tremendous help in finding the shows you may want to trade.

A good list, whether cassette or alphabetical, should have the series title (such as Suspense), the show titles and dates, and the condition of the tapes. If portions of the show are missing, such as commercials or show beginnings and endings, list that also.

If you assign some sort of number, such as Su-1, to the first cassette in your Suspense collection, and then continue with the rest, your partner can then order tapes from you by those numbers. This will save him from having to type out all the titles (and for a large trade this can save a LOT of work) when he orders from you.

Here's a guide for rating your tapes (some of it stolen [with permission] from Steve Kelez of Radio Showcase):

Unless shows are rare or, for various reasons, desirable to your trading partner, I do not recommend trading tapes rated less than "Good", and I know many people that would change that to "Very Good".

Here are some of the terms used to describe tape condition:


Once you've exchanged lists, you and your new trading partner will have to agree upon a few things:

  1. What shows are you going to trade?

  2. How many shows do you want to trade? It's a good idea to limit the amount of tapes in your first trade to a number you can comfortably afford to lose (5 to 10 tapes is fairly standard). Remember that 5 60min tapes equals 10 1/2 hour shows; 10 tapes equals 20 1/2 hour shows.

  3. What cassette brands will you use? Almost all traders prefer brand-name cassettes, such as TDK, Sony, or Maxwell. Use the normal bias tapes. Expect trouble if you use cheap bargain brands.

  4. What cassette lengths will you use? Most traders prefer 60 minute cassettes. Some traders also use the 90 minute variety. I, for one, try to avoid the 90 minute cassettes because I've had so many problems with them.

  5. How long is the trade going to take? Some traders try to get their tapes out the next day (me, for one), or within just a couple of days if the trade is a large one. Others are more laid back and may take a week or two, and then there's the really laid back dumbos who seem to say, "I'll get to it one of these days...maybe." I had one partner who took almost 2 months to send me 10 tapes. I was just about to notify the various bulletin boards and digests to warn my fellow traders to stay away from this guy when the tapes arrived. Several of them were very hard to understand, so even long-time traders can get stiffed once and a while.

    The important thing is to agree RIGHT AT THE ONSET as to when the tapes will be sent. A 5 tape trade shouldn't take more than a few days to send. 15 cassettes should be shipped in less than a week. If for some reason you're not able to send the tapes when promised, notify your trading partner and give him the new shipping date. Also notify your partners when you send their tapes and when you receive the tapes they've sent. Simple common courtesy goes a long way here.

  6. How will the tapes be sent? Most of the traders I know use USPS priority mail. It's quick (usually takes 3 days) and is only a few pennies more than first class mail. One of my partners sent his cassettes (in their cases) in a padded envelope by 4th class mail. Two of the tapes were damaged, and it took almost 2 weeks for the tapes to arrive, so I don't recommend this.

    The only experience I've had with UPS was with a package that got returned to the sender because I couldn't be home to receive it. They were later re-sent by priority mail.

    Although I've never insured priority mail, it might be a good idea if you're sending a large amount of cassettes.

    I usually send a small amount of tapes (up to 10) in their cases in a padded envelope. For more than 10 I use a box. I use rubber bands on each 5 tapes and place them in the center of a bunch of newspapers or plastic supermarket bags. I don't use cases for the larger trades.

    Jerry Haendiges, who knows more about OTR than anyone I know, prefers to use soft poly cases instead of the hard kind. He explains that these cases are very rugged and he's never had a cassette damaged while using them.

  7. And now a slightly controversial subject...to high-speed dub or not to high-speed dub? Unless you have a $5,000 machine with all the bells and whistles, I say no. I tried the following experiment with my $200 Aiwa twin cassette machine, which I consider to be a nice, almost middle-of-the-road machine with exceptional dubbing quality for it's price range. I dubbed a show on a Sony cassette that I had recently received from a trading partner. I had rated the show as GOOD MINUS , and when I dubbed it at regular speed I sensed a slight drop in sound quality, but I still rated it as GD-. When I dubbed the same tape using the high-speed feature, however, the quality fell to FAIR and was now difficult to understand.

    If you high-speed dub a tape rated EX or VG, you can probably get away with it, although you'll be giving your partner tapes of lesser quality. If you high-speed dub tapes of lower quality, you're really doing a disservice to your trading partner. So what's the answer? High-speed dub or not? Unless the tape you're dubbing is rated EX, or unless you're working with high-end equipment, the word from here is an emphatic NO!

  8. It's a given that, sooner or later, all of us will get a bad cassette. Does your partner guarantee his tapes? Will bad tapes that sound like mush be replaced at no charge? NOW is the time to establish if your partner stands behind his cassettes. Virtually all the traders I've worked with will replace their tapes without blinking an eye. If your partner says that he won't, unless you are absolutely DYING to have these tapes, it might be advisable to pass on this particular trade.

  9. Be sure to check your own dubs before you send them. If you have a large trade going this can be difficult. What I do is check the beginning, middle and end of each dubbed tape. You'll catch the majority of bad tapes if you do this.

LABELSAmpex CassetteTDK Cassette

I've talked to a lot of traders about labeling cassettes, and there's simply no one way that makes everyone happy. Some prefer that their trading partner use the labels that come with the cassettes and fill in all the information, such as series, show in the series, date of show and, if applicable, the stars of the show. For example, you wouldn't name stars (except guest stars) for the Abbott and Costello show, but you would name the stars of a Lux Radio Theater show. Others prefer that you put the show info on a Post-it and attach it to the cassette somewhere, so that they have all the information needed to make their own labels. Still others prefer to have the tapes numbered with pencil or grease pencil and send a list (Email or hard copy) corresponding to the numbers.

And then there are those that don't label the cassettes and don't include notes either. I've had several people do this to me, and you simply have to sit down and listen to all the tapes and hope that this is a show that gives titles. Then you must find a log and look for show dates. Not sending any program info along with the tapes is probably one of the meanest things you can do to a trading partner. ALWAYS explain to your partner how you want your tapes labeled, and ALWAYS find out how your partners want their tapes labeled.

For those of you who prefer to have labels on your cassettes, I asked my dear friend Alecia Warner, who has the best non-professional labels I've seen, to explain how she does hers. Here's her answer:

"I use Word Perfect 7 to make my labels, but any program like MS Word or other word processing programs would work. I first use the shift\(-) keys to make the lines that I need to cut the labels out. Push the shift key down along with the hyphen/underline key to make the upper line.

                 Looks like this:
    Drop down a line to
    begin labeling. Use the
    underline feature for the
    final bottom line, like this:


_______Philomel Cottage_______

The final labels may look like this: ____________________________
SUSPENSE 7/26/48
____Philomel Cottage__(VG)____

You can do quite a few labels on a single sheet of paper. After the labels are complete you simply cut on the lines and use stick glue to affix them to the cassettes."

Alecia's labels always look very professional and are, of course, easy to read (don't get me started on traders who scribble!). I highly recommend this method of labeling cassettes.

If you would like to visit Alecia, click on: Alecia Warner's Home PageAlecia Thumbnail


I cannot stress how important it is to purchase the best possible equipment you can afford. Jerry Haendiges had some thoughts on this:

"This is no place to skimp, especially when the best doesn't cost that much more. One simply can not go out and buy a $100 cassette recorder and expect it to do any kind of a quality job. Generation loss is a major factor (in loss of dubbing quality). Yet there are machines out there under $300 that will do an extraordinary job of minimizing this loss. For example, a couple of my decks are Pioneer CTW-616DR units. These are digital processing decks and have an amazing noise reduction spec of -95db. That's lower than most CD players. There is no noticeable hiss transfer. In fact, hiss already on the master will be reduced significantly with no reduction in frequency response. These machines sell for less than $300. In addition, there will be no "rumble" noise added, as is the case in almost all of the inexpensive decks. To me that noise is highly annoying.

"Getting back to hiss. Using the Dolby system is the easiest and best way of eliminating hiss transfer. I recommend using Dolby B, as this system is well established and works very well. It is also compatable with all playback decks ... with or without Dolby. This is not true of any other Dolby formats (C, D, X, DX, etc.)"

Some collectors prefer not to have their tapes "dolbyized". Therefore, establish up-front as to Dolby or not to Dolby.


Once you've obtained the very best equipment you can afford, you'll certainly want to keep it in the best possible condition. One must be cautious to clean the equipment properly, however. I was washing my car some years back and listening to my new boom-box cassette player, quite expensive for those days, when the neighbor kid came over to watch. He asked something about helping to wash and I mumbled a "yes" and a few minutes later my music stopped. I looked for the radio and there was the kid, large, saturated soapy sponge in his hand, washing my radio. Needless to say, the poor thing had burped up it's last boom. Randy (the 4 year old kid) and I buried it in my backyard the next day. Randy thought this was a lot of fun. I cried.

So, having eliminated washing your equipment with a large soapy sponge, how does one clean this equipment?

Look at the manual that comes with your equipment. It will probably say something like, "Use a soft cloth lightly moistened with a mild detergent solution. Do not use strong solvents such as alcohol, benzine or thinner."

The manual for my Aiwa machine goes on to say, "To clean the heads and the tape path, use a head-cleaning cassette or cotton swab moistened with cleaning fluid or denatured alcohol after every 10 hours of use. Richard Novak wrote, "I recommend using isopropyl alcohol to clean heads. Most isopropyl is 30% water and takes a while to dry thoroughly, but the water is actually a bonus. It removes water solubles that alcohol won't touch. There is no consensus on using alcohol on rubber parts. The argument is that the alcohol deteriorates rubber and should not be used. I, personally, use chemicals that I don't recommend to the inexperienced, such as chlorothene NU and carbon tetrachloride."

Another trader said, "It's not enough to clean the head surface with alcohol and a cotton swab. You must demagnetize the heads and tape path, and keep the capstan and pinch roller clean as well." My manual has a picture of the capstan and pinch roller. Perhaps your's does too. If you don't know what these are, ask someone at a store that sells this equipment. They probably carry the cleaning materials you'll need as well.


You've collected some really nice Jack Benny shows and you're raring to trade for some more. You place an ad on a trading board which you found at my site, "Jack's List of OTR Pages" at http://www.pe.net/~rnovak/jack.htm (had to get a plug in somewhere). Two people respond,. The first says something like, "Although my nephew done run over my cassette storage case with the pickup, some of them durn things still sound purty good..." and the second trader gives you his name and tells you a bit about his collection and offers to send you a list. Luckily, you've read this guide and you know to avoid the guy with the truck. You sent him your regrets, "Unfortunately, my company has transferred me to Zamboanga and..." You get the picture.

You contact the second person and explain exactly what shows you are looking for. Ask what shows he is looking for. When you get the answer and the list, send off your list(s) and wait until you hear from him. If you get no response in 4 or 5 days, send an inquiry. By now you've picked out a number of shows from his list that you're interested in trading for. Since this is a first time trade, you decide to trade for 5 cassettes (10 shows), if you have 10 shows that he wants, that is.

Exchange the following information:

  1. I'm assuming these are cassette trades, but if another medium is used make sure all necessary information is traded and known before the reels, CDs or whatever are sent.

  2. Number and names of shows, including dates and condition, if known.

  3. Labeling instructions.

  4. Dubbing info: high speed dubbing? Dolby? Cassette brands and lengths?

  5. When will tapes be sent (approximately)? Are they guaranteed? Will they be sent by priority mail? Insured mail? With cases or without?

  6. So the trader sounds OK in your book and you want to go ahead with the trade. Now you can send your snail mail address. Dub his tapes, trying to give him the best possible sound you're capable of, and send them off before the trading deadline. Don't forget to notify him when you send them, and be sure to let him know when the tapes he sent arrive.


1) Many people get angry when sent tapes that don't start at the beginning of the tape. I was once sent a cassette that didn't start until 14 minutes into the 60 minute (30 minutes a side) tape! Needless to say, the tape was then not long enough to hold the entire show and the tape ran out halfway thru it! What was this guy thinking?

I've also had many tapes that start anywhere from 1 to 3 or 4 minutes before the sound begins. This is extremely annoying. After waiting for several minutes one is tempted to fast forward the tape to find the beginning. Many times you go past the beginning and have to reverse the tape, and so on until you finally find it. So please start your dubs at the beginning of the tape. Here's how I do it, and I hope others will send me their suggestions for keeping the lead time under 10 seconds: I play the tape to be dubbed until the sound begins. As soon as I hear the intro sound I quickly go from PLAY to FAST REVERSE and then quickly back to PLAY, and then quickly to the PLAY/RECORD buttons for the blank tape on the RECORD side.

It sounds complicated but it really isn't. Just practice it a few times on some old tape and you'll quickly get the hang of it.

Here's another way. Play the tape you're dubbing until you hear sound, then quickly push the FAST REVERSE button and then, as quick as you can, push the STOP button. After you have hand wound the blank so that the tape leader (usually white or clear in color) has disappeared and nothing but recording tape (usually brown in color) shows across the top of the cassette, you may then insert the blank in the RECORD side and press the PAUSE button, followed by the PLAY/RECORD buttons. When you want to begin, push the PLAY button on the tape you are dubbing side. Again, practice makes perfect.


Trading OTR shows can be a delightful and rewarding hobby if we all use a little common sense. If you're not sure how something should be done, ask someone. I can't cover every possible trading slipup in this guide, but you won't go far wrong if you're honest and conscientious in your dealings with your trading partners and you establish the "rules" of the trade up front. And remember that what some people think is a problem may not be to you. If you don't think it's a problem, then it's probably not a problem. Good luck and, most of all,


Comments about this guide, good or bad, are eagerly invited. Please Email me at:
jmann@sincom.com Trading tips wanted!

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