Journey, Evolution

This is an excerpt from my forthcoming novel Finding Fidelity...

Radio Ga Ga

It went without saying that my father and I rarely spoke on our respective birthdays. In fact, if we sent cards at all, they were always tardy. Although, I think he held the current record at 16 days belated, I regularly mailed his card a week late. To the best of my recollection, I was probably just out of college the last time there was actually money in a birthday card from Leo. And I stopped slipping gift cards into his birthday cards a decade back. Hence, a week after my 38th birthday, I was a bit surprised to get a phone call from him requesting that I stop over when I had the chance.

When I arrived, my father told me he had something to show me in the workshop. As we spelunked into the confined space, I could see a pair of large speakers on either side of the workbench at the far end. Due to the narrow aspect of the room, I could not tell if there was anything between the somewhat familiar speakers. As he stepped aside, I saw the shiny silver Pioneer SX-780 receiver and the Pioneer PL-400 turntable of my youth situated between the Marantz 33/330 3-way sonic towers. 

“Is this your original system from the Valentine lake house?” I asked.

“You bet!” he beamed. 

I began my interrogation, “You hung onto it all these years? Seriously? Where the hell was it?”

“I had it under the stairwell ever since I moved to this place. I stumbled across it a month back when I was looking for some folding chairs.”

“Jeez! That’s unbelievable!” I exclaimed with exuberance the belied my disbelief. 

At this, the old man allowed a rare smile to advance across his lips. He continued, “Did you know that the world’s biggest and best turntable shop is right here in your own backyard? I took the record player into Jerry Raskin’s place, and they fixed it right up. They had to replace the cartridge and needle. It was $75, but I’ll split the cost with you—happy birthday!”

“You’re giving it all to me?” The shock I had experienced when I first saw the Hi-Fi artifacts was quickly transforming into unbridled joy at the prospect of owning them.

“Hey, why not? What the hell am I going to do with will all this?” He was still beaming at my enthusiasm.

I didn’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth, but a question had been smoldering ever since Leo stepped aside to reveal these family treasures.

“I don’t suppose your record collection was under the stairs?” 

Leo hesitated, his jubilant expression instantly transformed into one of regret. 

“You know…just before I moved, I traded all of them to a guy at the antique mall for store credit. I didn’t want to lug them to this place. I wish I had kept them now, but at the time, I never thought anyone would listen to them again,” he lamented.

“No worries. The fact that you kept the stereo all these years is still pretty unbelievable,” I reassured him.

“Well, let’s load it up—shall we?” Leo proposed with a hit of encouragement in his voice and a bounce in his step.

Up until this point, there had been a half-dozen watershed moments in my lifetime. Each had a unique soundtrack. Leo was now responsible for a third of them.

Unbeknownst to him, what he likely assumed would be a bit of a lark, was a magnanimous gesture of incalculable significance. I had neither considered the HiFi system of my youth for at least twenty-five years, nor had I listened to an LP in that time. In fact, I was on my fifth iPod, which was somewhere in glove compartment of my car on that fateful evening. What he couldn’t have imagined when he dug the dusty HiFi setup out from under his stairwell, is that he would spawn a musical renaissance amid the tumult of a divorce and mid-life crisis.

The music would allay much of the future pain and angst set to haunt me. For as I struggled to define who I was going to be downstream from that dreaded milestone birthday, I began to pursue, collect, and most importantly, hear music for the first time in a long time. There is nothing so powerful as music to breathe life into long dormant memories. There is nothing so powerful as music to heal the weary soul.  And there is nothing so powerful as music to ignite a little hope.

I thanked him profusely, wrote him a check for $32.50, and sped home to hook it all up to hear it once again. Seeing these relics, possessing these relics, induced a flood of memories as I drove home. The first wave involved the unlikely duo of Bruce Springsteen and Casey Kasem. I recalled struggling to assimilate into the awkward mass of pubescent humanity meandering the hallways of my middle school, and the song and story from which I would forge the emotional armor that protected me. Every Sunday, I listened to Casey count them down on the big silver stereo. I did this religiously in those days. For me, more than any pastor at any church preaching any sermon, Casey sold salvation on a weekly basis for the cost of a couple dozen commercial breaks.  

Although this is presented as fiction, the events are mostly non-fiction. Here are the various photos of what that magnanimous gesture yielded…in other words, this is v1.0

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But like most HiFi enthusiasts, I couldn’t help myself any more than I could stop myself (or even slow myself down). So, for a decade, I’ve been chasing silver era Pioneer stereo gear all over the greater Minneapolis St. Paul area. I’ve met dozens of interesting folks, I’ve exchanged as much gear as cash, but most importantly, I’ve had the time of my life.

As much as music has given me, the fantastical gear upon which I’ve come to rely as that all-important conduit between the media and music has become family. Dudes name their cars, boats, etc… My assemblage of muscular vintage HiFi gear is my “Wall of Sound”. Yea, I know Phil Spector has dibs, but I doubt my co-option would bother him much at this point.

I was recently pondering how I got from the events described in my forthcoming novel to the today. It got me to excavating: I dredged up a dormant FB account, I mined the photo hard drive on my desk, I gazed back at my ill-illustrious Insta career. Eventually, I uncovered snapshots of each major release of “my main rig” along this journey (obviously I have other rigs). And although the old man’s gear is not part of the current line-up, it’s stacked safely in the bedroom of my 15-year-old daughter—the next generation of musical super fan.

It’s in the DNA.

Without further adieu, I present an evolution of my adventures in HiFi…

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v2.0
  • Pioneer PL-400 Turntable
  • Pioneer SX-780 Receiver
  • Pioneer DT-400 Digital Timer
  • Pioneer CT-300 Cassette Deck
  • Marantz 30/330 Speakers

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v3.0
  • Pioneer PL-400 Turntable
  • Pioneer SX-780 Receiver
  • Pioneer DT-400 Digital Timer
  • Pioneer CT-300 Cassette Deck
  • Pioneer SG-9500 10-Band Graphic EQ
  • Marantz 30/330 Speakers
v4.0
  • Pioneer PL-400 Turntable
  • Pioneer SX-780 Receiver
  • Pioneer DT-400 Digital Timer
  • Pioneer CT-300 Cassette Deck
  • Pioneer CT-F900 Cassette Deck
  • Pioneer SG-9500 10-Band Graphic EQ
  • Marantz 30/330 Speakers
v5.0
  • Pioneer PL-400 Turntable
  • Pioneer DT-400 Digital Timer
  • Pioneer SA-9500 Integrated Amplifier
  • Pioneer TX-9500 AM/FM Tuner
  • Pioneer SG-9500 10-Band Graphic EQ
  • Pioneer CT-300 Cassette Deck
  • Pioneer CT-F900 Cassette Deck
  • Pioneer CS-503 Speakers
v6.0
  • Pioneer PL-560 Turntable
  • Pioneer DT-400 Digital Timer
  • Pioneer RG-2 Dynamic Expander
  • Pioneer SG-9500 10-Band Graphic EQ
  • Pioneer TX-9500 AM/FM Tuner
  • Pioneer SA-9500 Integrated Amplifier
  • Pioneer P-D70 CD Player
  • Pioneer CT-F900 Cassette Deck
  • Pioneer CS-T7000 Speakers
v7.0
  • Pioneer PL-560 Turntable
  • Pioneer DT-400 Digital Timer
  • Pioneer RG-2 Dynamic Expander
  • Pioneer SR-303 Reverb
  • Pioneer SG-9800 12-Band Graphic EQ
  • Pioneer SA-9800 Integrated Amplifier
  • Pioneer TX-9800 AM/FM Tuner
  • Pioneer P-D70 CD Player
  • Pioneer CT-F1250 Cassette Deck
  • Pioneer CS-T7000 Speakers
  • Pioneer CS-520 Speakers
v8.0
  • Pioneer PL-560 Turntable
  • Pioneer DT-400 Digital Timer
  • Pioneer RG-2 Dynamic Expander
  • Pioneer SR-303 Reverb
  • Pioneer SG-9800 12-Band Graphic EQ
  • Pioneer SA-9800 Integrated Amplifier
  • Pioneer TX-9800 AM/FM Tune
  • Pioneer P-D70 CD Player
  • Pioneer CT-F1250 Cassette Deck
  • Pioneer HPM-100 (100W) Speakers
  • Pioneer HPM-100 (200W) Speakers
v9.0
  • Pioneer RT-909 Reel-To-Reel
  • Pioneer DT-400 Digital Timer
  • Pioneer RG-2 Dynamic Expander
  • Pioneer SR-303 Reverb
  • Pioneer SG-9800 12-Band Graphic EQ
  • Pioneer SA-9800 Integrated Amplifier
  • Pioneer TX-9800 AM/FM Tuner
  • Pioneer P-D70 CD Player
  • Pioneer CT-F1250 Cassette Deck
  • Pioneer PL-630 Turntable
  • Pioneer PL-560 Turntable
  • Pioneer HPM-100 (100W) Speakers
  • Pioneer HPM-100 (200W) Speakers
v10.0
  • Pioneer RT-909 Reel-To-Reel
  • Pioneer DT-400 Digital Timer
  • Pioneer RG-2 Dynamic Expander
  • Pioneer PL-630 Turntable
  • Pioneer SR-303 Reverb
  • Pioneer PL-570 Turntable
  • Pioneer SG-9800 12-Band Graphic EQ
  • Pioneer SA-9800 Integrated Amplifier
  • Pioneer TX-9800 AM/FM Tuner
  • Pioneer P-D70 CD Player
  • Pioneer CT-F1250 Cassette Deck
  • Pioneer CT-300 Bluetooth “Tapless Deck”
  • Pioneer U-24 Program Selector
  • Pioneer TX-D1000 Digital AM/FM Tuner
  • Pioneer TVX-9500 Stereo TV Tuner
  • Pioneer PL-560 Turntable
  • Pioneer RH-65 8-Track Tape Deck
  • Pioneer HPM-100 Speakers (100W)
  • Pioneer HPM-1500 Speakers (250W)
  • Pioneer SE-2P Headphones
  • Pioneer SE-L20 Headphones
  • Pioneer Monitor 10 Headphones
  • Pioneer SE-50 Headphones
  • Pioneer SE-305 Headphones
  • Pioneer SE-L-40 Headphones
  • Pioneer SE-L20A Headphones

And so the journey continues as the “Wall of Sound” evolves. Before this accidental hobby captivated my imagination, I had shed all of my physical media. My last act being the donation of 600 CDs to the Great River Regional Library. I’d long since dove headlong into the wave of digital music (I was a Napster early adopter). Before I donated them, I had ripped them all to 160kbs MP3 files arranged meticulously into genres, sub genres, folders, and sub folders.

Today, I’ve come full-circle. My album collection is pushing 6,000…

My compact cassette collection is pushing 1,200…

I’ve somehow acquired nearly 600 8-tracks…

And while it remains the most anemic of all of the formats, I’ve managed to scrape together a couple hundred compact discs (mostly purchased at live shows)…

But it’s cool to be that know-it-all who knew digital was “all that”, and then decided “all that” maybe wasn’t where my heart was all along. As this essay comes to a conclusion, I’m pushing the half-century mark. I’d love to show little kid jamming to Juice Newton, Dr. Hook, and Beach boys records on his old man’s stereo what those tender moments of musical infatuation would someday yield.

He would’ve never believed me.


Copyright © 2021 – ∞ Blake Charles Donley

FOUND: The Missing Link

I’m a member of a single solitary HiFi group on the Bookface almighty: Silver Pioneer. This group, besides discussing and debating strictly Pioneer HiFi gear from the silver era, is strictly easygoing and chill. It’s a rather agreeable community of (mostly) older (mostly) chaps who appreciate the build, the sound, and the eternal charm of vintage ’70s Pioneer HiFi gear.

In the words of the late, great, Kurt Vonnegut, “Communities are crucial…”

Lately, I’ve noticed there seems to be a rush on behalf of auto makers to “reissue” classic muscle cars like the Dodge Charger, Chevrolet Camaro, and Ford Mustang (among others). This is a transparent (and flaccid) attempt to cash in on these iconic brands. Let’s just say that the modern-day versions of these once potent muscle cars are not fooling anyone, save for the poor dupes behind the wheel. That’s how the member’s of the Pioneer Silver group feel about the various eras of HiFi gear that came after the silver era.

Anyway, one fine day a few months back, a Polish chap named Artur posted a psuedo-ad for his little project on our little community’s Facebook page. With the apt moniker of, The Tapeless Deck Project, he retrofits old cassette decks with a specific model of Samsung smartphone (where the tape would normally go). Essentially, this transforms the deck into a streaming media player of sorts. From your own smartphone, you can load digital music files onto the Samsung device inside the deck and thus control it remotely.

After seeing the Pioneer CT-300 conversion he did on the aforementioned Facebook group page, I sent this query to him via his contact form:

I would actually need to procure a “needs new belts” unit from eBay. I don’t have one on hand at the moment. My question is: is there any way to add bluetooth? Essentially, I have the entire Pioneer blue fluoroscan series (SA-9800, CT-F1250, TX-9800, SG-9800, etc…). What I can’t find anywhere is a matching Bluetooth receiver. I understand that the converted deck would have 64GB of internal storage. And that is great, but ultimately, I need the ability to stream to a (matching) silver series fluoroscan component. Converting a CT-F650 (or 600) would do the trick. Thank you for your consideration.

He replied:

I see no problem with installing a Bluetooth receiver inside the deck. I already made such projects 🙂 You may order both Tapeless Deck modification + BT module installation in one machine – or just only BT, as you wish. Please note that I’m located in Poland, Europe, so sending the deck over the ocean may be a bit crazy (and expensive :). My customers from US/Canada usually ask me to find a suitable machine here, on Polish market or they just buy a deck on European eBay and have it shipped directly to me. At the moment I see one “need new belts” Pioneer CT-F650 for about 130 USD – https://allegro.pl/oferta/pioneer-ct-f650-10713085251 It is roughly the equivalent of shipping between the US and Poland, so you can have a deck for free 🙂 Regards, Artur

And that is precisely how these little flights of tickling my fancy begin…

Needless to say, after a few minor adjustments—we actually ended up with another Pioneer CT-300 like the one he featured on the Facebook group page—this beauty is in my basement.

My Pioneer CT-300 tapeless deck is completely crammed with insane mods. Artur removed the cassette heads and such and installed a Samsung device that has 64GB of storage for digital music files. It can be loaded via the home WiFi network. The deck then becomes a digital music player that functions with the normal cassette deck buttons, switches, and knobs.

Additionally, a number of cassette skins/animations are preloaded so that a cassette appears to be playing through the window. There are 30 skins/animations in all. I settled on the Pioneer N1-60 (of course I did).

Finally, he installed a Bluetooth receiver allowing me to stream directly to the deck. The Tape Start switch below the power button is used to switch between the 64GB onboard storage and Bluetooth modes. The little blue light under the counter indicates the deck is in Bluetooth mode and automatically blinks when nothing is paired. The cassette animation works in both modes. The flippin’ fluoroscan meters even function and bounce to the active source! The attention to detail is nothing short of staggering!

A device like this is a true blend of art and (retro) tech.

Of all the pieces of Pioneer gear I’ve been able to acquire, there was never an option for a media streaming box with Bluetooth functionality. In fact, of the “somewhat matching” silvery devices on the market today, none came cheaper than $500 (most were triple that), and none were manufactured by Pioneer. Hence, I did not blink at the $750 USD price tag (which included acquiring a Pioneer CT-300 deck for $130 USD from a Polish auction site). Artur even installed a transformer, so that the deck would run on the standard 120V US electric system.

The dude is a bit of a genius in my book.

There are only a handful of ancillary TOTL Pioneer pieces left for me to acquire (in no particular order):

  • SX-3900 Receiver
  • H-R100 8-Track Player
  • M-25 Power Amplifier
  • SD-1100 Stereo Tuning Display
  • HPM-200 Speakers

Most of these would be well north of $1,000.

But for now, the “Wall of Sound” truly takes up an entire north wall of my region of the basement…

Let me introduce the band, again…the lineup (top to bottom, left to right, sorta). Speakers and headphones will be listed at the end.
  • Pioneer RT-909 Reel-To-Reel
  • Pioneer DT-400 Digital Timer
  • Pioneer RG-2 Dynamic Expander
  • Pioneer PL-630 Turntable
  • Pioneer SR-303 Reverb
  • Pioneer PL-570 Turntable
  • Pioneer SG-9800 12-Band Graphic EQ
  • Pioneer SA-9800 Integrated Amplifier
  • Pioneer TX-9800 AM/FM Tuner
  • Pioneer P-D70 CD Player
  • Pioneer CT-F1250 Cassette Deck
  • Pioneer CT-300 Bluetooth “Tapless Deck”
  • Pioneer U-24 Program Selector
  • Pioneer TX-D1000 Digital AM/FM Tuner
  • Pioneer TVX-9500 Stereo TV Tuner
  • Pioneer PL-560 Turntable
  • Pioneer RH-65 8-Track Tape Deck
  • Pioneer HPM-100 Speakers (100W)
  • Pioneer HPM-1500 Speakers (250W)
  • Pioneer SE-2P Headphones
  • Pioneer SE-L20 Headphones
  • Pioneer Monitor 10 Headphones
  • Pioneer SE-50 Headphones
  • Pioneer SE-305 Headphones
  • Pioneer SE-L-40 Headphones
  • Pioneer SE-L20A Headphones

This vision quest (favorite soundtrack) was kicked off waaaay back on my 39th birthday when my old man gave me the vintage Pioneer system I listened to as a kid (SX-780 receiver + PL-400 turntable). I had no idea he’d kept that gear all those years. Today, a decade later, this affliction has been one of the great joys of this lifetime. If history is any indication, that will never change.

Cheers!


Copyright © 2021 – ∞ Blake Charles Donley

Geek, Nerd, Dweeb—I Prefer “Existential”—Rock

When you Google “geek rock”, a Wikipedia entry is shot back atcha #1 (with a bullet). For me, the notion of “geek rock” was vague and unfocused until I happened upon a Funny or Die video from 2011 where fanboys Paul Rudd and Jason Segel finagle their way backstage to meet Rush. It’s pretty fantastic.

I had few friends in junior high. One friend I did have, due mainly to locker proximity (lockers were assigned in alphabetical order by last name), was Scott Eichmann. His distinguishing characteristic was his ludicrous height. He must have been 6′ 5″ in 7th grade. By contrast, I was more like 5′ 6″. You could always spot his mulleted head towering above the masses that swept through the hallowed halls of Wayzata East (a.k.a. Ridgemont) Junior High School. But if his uncommon height was a not a dead giveaway, he could also be identified by the staggering array of Rush t-shirts he regularly and religiously donned. I’d swear the kid had some Rush t-shirt draped over his torso every other day.

Anyway, I vividly recall a specific conversation we had in Mr. Pearson’s wood shop class one October day in 1985.

Side note: Mr. Pearson also went by Mr. P or simply “P”. Although he was missing the tip of his right index finger, he made up the difference with his outsized heart—he was an absolute saint! It’s my belief that any middle school industrial arts teacher gets a free pass to sainthood in the afterlife. There is no more thankless (or perilous) job in the entirety of K-12 education. Mr. P was a rare gem indeed. He endured so much shit with an ever cheerful disposition and unwavering desire to teach careless 7th grade idiots how to avoid gruesome/hideous injuries while building useful stuff.

Scott and I had many conversations in shop, likely because we sat next to each other as a consequence of the apparently mandatory alphabetical arrangement of teenaged souls. Much to the dismay of Mr. P, the layout of the massive classroom facilitated copious conversation. Instead of the traditional assemblage of desks aligned in rows, the wood shop had 8 massive 6′ x 6′ work benches. Each bench featured a pair of cast-iron wood vises on opposite corners and a stool on each side. Since Scott and I were alphabetical fam at this point, we found ourselves on adjacent sides of the first big bench in the room. We could easily slide our stools to our shared wood vise and chat face-to-face.

On this particular autumn day during my junior high malaise, I noticed that Scott had donned an ’80s staplea “baseball shirt” that was unsurprisingly emblazoned with the Power Windows album cover.

In those days, I was an unapologetic top 40 pop music fan. I worshipped at The Church of American Top 40 where every Sunday the Revered Casey Kasem preached the gospel of pop/rock supremacy. I was not only early but front-row-center for every sermon.

Amid the hustle and bustle of flagrant posturing and pointless chatter that precedes any middle school class, Scott sidled over toward the corner and casually asked me what I was listening to on the bus that morning. We rode the same bus, but his stop was early in the route and my stop was the last one. As a result, we rarely had the opportunity to sit together. Most days, I was happy to sit anywhere.

Every day that I stepped into the terrifying lair of the middle school bus, I was never without my trusty banana yellow Sony Walkman WM-F2073. I explained to him that I was playing a mixed tape of songs I recorded off the radio. Scott was a specifics guyhe wanted to know exactly what I was playing. I admitted that my playlist du jour included Dire Straits, John Cougar Mellencamp, and Tears For Fears among others. To avoid extreme embarrassment and inevitable ribbing, I failed to mention some of the other artists on the tape like Madonna, Wham!, and Starship.

After learning of (by his estimation) my atrocious taste in music, Scott looked at me crestfallen. He felt compelled to educate me about a more refined, a higher, level of musical appreciation that could only be achieved by listening to bands like Rush. At that moment, my knowledge of Rush was limited to:

  • The video for “The Big Money”, which was in moderate rotation on MTV
  • Their best known song: “Tom Sawyer“, which I had probably heard on the radio
  • Scott’s seemingly unending array of Rush t-shirts

Beyond that, I was completely clueless about my friend’s favorite band. Let’s just say, I was much less clueless after his five-minute overview of Rush’s supremacy in contrast to the mere mortal musical acts I enjoyed. If you know a Rush fan, you know how this little diatribe goes. His musical education was cut short, however, as Mr. P. managed to marshal the tittering pupils to the requisite degree of attention needed to conduct class. He likely proceeded with a demonstration of some useful but potentially deadly power tool.

I listened to Scott’s plea, but it ultimately fell on deaf ears, at least ears deaf to progressive rock juggernauts like Rush. It would be another few years before I eventually dipped my toe into the sea of classic rock acts. Boston would pop my classic rock cherry, followed closely by the Eagles and Bob Seger. But as the decades passed and my musical tastes rarely veered from mainstream trends (early ’90s Grunge, mid ’90s Alt Rock, late ’90s Post-Grunge Neo Alt Rock, etc.), I never listened to Rush.

I can’t really explain why, but Rush was never a thing for me.

FFWD to this past (bizarre) year. In February, I decided to read Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road by Rush drum god Neil Peart. It was suggested by a friend. In addition to the friendly suggestion, I was aware that Peart’s songwriting was informed by a novel I was planning to read: Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. It turns out both books affected me profoundly. And in the process, I developed a major man crush on Peart the writer. I plan to read the rest of his books at some point.

Additionally, it turns out I have two cousins and a friend/neighbor who are ardent Rush fans. I’m curious, is there even a such thing as a casual Rush fan? My friend/neighbor, who magnanimously gifted me his cassette collection, never fails to suggest that I “play some Rush”. This rallying cry generally appears as a comment when my preposterous HiFi stack appears on Instagram. In answer to his unremitting pleas, I do periodically “play some Rush“. That said, I don’t specifically seek out Rush vinyl at record shops or online. I won’t pass up a Rush LP when I discover it in the wild on a thrifting run, however. As of this blog post, I’ve discovered the following Rush records “in the wild”:

  • Fly By Night
  • 2112
  • Permanent Waves
  • Moving Pictures

Then last week, I received my order from www.3rdfloortapes.com. When I was perusing the site, I noticed they had more Rush albums missing from my collection. I decided to snag them all. I’ve since added the following Rush tapes to the wall o’ compact cassettes:

  • Rush
  • A Farewell to Kings
  • Roll the Bones
  • A Show of Hands

(Very) Slowly, I’ve been aurally unpacking their dense catalog. Let’s just say if listening to current pop/rock music is like a day at kindergarten, listening to Rush’s music is a graduate-level college course. It’s a bit of a slow go, but I’m gettin’ there. I was also doing some reading about the band and I ran across this article in Rolling Stone: “From Rush With Love Is this the end of the road for the geek-rock gods?

This started me thinking about “geek rock” in general.

Coincidentally, I stumbled across a fantastic article about Gerald Casale. If you know that name, consider yourself a student of “geek rock”. Casale was an art student at Kent State university. He was on campus protesting the U.S. bombing of Cambodia on the afternoon of May 7th, 1970. If you know what happened next, consider yourself a student of history. Casale’s friends, Alison Krause and Jeffrey Miller, were shot and killed during the protest which became known as the “Kent State Massacre“.

Casale was affected profoundly and went on to found one of the most influential and important “geek rock” bands of all time: Devo. Shortly after reading the article, I knew so much more about Devo than I could’ve imagined. Previously, my knowledge of Devo could be distilled down to their lone hit and “oldies” radio staple “Whip It”. I immediately wanted to listen to all of their music.

Right after I posted a link to the Devo article on my FB news feed, this popped up on the FB feed of a group that I follow:

I’ve always been a fan of Zappa’s political views and his stanch free-speech/anti-censorship stance. He seems like one of those “smartest guy in the room” guys. Since my ego often lobbies me that I’m also one of those guys, Zappa feels like a kindred spirit of sorts. I’m likely delusional, however, which I remind my ego often.

His ’86 appearance on Crossfire is now legendary. I love nearly everything he says. What is jarring, nearly disorienting, when watching this ancient clip is the civility of the participants. Today, it would be four massive ruddy faces on a screen interrupting, over-talking, and yelling at each other about anything other than the topic at-hand. And while I knew a lot about his outspoken views, my knowledge of Zappa’s music was exactly and only his lone top 40 radio hit “Valley Girl”.

Rush have been proclaimed “Geek Rock Gods” by Rolling Stone. Devo often dressed like geeks. And Zappa always seemed way too intelligent for the average music fan. As a result of this seemingly strange cosmic confluence of the “geek rock” pantheon, I decided more research was in order. Here are a few of the pages that come up if you check the Google:

Like everything else on the Interwebs, there does seem to be a bit of…shall we say…disagreement as to what constitutes “geek rock”. Is a band “geek rock” because they look like geeks (Devo), or play complex esoteric music (Rush), or are obviously intellectually sharp (Frank Zappa)?

The closest (imperfect) analogy I can come up with is artsy science of “beach music”. I would contend that many beach music playlists include songs strictly because they contain the word “beach” (or similar tropes like: summer, beer, sunset, and so on, and etc.). While I’d concede that the Beach Boys put out some all-time classic beach tunes, everything they ever did is not beach appropriate—Pet Sounds is hardly the album I’d want playing while sipping a margarita and watching the sun drop below the lapping tides. By the same token, “Beaches of Cheyenne” by Garth Brooks doesn’t really put me in the mood for sun and fun. “Amber” by 311 is a killer beach tune despite making no reference to anything beach related. Let’s be honest, after Jimmy Buffet, 311 is hardly the next band you think of to include on your beach music playlist—that would be Kenny Chesney, the prince of chill beach music.

I thought about the beach music conundrum a lot while compiling a list of “geek rock” bands. For my purposes, and since it’s my damn blog post, here is my list:

  • The Buggles
  • Devo
  • Elvis Costello
  • Kraftwerk
  • Oingo Boingo
  • Rush
  • Sparks
  • Talking Heads
  • Weird Al Yankovic
  • Frank Zappa

Devo seems paramount, particularly since the seminal geek flick, Revenge of the Nerds, payed homage to them during the talent show portion of the battle of the Greeks.

Rush is also big for me on this list for all of the aforementioned reasons. I mean…I own most of their albums—I’m out of excuses on them.

“Heard of Spotify, have ya?”

“Yep. Fuck Spotify (when possible). I’d rather be able to hold the music in my hands before I hear it.”

Of the bands on my list, the only one I would consider myself a fan of is Talking Heads. I’ve always dug their schtick, and David Byrne’s book, How Music Works, is utterly delightful. This notion of “geek rock” has obviously captivated me all of a sudden, so I plan to become a fan of the rest of the acts on this list. Ironically, I’ve spent 25 years daylighting as an IT geek, you’d think I would’ve been all over this music.

“Geek rock” has clearly evolved, and there are acts from the ’90s like Nerf Herder and Weezer that I do dig as well. But for the purposes of this little musical sojourn, I’m gonna stick with the pioneers. Hopefully I didn’t byte off more than I can chew.

The curious thing about the musicians I chose is that they seem to be excellent examples of the “Iceberg Effect/Theory/Principle”. Essentially, what most know about these artists is what mainstream media, top 40 radio, and record companies have pushed to the surface.

In the case of these “geek rock” stalwarts, that ain’t much. Going just below the surface reveals a vantage point that can’t be achieved casually. But if you venture below, the rest of the picture unfolds—and it’s a big wonderful picture at that.

On that banana yellow Sony Walkman, I used to listen to entire tapes from the test tones at the start of Side A to the tape hiss at the end of Side B. When I acquired Boston’s self-titled cassette (and started my classic rock education), I probably played it a hundred times. Sure, “More Than a Feeling” was the impetus, but I quickly became just as familiar with the other seven tracks. Thinking about that album, my favorite track is probably “Hitch a Ride”. It’s slightly dreamy vibe soothed me during my harrowing high school epoch when that tape rolled continuously.

In today’s age of disposable technology, news, and entertainment (and especially heroes) there is little need to stretch our ever-shrinking attention span. Nothing from consumer goods, to information, to music is delivered with an expiration period beyond what is needed to sell you a new smartphone, terrify you with the next looming catastrophe, or dazzle you with excruciating forgettable noise. Despite drinking it all in from the business end of a fire hose, we’re forever in state of thirst. We want it now and we want a lot of it. Whether it’s substantive or not is irrelevant.

If it can’t be shot straight into our eyeballs, ear drums, or veins at lightspeed, it’s simply too tedious.

I’ve always thought I was an “old soul” or “old school”. The banality of that notion and its cliched overuse has become tedious. It’s like a cape worn to identify oneself as a neck-bearded hipster superhero. It always seemed to suit me nonetheless. I’m starting to think, however, that I just never grew out of that adolescent phase of patient wonderment. I can still get lost in an album end to end over and over again. I eventually came to understand that Boston was a whole lot more than just a feeling. I intend to learn the same about Devo, Rush, Frank Zappa, and the rest of geek rock immortality.

According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of “existential” is as follows:

of, relating to, or affirming existence

Side note: the punctuation of dictionary definitions is bewildering to me.

Nothing this month has been more affirming to my current existence than Rush’s “geek rock”. It seems like “existential rock” to me right now during this tumultuous time. I’m going with it…


© 2020 – ∞ B. Charles Donley

8-Tracking…My Initial Reactions…

At some point during the pandemic, it occurred to me that I didn’t have an 8-track deck in my stable of stereo components. Inexplicably, a Pioneer RH-65 became available on Craigslist a week later for $40. In fact, it was coupled with another 8-track deck that made the deal impossible to ignore, despite my (questionable) better judgement.

Plus, rarely do I ignore universal interventions.

Since I had a pair of decks and no tapes, I began to troll CL and FB Marketplace for 8 tracks. Shortly thereafter, I found myself driving a little too far up north to purchase about 400 tapes for about $100. I often regale my wife with these tales of pickups and deliveries resulting from online marketplace/classified “hook-ups”.

She’s rarely amused.

This was yet another transaction where I was directed to come/go/drive “around back” and was summarily ushered into a dank garage with a single dangling 40W bulb featuring an abbreviated pull chain “ignition switch”. It was one of those situations where I could have easily found myself in a scene right out of Buffalo Bill’s basement.

When I find myself in these surreal quandaries, I oft think, “If I was a woman, would I even…” Invariably, I think…probably, but only if I was armed.

Since I’m chronicling the acquisition, I obviously closed the deal, unscathed. And like 99.9% of sellers, regardless of my sketchy profiling skills, the dude was a sweetheart and just wanted the stuff out of his garage (and life). To his credit, he threw in a 1976 Panasonic RS 833S Red Swiss Cheese Portable Stereo 8 Track Player. I just sold it for $99 on eBay.

At the end of the day, everything works out.

Since that fateful day, I’ve likely attempted to listen to just over 200 of the aforementioned tapes. Here are my “lessons learned” at the halfway point of this particular audio odyssey…

  1. Of every 10 tapes you jam into the Pioneer RH-65, 8 will snap at the sensing strip on the very first play.
  2. Of every 10 tapes you jam into the Pioneer RH-65, 1 will snap at the sensing strip on the very first play and wrap itself around the capstan until you can sprint over and yank it out. I’ve taken the screws off the case for easy access for this very reason.
  3. Some tapes sound really friggin’ amazing.
  4. Some tapes sound like the singer is singing from the pit in Buffalo Bill’s basement (it puts the mic in the basket).
  5. It’s pretty obvious which tapes spent the greater part of their lives on the floorboards of a ‘76 Town & Country Station Wagon w/ faux wooden panels, and which ones were neatly tucked away in a travel caddy.
  6. The fact that there are at least a dozen different labels/tape colors for ABBA’s “Voluez Vous” is kinda great.
  7. 50% of all 8-tracks ever produced were Elvis comps.
  8. Some artists—I’m looking at you C.W. McCall—we’re just meant to be heard on 8-track.
  9. Have you checked the SOLD prices for Motley Crue’s “Shout at the Devil” 8 track on eBay. WTF!?!?!?
  10. I don’t care what YouTube says, repairing the sensing strip and replacing the pressure pads is a colossal pain in the ass. I mean, you gotta ADORE this format to put in that amount of time. Or, have a “Shout at the Devil” 8-track that needs repair.
  11. Forget winding loose tape back onto the spool…don’t. Even. Try!

But, it’s been fun to conquer the last frontier of mainstream music media. I mean, I don’t have any wax cylinders or a player, but I gotta draw the line somewhere 🤪

Napa Valley Wood Co. be like: “Damn right we got a display rack for that!”


© 2020 – ∞ B. Charles Donley

How To Hook Up a Pioneer SA-9800 + RG-2 + SR-303 + SG-9800 + CT-F1250

DISCLAIMER: I AM NEITHER AN AUDIO TECHNICIAN, ENGINEER, NOR ‘PHILE. NONE OF THIS ADVICE IS MY “PROFESSIONAL” ANALYSIS, RECOMMENDATION, OR OPINION. I AM JUST A GUY WHO LIKES VINTAGE AUDIO GEAR BECAUSE IT CONJURES FEELINGS OF GREAT NOSTALGIA. WHAT FOLLOWS IS THINGS AND STUFF I’VE LEARNED IN THE 10 YEARS SINCE MY OLD MAN SURPRISED THE SHIT OUT OF ME BY GIVING ME—HOW DID HE STILL HAVE IT AFTER ALL THOSE YEARS???—HIS ORIGINAL PIONEER RECEIVER AND TURNTABLE. QUITE CLEARLY THERE ARE GAZILLIONS OF MORE AUDIO SAVVY (MOSTLY) DUDES LURKING IN EVERY CORNER OF THE AUDIOKARMA (AK) FORUMS. IF YOU WANT EXPERT—BORDERING ON SNOBBISH ELITIST—ADVICE, I VIGOROUSLY RECOMMEND YOU READ NO FURTHER AND GO THERE NOW!

YOU’VE BEEN WARNED…CONTINUE AT YOUR OWN PERIL…

Back when I was a young lad of 39 and had just become the steward of my father’s Pioneer SX-780 receiver, PL-400 turntable, and some random Technics cassette deck, which I promptly flipped, I was suddenly faced with a dilemma:

How do you hook dis shit up?!

Honestly, connecting a turntable to a receiver or amp is not rocket science (just don’t forget to hook up the ground wire). And the definitive YouTube vid on that process has been done 16,728 times. I won’t bore you with the details, but that’s why it’s missing from the forthcoming diagram to which I’ll allude a dozen more times before I actually plop the damn thing on this blog post. I have a pair of turntables: a Pioneer PL-630, and a PL-560 hooked up to my basement rig. When you (eventually) look at the diagram, those TTs are hooked up to PHONO1 (PL-630) and PHONO2 (PL-560) on the back of the SA-9800 integrated amplifier.

OK, back to my story. I went a bit bananas after my father shocked the hell out of me a decade ago. I figured he’d tossed out the stereo of my youth when he moved. I was 39 when he gave it to me. I had likely last listened to it when I was 10. It was a bit of a mind-blow to have him produce it and give it to me nearly 30 years down the road.

Since that fateful day, I’ve acquired a number of rigs and a condition known as “audiophilitis”. This malady causes the sufferer to continuously purchase, rotate, and sell various vintage audio components. Let me introduce the current line-up(s):

This is the one I’ve been assembling and reassembling for a decade. The task was a labor of endless love and countless dollars. It’s been in this state for just over two years with the acquisition of the pièce de ré·sis·tance, the crowning achievement: the RT-909. It features all of Pioneer’s top of the line (TOTL) fluoroscan units from the 1978-80 time period along with Pioneer’s TOTL turntable from that era: the PL-630.

The basement rig (a.k.a. “The Wall of Sound” or “The Altar“)…

Top to Bottom…

  • Pioneer RT-909 Reel-To-Reel
  • Pioneer DT-400 Digital Timer
  • Pioneer RG-2 Dynamic Expander
  • Pioneer PL-630 Turntable
  • Pioneer SR-303 Reverb
  • Pioneer PL-560 Turntable
  • Pioneer SG-9800 12-Band Graphic Equalizer
  • Pioneer SA-9800 Integrated Amplifier (100 WPC)
  • Pioneer TX-9800 AM/FM Tuner
  • Pioneer P-D70 CD Player
  • Pioneer CT-F1250 Cassette Deck
  • Pioneer HPM-100 Speakers (100W)
  • Pioneer HPM-1500 Speakers (250W)
  • Pioneer SE-305 Headphones
  • Pioneer SE-2P Headphones
  • Pioneer SE-L-20A Headphones
  • Pioneer SE-L-40 Headphones

Then, there are the ancillary pieces right next door…

Top to Bottom…

  • The “Little Bear” Bluetooth Receiver
  • Pioneer U-24 Program Selector
  • Pioneer TVX-9500 Stereo TV Tuner
  • Pioneer RH-65 8-Track Tape Deck

Just last fall, I became aware of a wondrous thing called the Pioneer Progression IV system which came out just before Christmas 1985. It was Pioneer’s first foray into a “shelf stereo”. Because 13-year-old me would have thought he’d died and ascended if one of these was under the tree, I (obviously) had to track down all of the components.

The other basement rig (a.k.a. “The Teen Dream Machine“)…

Top to bottom..

  • Pioneer SG-X700 7-Band Graphic Equalizer
  • Pioneer F-X700 AM/FM Tuner
  • Pioneer A-X900 Amplifier (75 WPC)
  • Pioneer P-DX700 CD Player
  • Pioneer CT-X700W Dual Cassette Deck
  • Pioneer PL-X300 Front-Load Turntable
  • Pioneer S-700X Speakers (90W)
  • Koss HV/1 Headphones
  • PIONEER CU-X700 Remote Control

Because it’s too arduous to pull any of the other rigs in the house apart to test new components or troubleshoot “tricky” ones, I’ve assembled a makeshift audio workstation, which can be easily accessed from the area under the stairs. I wanted a Pioneer stack from my college era for this purpose. I now have one.

Another basement rig (a.k.a. “Da Blaque Plague“)…

Top to bottom…

  • Pioneer RA-J5000 Compact Stereo Cabinet
  • Pioneer PL-990 Turntable
  • Pioneer GR-555 Graphic 7-Band Equalizer (coming soon)
  • Pioneer VSX-453 AM/FM Receiver (100 WPC)
  • Pioneer PD-F904 100-CD Jukebox
  • Pioneer CT-W530R Dual Cassette Deck
  • Pioneer HPM-40 Speakers (40W)

Then, there is the more classy main level rig for quiet dinners, rip-roaring cocktail parties, and everything in between. It took nearly four years to track down the dueling pairs of Pioneer CS-22A’s—the only Pioneer CS Series speakers that fit into the cabinet.

The main level rig (a.k.a. “Gatsby“)…

Top to bottom…

  • Pioneer PL-530 Turntable
  • Pioneer TX-7800 AM/FM Tuner
  • Pioneer SA-7800 Amplifier (65 WPC)
  • Pioneer CT-F1250 Cassette Deck
  • CS-22A Speakers (2 sets 10-40W)

Then there’s the rig that started it all. By the time the old man gave me his stereo a decade back, I’d long since converted my entire (500) CD collection to MP3 and donated it to the public library. In those digital days, I didn’t have a record, cassette, or CD to my name—LOL!

My Daughter’s bedroom rig (a.k.a. “The Old Man’s Rig“)…

Top to bottom…

  • Pioneer PL-400 Turntable
  • Pioneer DT-400 Digital Timer
  • Pioneer SX-780 AM/FM Receiver (45 WPC)
  • Pioneer CT-F900 Cassette Deck
  • Pioneer HPM-60 Speakers (60W)
  • Pioneer SE-2P Headphones

Then there’s the garage rig (aka “Cooter“)…

This is a Panasonic SE-3280 AM/FM Stereo Music Center (AM/FM, 8-Track, Turntable). Four matching Panasonic SB-207 Speakers (36W) pump out the sound for those long afternoons of pulling weeds or tearing apart components and cleaning pots with Deoxit on the workbench.

Anyway, those are my credentials. That’s all I got. So, take the following information/advice with a shitload of salt grains.

I often post photos of my stereo altars on my Instagram feed. I received a comment on my latest post from one @jjuniorrssobrall. Just as I once was, he was baffled as to how to hook up numerous “sound altering” components to an amp or receiver. He saw my photo and, as he has nearly the same setup, begged for help (in Spanish). Needless to say my three years of high school Spanish are buried too deeply in my subconscious—thank you Google Translate!

I truly felt his pain. I once asked this very same question on the AK Forums and was promptly referred to this thread, which apparently answers all questions, except it doesn’t. I was sent these two diagrams by one kindly soul. They are quite helpful, but are far from the complete wiring diagram for my ludicrous basement rig.

Essentially, this is the visual representation of what everyone was debating in the aforementioned AK Forum thread. I took the first approach. I call it the “sound loop”. Maybe others call it that as well. Some call it a “tape loop”. It’s a loop, regardless of what the hell you call it.

I sent these to @jjuniorrssobrall, and while he seemed appreciative (in Spanish), he begged me to provide detail of how I hooked up my main basement rig. He then sent me a photo of his stack, which was nearly identical to mine.

I thought about this. a lot. There is a line in the Lori KcKenna tune “Humble and Kind”—popularized by Tim McGraw—that goes like this:

Don’t take for granted the love this life gives you
When you get where you’re going don’t forget turn back around
And help the next one in line
Always stay humble and kind

Humble and Kind, Lori McKenna

I’ve been a fan of Lori’s for as long as I’ve had this hobby. My wife and I saw Lori at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville on 10/13/2014 long before she was famous. We didn’t have advanced tickets, so we got there three hours early and drank beers from the service station a block away and waited. We were #7 & #8 in line. Needless to say, we got in!

At that time, she was just a traveling singer songwriter trying to sell a few tunes and make a little money. She closed the Bluebird show with “Humble and Kind”—it was her encore tune and not on the setlist. It was the first time I’d ever heard it, as it had never appeared on any of her albums at that point.

And that last verse it pretty heavy, poignant.

When I got a series of follow-up DMs from @jjuniorrssobrall desperate for assistance, and I remembered how desperate (and frustrated) I once was, I decided that doing a full schematic for my basement rig was my Karmatic duty.

Without further adieu, I present: How To Hook Up Pioneer a SA-9800 + RG-2 + SR-303 + SG-9800 + CT-F1250

I can’t technically explain how this works, but it does. The “loop” utilizes the Tape 1 component—the CT-F1250 in my case—as a switch to turn on or off all of the sound altering components. This is done by simply pressing the Tape/Source (Monitor) button on the deck and appropriately flipping the Tape Monitor & Duplicate switches on the SA-9800. Obviously, you need a tape deck with a Monitor button for this to work.

Additionally, you can switch off each sound altering component separately on the component with the respective on/off switch. I’ll explain all that in detail, as it took me forever to get everything switched/dialed properly. The basement rig is truly teenager-proof, parent-proof, and spouse-proof. I’m the only one who can even turn the damn thing on—ha!

While the RT-909 is not theoretically part of the loop, it is part of the duplicate metering display process. In other words, if you engage the loop, and you want to watch the RT-909 meters bounce in time with all of the other meters, you have to do a couple of things. Hence, I’ll include it.

I won’t include the Tuner, CD Player, or the turntables. They are not part of the loop, and you don’t need to do anything with them specifically. I’ll describe three scenarios and how the components should look in each one.

Scenario #1 – Listening to the turntable, tuner, or AUX (CD player, in my case)…

SA-9800

On the amp, the only thing you need to do to engage the sound loop is to set the Tape Monitor switch to: 1 — by doing this, you are engaging whatever is plugged into the Tape 1 inputs on the rear of the amp, which in this case is our sound loop.

Setting the Tape Monitor switch to: Off disengages the sound loop, but allows the meters to keep bouncing along with the beat.

Switching the Tape Monitor switch between 1 and Off allows to you hear the impact of all of the sound altering components on whatever noise is emanating from your speakers.

Audiophile rule: Always set the Tape Monitor switch to: Off when listening to your turntable. Anyone who would dare alter the sound of a record is a neophytic barbarian noob and does not deserve to even hear records, at all, ever—dammit!

My rule: It’s your ear, it’s your gear, do whatever sounds good to you—I’m not here to judge.

CT-F1250

First off, the Monitor toggle button has two states: Tape and Source.

  • Generally speaking, you want it toggled to Tape when, not surprisingly, you are listening to a cassette.
  • Generally speaking, you want it toggled to Source all other times, including when you want to hear the sound loop.

Next, there are two important volume knobs: Input/Line and Output.

  • The one labelled: Output controls the volume of the output of the deck when you have the Monitor button toggled to Tape.
  • The one labelled: Input/Line controls the volume of the output of the deck when you have the Monitor button toggled to Source.

If you are listening to a cassette:

  • Make sure the Monitor button toggled to Tape.
  • Make sure the Output knob is not turned all the way down. I’m not going to discuss what it should be set at—it definitely should not be set at 0. It does default to 6—you’ll feel a sort of click at 6—but there are plenty of discussions about this in the AK forums. If you want to waste hours of your life, read through them. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

If you are listening to…say…the tuner and want to hear the sound loop:

  • Make sure the Monitor button toggled to Source.
  • Make sure the Input/Line knob is not turned all the way down. I’m not going to discuss what it should be set at—it definitely should not be set at 0. Unlike the Output knob, it has no default, but there are plenty of discussions about this in the AK forums. If you want to waste hours of your life, read through them. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

RG-2

First off, the RG-2 needs to be on.

The Tape Monitor button has to be engaged (red light). On any of the sound altering components, toggling this button off will break the entire loop.

The Processor button can be toggled on or off depending on whether or not you want the RG-2 active in the loop. Toggling it off will not break the loop, it will simply take the RG-2 out of the loop.

The Input Level knob has to be set to something for the loop to function. Turning it all the way down will kill the loop. I generally set mine to 3.5, but you can experiment to your heart’s content.

SR-303

First off, the SR-303 needs to be on.

The Tape Monitor button has to be engaged (red light). On any of the sound altering components, toggling this button off will break the entire loop.

The Reverberation button can be toggled on or off depending on whether or not you want the SR-303 active in the loop. Toggling it off will not break the loop, it will simply take the SR-303 out of the loop. Sadly, it will also dim the super groovy cosmic display.

The Reverb Time and Depth knobs can be adjusted for maximum or minimum reverb. They also affect the super groovy cosmic display.

SG-9800

First off, the SG-9800 needs to be on.

The Tape Monitor button has to be engaged (red light). On any of the sound altering components, toggling this button off will break the entire loop.

The Equalizer button can be toggled on or off depending on whether or not you want the SG-9800 active in the loop. Toggling it off will not break the loop, it will simply take the SG-9800 out of the loop. Sadly, it will also dim the super groovy slider lights.

RT-909

First off, the RT-909 can be on or off, it only matters whether or not you want to see the bouncing meters. If you do, it needs to be on.

The Monitor toggle button has two states: Tape and Source. You need it set to Source if you want to see the meters undulate to the sound emanating from your speakers.

Scenario #2 – Listening to a cassette…

Everything above is the same except:

  • On the SA-9800, the Tape Monitor switch needs to be set to: 1
  • On the SA-9800, the Tape Duplicate switch needs to be set to: 1>2
  • On the CT-F1250, the Monitor button needs to be toggled to: Tape
  • On the RT-909, the Monitor button needs to be toggled to: Source

By doing this, all of the sound altering components will be in play, and the meters on the RT-909 will bounce in time with whatever cassette you are rolling on the CF-F1250.

Scenario #3 – Listening to a reel-to-reel tape…

Everything above is the same except:

  • On the SA-9800, the Tape Monitor switch needs to be set to: 2
  • On the SA-9800, the Tape Duplicate switch needs to be set to: 2>1
  • On the RT-909, the Monitor button needs to be toggled to: Tape
  • On the CT-F1250, the Monitor button needs to be toggled to: Source

By doing this, all of the sound altering components will be in play, and the meters on the CF-F1250 will bounce in time with whatever cassette you are rolling on the RT-909.

Also, on the RT-909, make sure the Output knob is turned to something other than 0.

Really, that’s all there is to it! Once you have the dozen (or so) switches and knobs dialed in properly, it all lights up like the Eiffel Tower on Christmas Eve…


© 2020 – ∞ B. Charles Donley

Saving My Heart For You

Out of the blue, I received the following message via FB Messenger…Untitled-1

I get it that no one reads this blog. I mean, I have access to the stats, so I know that NO ONE reads this blog.

However, if you are one of the one who does, you know how vital cassettes were to my survival in this particular lifetime, especially during my middle school/high school epoch. Therefore, an offer like this indeed registered on my personal Richter Scale.

The stellar human, total dude, and polymathic stud—he’s possessed of mad wood working skillz, he’s woke on podcasts, he has total nostalgia recall capabilities, and he’s hella gracious—who made the offer, just happens to live in the other neighborhood I periodically inhabit. You see, I split my time betwen Minneapolis (where my kids live) and Atlanta (where my wife lives). Trust me, you’ll understand it after I write my magnum opus and accept my academy award for “Best Adapted Screenplay”. But for now, just go with it as a “different” normal.

Anyway, being offered a two Nike shoe boxes and a Case Logic 15-cassette caddy overflowing with cassettes is not an unheard of experience for someone like me: an “audiophile” who covets all recorded music mediums (save 78s and Edison Phonograph Cylinders—gotta draw the line somewhere). But to be offered this volume and caliber of  recorded music on compact cassette tapes, which incidentally are “Better Than You Don’t Remember“, was a straight thrill—I ain’t gonna lie!

Full disclosure: when I get an offer like this, I’m torn. On one hand, I obviously want a well-curated compact cassette collection from the late ’80s—duh! On the other hand, I know what it would mean to me if I still had my own collection rather than hawking it at Down in the Valley in the early ’90s, only to turn around, literally, and buy copious amounts of used Eagles, Bob Seger, and (The) Who CDs with the proceeds.

My total dude southern neighbor assured me that “getting back into cassettes” was not on his radar, or his kids’ radars, or the radars of anyone with whom he was aware, related to, or casually associated…except me!

Yay me!

On a sunny March afternoon in ATL—sun in MSP in March is as rare as an OG cassette copy of Sublime’s Jah Won’t Pay the Bills on Skunk Records—my wifey and I swung by and picked up the magnetically coated polyester-type plastic film booty. It was a kick—I ain’t gonna lie!

Needless to say, the Pioneer mothership soundwall is located in a basement rumpus room in MSP, not in the unfinished basement storage zone in ATL.

And my big bad TOTL Pioneer CT-F1250 was exactly 1,117 miles away from the two boxes of tapes and one Case Logic caddy that I was cradling in my arms. Hence, I was going to have to endure the tedious yet familiar two hour and two minute return flight from ATL > MSP before I could hear the majestic notes of someone else’s teenage dreams.

Upon arriving back home from my trip home, I carefully unpacked all of the jewels and dropped them strategically in the open slots of one of the myriad wall-mounted Napa Valley Box Co. wooden cassette caddys that adorn my basement walls.

Tape by tape, I rolled my way through my neighbor’s teen epoch. In the process, I picked up a decent amount of music knowledge, such as…

Roger Waters’ Radio K.A.O.S. has been short shrift’d by AllMusic.

As I’ve always suspected, John Hiatt has one of those so-distinct vocal styles.

.38 Special was indeed special!

Anyway, I can’t adequately describe how delightful my trip through my latest acquisition has been. As my idol Bruce Springsteen once said…

“There is nothing so satisfying as busting the plastic seal on a new cassette, cracking open the case, and inhaling that new cassette smell.”

Actually, it was I who said that. And, older tapes present a completely wonderfully different bouquet—like that new record smell vs. an older mustier gem.

As I perused the cache of old-new stock tapes, I was struck by something.

Important.

Crucial, actually.

Among us diggers, there is a thing commonly referred to as: “record Karma”. It’s a pretty simple concept that takes a bit of time to explain and is best understood via example. I’ll give a first-hand account form my own experience, as only a first-hand experience can be accounted…

There is a Goodwill a scant three miles from our MSP home. Without getting mired in the intricacies of my custody arrangement, I see my kids every other weekend (and other days during the week). On my weekends, my daughter and I usually hit as many thrift stores as we can, and we hit ’em hard! We are ninja-like in our dismantling of any given outlet, and we know each store’s strengths and weaknesses.

On one particular trip to our local Goodwill, I ran across a freshly donated collection of AOR standards hastily crammed into the makeshift LP rack—actually a repurposed magazine rack—at the rear corner of the store. We’re talking High Infidelity, Against the Wind, On the Border, and so on, and etc…

Normally, despite previously owning at least a half-dozen different copies of each of these LPs at any given point since my 2009 vinyl Renaissance sparked my thrifting Odyssey, I’d snap them up for any number of rational (and irrational) reasons. Mainly, I’d snap them up strictly on principle. But, on that particular day, I was struck by the need to contribute to, rather than draw from, the well of record Karma.

I left that vein of vinyl gold and platinum—every LP in the run had been certified gold or platinum (many times over in some cases)—in that rickety white metal magazine rack for the next teenager, hipster, or oldster to discover. I wanted those records, but someone else likely needed ’em. I hope whomever needed ’em got ’em.

To my simplistic way of thinking, I believe that if you stack up enough of these displays of restraint, grace, and gratitude, really cool shit like your neighbor gifting you like 75 cassettes happens.

That’s what I’m going with anyway.

Thanks Matt! Your tapes will be graciously absorbed into my collection of 900+ cassettes and live to roll another day…many other days in some cases (like that Warren Zevon tape).


© 2020 – ∞ B. Charles Donley

Music, When It Hits Ya, You Feel No Pain

That lyric, as I first heard it sung by Bradley Nowell of Sublime, goes like this…

One good thing about music
When it hits you, you feel no pain
One good thing about music
When it hits you, you feel no pain
So hit me with music
Hit me with music now yah
Hit me with music
Brutalize me with music

Later, after learning everything I could about yet another ’90s front-man who’d danced with Mr. Brownstone too often and too hard, I learned Trenchtown Rock was a song penned by another legend who’d died too early, Robert Nesta Marley. In fact, according to Wikipedia

Trench Town is the birthplace of rocksteady and reggae music, as well as the home of reggae and Rastafari ambassador Bob Marley.

Sublime’s unvarnished version features Nowell pleading, rather than singing, Marley’s lyrics. This is what hit me when I heard it for the first time. Although I’d go on to become obsessed with Sublime—once owning over 350 of their CDs, cassettes, LPs, VHS tapes, promos, bootlegs, and whatnot, actively participating in the late ’90s bootleg market with biff5446 as my handle, and even running an all-things-Sublime website called: The Sublime Zine—I was never obsessed with this song. And though the tune never resonated with me like much of their other work, those words perpetually ricocheted around my mind—they still do…

I offer that background as explanation for the title of this blog post that has nothing to do with Sublime, or Trenchtown Rock, or Bob Marley. But, it has everything to do with the live-saving power of music, and how, a few lifetimes back, like many, I brutalized myself with music to drown out adolescent pain.

I won’t rehash it here, but you can read my rescued-by-music story in this blog post titled: The Best Friend I Never Had. If you are not into reading long rambling dissertations, it goes something like this…

melifemusic

And back in that era of confusion, naivety, and strife, music was the only thing that could assuage my teen angst.

Today, I’m approaching the apex of this lifetime. I figure after 50, it’s a nice leisurely downhill meander toward the inevitable. That is, unless I decide to have my head cryogenetically frozen so as to come back as a cyborg at some indeterminate future moment. Honestly. I’ll probably just bow out gracefully, die, and call it a good run.

In the meantime, I feel compelled to give the “life saving” gift of music to the next generation of music-obsessed souls to plant the seed of music appreciation, to show how sound can light the way when shit gets really dark.

Besides being music-obsessed, I’m thrift-addicted. There is no place more full of endless possibility and hopeless junk than a thrift store you haven’t frequented for a week. And although I look at anything and everything strewn amid the shelves, I’m always honed in on a few specific classes of relics. One such class is stereo equipment produced before the era of cheap Chinese audio gadgetry really dominated the market—the analog era, let’s call it.

I snap up this stuff mainly in hopes of reconditioning/repairing it and giving it a second life. I don’t experience any existential angst if I make a few bucks in the process. I’ve been called a “fucking flipper” more than once on Craigslist, as though fixing broken gear and selling it at a fair price is unforgivable debauchery. Another reason I like to rescue these relics from certain death in a recycling center, is that most of the stuff that is “broken” doesn’t require much effort to “fix”. Better to be fixed up and have a second life than to be dismantled and made into some cheap Chinese gadgetry, I always say.

In addition to literally hunting high and low for salvageable stereo gear, I also buy records, cassettes, and 8-tracks. I’ve yet to fall into the quagmire of flipping through jewel cases, but it just might happen some day.

About five years back, I noticed that I had snapped up about 50 (or so) duplicate LPs throughout the year. My old-souled, 9-year-old, music-obsessed daughter and I decided that rather than peddling the duplicates for $2-$5 a pop on eBay, we’d put a “Free” ad on Craigslist and give them to someone who had a music-obsessed kid of their own, who’d love them as much as we loved discovering them in dusty thrift store bins among other musty records. Needless to say, when we met the person who responded to our ad with the most compelling story—a mother with a 13-year-old son—it was a pretty damn excellent experience!

As a result of this initial foray into musical altruism, we decided this needed to become annual event. And each year around Christmas, we continued to gift the duplicate platters we had snapped up over the course of another year of thrifting. Eventually, it dawned on me that it would probably be momentarily life-altering to not only receive music but also the means to enjoy the music. In that spirit, I started to gather choice pieces of stereo gear throughout the year.

By the time this past Christmas rolled around, I had amassed the following rig…

  • Technics SA-160 Stereo Receiver Quartz Synthesizer Amplifier AM/FM Tuner
  • Fisher MT-420 Turntable
  • Insignia NS-B2111 2-way Coaxial Speakers
  • Sony MDR-CD180 Stereo Headphones

stereo

I won’t pretend that any or all of these pieces would make an audiophile—whatever that even is—blush. But, I couldn’t help imagining how excited 13-year-old me would have been if this was under the Christmas tree back in ’84.

So, my old-souled, now-13-year-old, music-obsessed daughter and I placed our “Free” ad on Craigslist. The father who responded with the most compelling story was so excited that it melted out hearts. He was going to give our second-hand rig to his 16-year-old daughter who really wanted a record player, so that she could play the old records he had never had the heart to throw out. Since this is how I first became music-obsessed kid back in ’81 (listening to my old man’s Beach Boys, Juice Newton, and Dr. Hook records), the utter coolness of this moment sort of overtook me. As we helped him load the gear into his car, I think everyone was a bit overtaken.

He hugged us both, and we waved as he pulled out of our driveway and drove away.

It is infinitely more rewarding to give a gift than to get one.

There is no gift quite like the gift of music.


© 2020 – ∞ B. Charles Donley

The Logic Behind the Case For Case Logic

Throughout my frequent thrifting operations, I occasionally run across nostalgically crucial artifacts, implements and devices. Sometimes, I’m totally floored when I run across something I’d forgotten ever existed.

Take the time I found an Advance Watch Co. Ltd. QUARTZ DIGITAL ALL PURPOSE CLOCK.

carclock

Sure, to the average human, it probably looks like a cheap crappy digital clock—clearly from the ’80s. Well, it is all that. It also happens to be the clock my father chose to affix to the dash of his 1981 light blue Toyota Corolla SR-5 two-door liftback.

Dad was notorious for luring my younger brother and I out on Saturday morning errands with the promise of a stop at Perkins for pancakes (my  brother) and French toast (me). After breakfast, We’d spend the rest of the morning staring at this clock (my brother from the shotgun seat, me from the back seat) praying that whichever hardware store, department store, or garage sale we were headed to was the last stop of the morning. Needless to say, I literally spent hours staring at this clock. Seeing it 35 years later in it’s original packaging  hanging on a peg in a thrift store nearly triggered a nostalgic seizure.

Other times while thrifting, I’m dogged by stuff that seems to follow me from thrift store to thrift store—things like: DVD players, Precious Moments figurines, and endless copies of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass’ six-time-platinum masterpiece: Whipped Cream.

whipped

Periodically, I track down things that I purposely hunt for at thrift stores. I never pass up a functioning Sony Walkman cassette or CD player. I buy every new or lightly used “Designed by Michael Graves for Target” gadget I find. And, I snatch up any Napa Valley Box Co. media storage caddy, case, or rack. The reason is that the difference between the thrift store cost and the market (a.k.a. eBay) price is generally enough to make it worth my while.

Along those lines, I generally lay claim to anything made by Case Logic. Mainly for the aforementioned reason, but also because I’ve likely owned and utilized at least two dozen of their portable media storage products over the course of my lifetime. Also, their products trigger nearly the same nostalgia hit as my dad’s car clock.

As a kid born in ’72, I saw both the cassette and CD revolutions come and go before my 30th birthday. I owned hundreds of each at various points in the ’80s and ’90s. Bewitched by the convenience of digital music, I dumped all my physical media during the great Napster revolution at the turn of the century.

Ironic twist alert: I’ve spent the past decade acquiring more cassettes than I ever owned in the late ’80s—nearly 900 tapes as of today—doh!

Anyway, as I headed off to college in August of 1990, I was war-torn between the two formats. At that time, CD burners were still years away from existing, much less being affordable. And before digital music files and players became the de facto standard for portable audio—”back in my day” anecdote coming—we were forced to haul our tapes and CDs along with us when music-on-the-go was the order of the day (or night).

On a recent thrift outing, I snapped up a Case Logic DM-24 portable padded nylon case. The only reason I know it was a DM-24, is that tucked inside one of the pockets was all of the original paperwork. Included in the usual stack of warranty cards, product registration cards, and index cards, was the 1993 Case Logic catalog in the form of a small yet colorful accordion-style brochure. It was too great not to scan for posterity. See if you can spot the DM-24

Scan0001Scan0002Scan0003Scan0004Scan0005Scan0006

Seeing the breadth of the Case Logic product line in 1993—arguably the height of the company’s popularity—didn’t quite trigger a nostalgic seizure, but it did vault me back to at least a dozen points in the past when I owned one or three of the products featured.

Specifically, the CL-15 Tape Case was always zipped and loaded each and every weekend we made the two-hour drive to visit my grandparents in rural western Minnesota. They had no TV reception to speak of, I was two hours from my friends, and my grandpa spun only polka music on his ancient Panasonic turntable. I needed at least 15 tapes to pass the time during two days in the most boring spot on the planet. I still run across these CL-15 cases all the time in thrift stores for $2-3. They are easily the most common Case Logic product I find, likely because they used to sell them branded and loaded with 15 TDK blank tapes at Musicland and Target.

These CL-15 cases generally fetch $15-20 on eBay depending on condition and color scheme—the more colorful the better, duh!

Eventually, during my college daze (1990-95), I drifted toward CDs and graduated to numerous of the padded CD cases (most likely the CD-15 and CD-30). Over the years, I may have even owned a CD-60, and it may have been grey. Unfortunately, Case Logic never produced the case that would have allowed me to tote my entire CD collection with me: the CD-500.

I hope I presented a compelling case for preserving these wondrous Case Logic catalog images on the interwebs for all of eternity…or however much time humanity has left.


© 2020 – ∞ B. Charles Donley