Some 25 years ago I saw something that interested me in a local pawnshop. I had collected Victrolas and other obsolete sound recording machines for some time so this caught my eye. It was about the size of a 1970s cassette recorder, but far more interesting.
It was a Soundscriber portable recorder. It made records—yes little records that could play on a 1980’s turntable.
It looked to have been made in the 1950s, and was in good shape so I bought it. Actually I could only buy the entire set of two portable units, an office dictation machine, and another playback machine. They were cheap, so anyway. . .
The heavy gear-driven tone arm on the right cuts the record groves. The tone arm on the left plays the resulting record. Both lock into place for transport.
Open the back door and you find a microphone in a felt bag and the power cord.
Soundscriber had established a niche for themselves in the 1940s making office dictating equipment. The boss would record a letter, then send the record to a secretary who typed it up.
There were several competing formats at the time. Soundscriber used thin, circular, flexible plastic sheets that were compatible with current long play vinyl records. You could take a disk from your Soundscriber and play it on your home phonograph.
About 1957 Soundscriber introduced the portable unit that caught my eye.
I immediately saw the usefulness of this machine before I found an advertisement for it. You could take it on the road with you!
The smaller disks made for the portable machine fit easily into a regular mailing envelope. They were as flexible as paper, so they could easily survive the mail.
You could send reports back to the office. They could be as spontaneous as a phone call, but also be a permanent record as well. Since Soundscriber’s disks could be played on a 33 1/3 RPM phono, the company advertised that you could mail messages back to the spouse and kids as well (remember, long distance phone calls were quite pricey before deregulation).
If you open up my portable you will find it rather expensively made. Lots of quality brass and steel in the recording lathe mechanism.
The bottom is a printed circuit that hinges open to reveal the two vacuum tubes that drive the electronics.
Within the same year, Soundscriber modified the portable Soundscriber 200 to run on transistors, enabling battery operation.
So our man on the go could stay in touch with the boss, or the travelling boss could mail back instructions almost as if he had teleconferencing. Yea, that must be the boss sitting next to the pool.