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One of the stories that I love is the story behind how Stephen Kudelski designed the pilot tone.  The story I was told was that he had a friend who loved the opera, and he would take his battery powered recorder to the opera with him.  Upon returning to home and playing back the tape, the friend realized that the voltage drop on the batteries had caused the recorder to record at a slower speed than when it had started, subsequently changing the pitch and vocalization of the singing actors.

He presented the problem to his friend Kudelski, and he came up with the pilot tone that allows the controlling of the speed of the recorder while the voltage is dropping from the batteries.

I've never known if this story was true, but it makes for a great urban legend kind of thing.

I only have my IV-STC left, a couple of years ago I decided to sell my 4.2 and ended up donating it to the Hollywood Museum for a tax write off, no buyers.

Last recording my Nagra did was the pilot for the HBO series "Six Feet Under."  For which I won a Cinema Audio Society award for Best Sound, now that's what I call going out on top.

Cheers,

RVD

The opera story is probably more myth than truth.  The logic dosen't quite work.  Since the first Kudelski Pilot tone recorders used a 1 volt AC feed from a tap on the AC power supply (long before crystal sync) or a feed from a camera motor as their pilot tone source,  there was no way to use a battery based recorder to do this without a stable AC source or a camera.  If you had the stable AC power source you wouldn't have the problem of the battery powered machine slowing down because of changes in the battery voltage.  So the simpler solution would be to just plug in the recorder to AC and use an AC motor to drive the tape.

-----Courtney

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One of the stories that I love is the story behind how Stephen Kudelski designed the pilot tone.  The story I was told was that he had a friend who loved the opera, and he would take his battery powered recorder to the opera with him.  Upon returning to home and playing back the tape, the friend realized that the voltage drop on the batteries had caused the recorder to record at a slower speed than when it had started, subsequently changing the pitch and vocalization of the singing actors.

He presented the problem to his friend Kudelski, and he came up with the pilot tone that allows the controlling of the speed of the recorder while the voltage is dropping from the batteries...

RVD

I also doubt that the opera story is true. For one, even a non-pilot Nagra III has electronic speed control that maintains consistent motor speed whether using new or week batteries. IIRC, if the Nagra III (right through the Nagra IV-S), the motor speed and the tape tension is the same with supply voltages of 11VDC - 30VDC (24V max for the Nagra III), even if the pilot system is not being used. In fact, the Nagra IV-S machines made specifically for music recording (using standard 2-trk heads and special bias board), did not even have a pilot head or a pilot circuit.

The Nagra III and Nagra 4-series' record speed and non-pilot playback speed is accomplished by a circuit that used a tachometric head located very closely to the passing teeth on the flywheel, sending pulses to the speed control circuit, which is directly attached to the motor and the capstan, which pulls the tape. Each speed has a small adjustment pot, and when set, generally does not move. (This is one reason the supply-side roller has the strobe graph on top - so that you can zero the speed to the mains AC with the aid of a fluorescent light.) When the motor speed is stable and controlled by this circuit, the white "speed" flag is displayed. (Remember, there is a flag for speed and a flag for pilot.) Regarding tape tension, part of the genius of the Nagra is the grease-impregnated clutch and brake felts activated by a series of arms and levers that assures consistent tape tension against the heads, regardless of whether new or week batteries are used (within the circuit's low voltage limits, of course). Remember, all of this is done without the aid of the Pilotone sync system.

While the tachometric system guaranteed consistent motor speed, it could not account for the playback speed of a different machine and it could not compensate for speed changes caused by the stretching of tape.  For these challenges, the Pilotone system was developed. In a sentence: The Pilotone system guarantees that the recording will be played back at the same speed that it was recorded (within the accuracy limits of available 60Hz or 50Hz reference).

So, I think the Opera story is busted because, even when using a non-pilot Nagra III, the speed would not slow down as the batteries weakened.

The story I heard is that Nagra developed the pilot system for industry to precisely cue, time after time, some automatic mechanical movements on an assembly line. Ryder, in the US, who was frustrated with the limitations of the RangerTone system, approached Kudelski about adapting his pilot system for sync film production.

Glen Trew

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Once while filming Unsolved Mysteries in Alabama, the take up reel caught on the side of the plastic cover and stalled causing all the tape to bunch up in the case. I didn't notice because the Nagra was in a Kangaroo case slung around my hips and shoulders. The great thing was that I took about fifteen minutes to hand rewind all the tape back on the reel, played it back and it sounded just fine.

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Once while filming Unsolved Mysteries in Alabama, the take up reel caught on the side of the plastic cover and stalled causing all the tape to bunch up in the case.

I think this has happened at least once to every one of us (at least to those who used to have a Nagra over the shoulder in a case). Extremely embarrassing but rarely if ever fatal.

-  Jeff Wexler

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Shocking to see it when you realize what has happened, and all the more shocking when no harm was done to the 1/4 inch after you have re-spooled it and play it back. It was very embarrassing indeed, but that machine was fantastic for its time and the sound was saved as was our job.

CrewC

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Shocking to see it when you realize what has happened, and all the more shocking when no harm was done to the 1/4 inch after you have re-spooled it and play it back. It was very embarrassing indeed, but that machine was fantastic for its time and the sound was saved as was our job.

CrewC

My Nagra story, 1969, Nagra 3 over the shoulder doing audio only I.V.'s. Shoulder strap broke/came loose while recording, Nagra hit the floor, p/u reel got jammed and tape spooled out. After putting everthing back together the only evidence of the fall was the sound on tape of the machine hitting the deck and me yelling S**T. A real combination of a Timex watch & the Energizer Bunny.

Eric

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Once while filming Unsolved Mysteries in Alabama, the take up reel caught on the side of the plastic cover and stalled causing all the tape to bunch up in the case. I didn't notice because the Nagra was in a Kangaroo case slung around my hips and shoulders. The great thing was that I took about fifteen minutes to hand rewind all the tape back on the reel, played it back and it sounded just fine.

This Unsolved Mysteries work, was it in the late 80s or early 90s?  I know they transferred to tape at some point, but I'm just not sure.  I've heard the show used Eclair NPR 16mm, but I have no way of verifying this.  Interested for an upcoming project.  Thanks!

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On February 11, 2015 at 2:06 PM, trose82 said:

This Unsolved Mysteries work, was it in the late 80s or early 90s?  I know they transferred to tape at some point, but I'm just not sure.  I've heard the show used Eclair NPR 16mm, but I have no way of verifying this.  Interested for an upcoming project.  Thanks!

I did a couple of Unsolved and if I remember right, we shot with Arri SR.

On February 11, 2015 at 2:06 PM, trose82 said:

This Unsolved Mysteries work, was it in the late 80s or early 90s?  I know they transferred to tape at some point, but I'm just not sure.  I've heard the show used Eclair NPR 16mm, but I have no way of verifying this.  Interested for an upcoming project.  Thanks!

 

I had Forrest Forbes overhaul my old STC last year.

Last week an old friend asked if I could transfer some tapes from 1990 to DVD!

After convincing my lovely bride that the Nagra equals the beauty of the many decorative items she has installed in our house, it is now proudly displayed in our dining room.

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I worked on several Unsolved Mysteries specials before they went to series, and they were all shot with either Arri SR or Aaton LTR.   I used a Nagra IV-SL--the xfer people were not happy about having to change machines for my tapes but the editors and producers liked having the split track thing (even back then). 

After an accident on a distant location that bent one of the lid hinges of my Nagra so the take up reel would often stop--resulting in the tape-spaghetti thing, I spent a weekend in a motel room partially disassembling the Nagra, shimming the hinge mount with some scraps of brass cut from washers gotten at a sprinkler-supply place (this was a rural agricultural sort of place) and then tweaking it all until the take up spool didn't hang up any more.  That was in 1987, those shims are still in that Nagra.  (Not really missing reel-to-reel at all....)

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On February 11, 2015 at 5:06 PM, trose82 said:

This Unsolved Mysteries work, was it in the late 80s or early 90s?  I know they transferred to tape at some point, but I'm just not sure.  I've heard the show used Eclair NPR 16mm, but I have no way of verifying this.  Interested for an upcoming project.  Thanks!

I did several episodes of Unsolved (maybe 8-ish) once it went to series, all shot on 16MM. All in the mid-Atlantic region, so all Aaton all the time. I did some promos and bumpers for Unsolved with Robert Stack in the monumental core of Washington, DC which were done on 35 if memory serves. 

I also did a fair amount for America's Most Wanted in their pre all-video era. Reenactments were shot on 16 generally and interviews on video. I think it probably saved some money doing effx and on the size of the grip and electric packages since we shot a ton of effx shots and big night exteriors. The show was based in DC and I traveled some especially in the south. There were a group of folks that worked together regularly and we had fun blowing stuff up and the like. After the show went all video, not so much.

I had enough trouble with slipping and loosening hinge billets on Nagras that I made realigning and retightening them a regular maintenance item, including resecurring the screws with silicone sealant especially after flying with the recorders.

Best regards,

Jim

 

Edited by Jim Gilchrist
I spell like a 5 year old.

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Our Robert Stack stuff was all 16 too (Alcatraz etc).  Yes--the key to keeping reel-stoppage disaster from happening was for sure watching out for those hinges, esp if the machine had been manhandled.  Hard lesson permanently learned.

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I've got a special appreciation for Nagras and reel to reel machines. I have a small collection of albums on reel to reel as a hifi enthusiast, and use Nagras for transfers and occasionally field recording, and they remain proudly on display in my home and office, wired and ready for transfers into Pro-Tools. 

At this point I only have three: a Nagra III, IV-B, and IV-L. I'd love to have an STC, or any other model really, but the more popular stereo and 4.2 series models tend to be more expensive, and thus far I have managed to accumulate my little collection at very little cost (mostly out of luck), though each of my machines have issues, and non work 100%. 

But for the sake of the title of the thread (and not to derail the ongoing conversation here), here are some photos:

image.jpeg

Nagra IV-B (very stripped down single speed machine)

image.jpeg

Akai GX-646, Nagra IV-L, and Nagra IV-B

image.jpeg

Nagra IV-L transferring into Pro-Tools via UAD Apollo Quad

image.jpeg

Nagra III

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Nagra IV-L on a Wilcox Skyline cart with Sound Devices 633 for comparison. 

image.jpeg

Two Technics 1506 machines, Akai GX-646, and Nagra IV-B. Some major dubbing was going on that day!

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On April 4, 2016 at 0:49 PM, Jim Gilchrist said:

I did several episodes of Unsolved (maybe 8-ish) once it went to series, all shot on 16MM. All in the mid-Atlantic region, so all Aaton all the time. I did some promos and bumpers for Unsolved with Robert Stack in the monumental core of Washington, DC which were done on 35 if memory serves. 

I also did a fair amount for America's Most Wanted in their pre all-video era. Reenactments were shot on 16 generally and interviews on video. I think it probably saved some money doing effx and on the size of the grip and electric packages since we shot a ton of effx shots and big night exteriors. The show was based in DC and I traveled some especially in the south. There were a group of folks that worked together regularly and we had fun blowing stuff up and the like. After the show went all video, not so much.

I had enough trouble with slipping and loosening hinge billets on Nagras that I made realigning and retightening them a regular maintenance item, including resecurring the screws with silicone sealant especially after flying with the recorders.

Best regards,

Jim

 

I have a great Robert Stack story.

Many years ago we were shooting wrap arounds for a crime show of his out in Fillmore.

We went to lunch at a local restaurant and I was lucky to sit next to Mr. Stack.

He was very personable and we had a nice time conversing over lunch.

Cut to about 10 years later, I am shooting network promos on the weekend.

You all know the drill.

Anyway, Mr. Stack walks on stage, comes directly to my cart and says "Hi, Paul, don't know if you remember me, but I'm Bob Stack."

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