Friday, January 07, 2005

Digital Killed the Analog Star

According to an article at slashdot, the "last manufacturer of pro analog audio tape" (Quantegy) has closed. Here's the story of the plant closing as well as an interesting bit of history:

"Quantegy, Inc. has ceased operations pending restructuring. This is due to financial issues that have plagued the industry and Quantegy for some time. All employees are on lay off pending further notice," according to a brief press release issued by the company Friday. The Opelika plant, once employed some 1,800 workers, has recently filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Almost 60 years ago, the story was different. "In 1945, after capturing several German 'Magnetophon' tape recorders from Radio Luxembourg, the American Signal Corps recorded a speech by Gen. Dwight Eisenhower to be played to the people of occupied Germany. Due to a shortage of recording tape, the speech had to be recorded on a reel of used German tape.

Due to a problem with the German tape recorder, the tape was not completely erased and the voice of Adolph Hitler was intermittently heard along with Eisenhower's voice. This caused a great deal of fear and confusion among the German people and obviously a great deal of embarrassment for the Allied Signal Corps.

Gen. Eisenhower issued an immediate order that no more captured German tape was to be used and assigned Maj. John Herbert Orr to develop an American magnetic tape manufacturing facility.

Maj. Orr located a German scientist, Dr. Karl Pfleumer, who gave him a basic formula for magnetic tape. Within two weeks, Maj. Orr had managed to manufacture his first reels of usable audio tape. After returning to his home in Opelika, Alabama, Orr set up a magnetic tape manufacturing facility and soon afterwards began marketing his own tape under the "IRISH" brand name. Orr continued his manufacturing operation and in 1959, Orradio Industries became part of the Ampex Corporation.

Founded by Alexander M. Poniatoff, The Ampex Corporation had been developing audio tape recorders since the end of WWII starting with its model 200. The company's first sales of the Model 200 were to Bing Crosby Enterprises and the American Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). In 1956, Ampex announced a historic breakthrough - the first practical video tape recorder.

Shortly after this introduction Poniatoff and Orr entered into negotiations and in 1959, Orradio Industries became the Ampex Magnetic Tape Division of Ampex Corporation. In November of 1995, the Ampex Recording Media Corporation was put up for sale, and the recording media pioneer became Quantegy Inc., according to www.quantegy.com Fast forward 2005...

"It's like Happy New Year - you don't have a job," said one former Quantegy employee. "Most of these employees have worked there 28 to 30 years - they don't know anything else; they are a different breed of people, dedicated to the company. The average age is 50 plus, and no matter what they say - it's not easy to start over."

Quantegy management could not be reached Saturday.