Old tapes reveal how BAD FM became

A few weeks ago, I opened a box of old reel to reel tapes I made when I was a younger man.
I remember very well when people put serious money into tuners.
Any of you remember the DJ's announcing a week in advance they would be playing a new album front to back, without interruption?

Flash ahead 36 years and one would think the tapes I made as a younger lad on that Teac 4010 would be a joke.


Even though my present system was unattainable 36 years ago, the recording from 102 WAQY FM in Springfield, MA that night in 1976 stands the test of time...and then some.

A few days ago, I heard the opening bars of the same piece on FM using my NAD tuner. (Think about a upper end 90's NAD tuner compared to mid 60's budget Fisher gear.) I remembered that I had the reel still on the shelf, so I quickly grabbed it and cued it up before the song was even finished playing on the radio.
I played the ancient copy. The snap and crackle of the stylus could plainly be heard along with something we seem to have completely lost in broadcast. DYNAMICS!
I feel like a man who opened up a time capsule and found out it was better in the past.
I think through the years, I just became complacent to lousy FM radio.

I thought it was that my system had come to a level that it showed the shortcomings of FM radio. Not true.
36 years ago, with a very basic tuner, I captured real dynamic music that sets toes to tapping.
Stuff on FM radio now sounds like a very poor quality MP3 in comparison.

I understand it is no longer cost effective to have a DJ manning the board and spinning vinyl 24/7...but does it have to be flat, lifeless garbage?

My tape is proof that FM radio, even with its inherent issues, can be a source of pleasant music.
When is the last time you actually sat down and tried to listen to FM radio? What have they done to it?

Why has it been ruined?

The only stations in my area (southwest Fl.) with good sound are the Listener supported and NPR stations at the bottom of the dial. Not sure exactly what the others do to the music to make it sound so lifeless, but, the difference is obviously apparant. I too have been impressed with the Reel to Reel's I made in the early seventies on a lowish end Sony using the AR'table and Dynaco PAT4 preamp. Even after 40 years of storage, I swear my taped "Live Dead" sounds better than the LP. And, we didn't even care about cables in those days. Hardly a perfectionist's set-up. Had you been using cassette, I wonder if the difference would be so perceptable.
Thank you for sharing the flashbacks of your memory lane. I recall Alison Steele (what a sexy voice) from WNEW would play a whole album and it was an event(!!), even with a modest system. I am still in the Metro NYC area.
WQXR classical station does (rarely) broadcast live performances, un-recorded. They are a real treat, and FM is thriving here.
Thanx for bumming me out. I too pine for the old days. And, yes, your ears are not deceiving you. It was WAY better and more fun.
By today's standards, I am fortunate to have 2 stations nearby that play very good sounding jazz and classical programming. Both are non-commercial university stations.

However, the very best sound I have ever heard from FM was from my college days in the early 1970s. A Philadelphia rock station occasionally had well-known artists in the studio with live performances. I recorded a number of these on my Sony 650 reel-to-reel such as Brewer and Shipley, America and Livingston Taylor. The sound was simply phenomenal. This was when I realized just how excellent my Dyna FM-3 was. The dynamics and detail were an order of magnitude better than normal programming on LPs.

It is truly sad how we have come to accept such an inferior sound from today's FM stations.
A few classical and jazz stations still have decent quality. Eg QXR in New York or FMT in Chicago for classical or BGO in newark, nj. They present live music occaisionally and the improved quality surprised me, an indication of the quality loss in recording to medium such as CDs. I dont know if it is compression, or poor quality recording. Some of the best sound I get is from SACDs made from 1950's and 60's analog masrers and from CDs that are upsampled 64 or 128 times befrore conversion to analog. So i suspect the weak link is the resistor ladder rack used in most CD players. Robert Harley explains this issue well in his book.

I have an upper end Sony tuner from 1985 and it is more sensitive and has better sound than current $1000 tuners from the higher manufacturers of today such as magnum dynalab. Another surprise!

Allison Steele! Need I say more?

Grew up on NEW & PLJ. Those were radio stations.

Thanks for the memory. Hadn't though about these for while.


WAQY! I'm a Western Massachusetts guy, too. Maybe I was listening 36 years ago as you made your tapes.
My local jazz station (Public Radio) plays LPs as part of their scheduling, so I still get to hear the clicks and pops through my McIntosh MR71 Tuner.

I'm affraid, those days are numbered.
I have many pre recorded R2R broadcast tapes, ones the FM stations used to broadcast, included are some tapes done by AFRTS. They still sound great. Since I have the LP's of many of the tracks I often can compare the sound. The tapes come very close to the actual LP's, from which most of the tapes were created. You never know.
Sorry for bumming out people. Maybe I will start a radio spot-podcast that will take 6 hours to download an hour of material, but it will at least sound GOOD! (Till I open my mouth, that is LOL)
Would anyone be interested in possibly making a few of these old reel available as an educational tool for younger audio heads??
so true gumbygdammit...you reminded me of how much I miss the spontaneity of music on the the FM album oriented stations of the 60's & 70's. Hell even tv was free back then as long as you didn't mind getting up to change the 13 or so channels or adjust the motorized antenna or rabbitears.
Gumbygdammit, I would be happy to send you my tapes but unfortunately I threw them all out when I moved a few years ago. I hadn't had a working tape deck for over 30 years. Now with the resurgence of R2R tape, I wish I had kept them.
Well depends what u listen to...mainstream top 40 stations have never been about fidelity...However jazz,classical,and community based radio can sound very good...even analogue tuners can benefit from digital signals...as most stations put out a hybrid signal...with very low distortion
Is the problem that the radio stations are applying dynamic compression to the signal before it's broadcast?
Our local radio station, WUNH Durham,NH, often plays really good quality recordings. Often eclectic. They also have "vinyl week". No sure how often, but all the DJ's that week will play just vinyl recordings during those sessions.

Worst ever is XM. I got it in my wifes car and she loves it *sigh*. The sound quality is like really bad MP3, or actually, it is.
Tapes are still the best reproduction source you may find if the recording was well done. Also the quality of the Tape Recorder and of the Tape itself play an important part, so does the Tuner's quality in a FM session as well.
My god if you receive a good station it still makes a lot of fun listening to Radio, also in terms of sound quality. I would not stop investing time looking deeper into FM.

best & fun only
I bought my first stereo in 1972 and by 1975 I was working in a high end stereo store. Back then FM was a serious source of high fidelity. AM was for top 40, FM was for classical, jazz, and album rock (with the same high standards of dynamic range and frequency response) was just getting underway. Saul Marantz's very first product was an FM tuner. It was so expensive that his first customer was an Arab sheik. In 1975 the Sequerra Model 1 Tuner came out. It was the first frequency synthesizing tuner and its 1975 price tag was $2500. That's over $10,000 in today's money. Could you imagine paying $10K for a tuner today?

The abundance of quality FM is one reason that a reel-to-reel deck was an essential component of the serious audiophile. It represented a serious investment. The mid-level R2R's of the mid-'70s were around $350-600, which is $1800-3100 in today's money. One purpose was to record when an FM station was broadcasting a complete opera, symphony, or the latest prog-rock album. Many people amassed libraries of such broadcasts. Another reason was to enjoy complete albums without having to flip the record--like for parties and lovemaking.