Stephen Nason Recalls the Blattnerphone

I remember it was Brian Churchill (I think) who came to me one Friday in 1992 and told me about the Blattnerphone and the anticipated weekend arrival of the wonderfully named Ernest Dick from the CBC.
Brian asked if there was a chance of getting some media coverage. So I hammered out a media release and with Brian and his team's approval dropped it out to the media via APP that afternoon. It was a rush job but it had to go out pronto because once Monday came the story would lose much of its its news punch.
The Blattnerphone project had all the elements to capture media interest - a one-of-a-kind machine in working order, throwback to the 1930s with contrasting modern-day fraternal association between war-time allies Canada and Australia, but most of all the mystery of what the tapes might reveal. I knew the story would interest radio media because that was the Blattnerphone's area of application (and perhaps some old bloke who had operated the machine it its heyday was still working at the ABC). But the TV interest was surprising. Not only Channel 9, but 2, 7, 10 and SBS turned up.
The papers got on to it too. The Sunday Age rang late Friday and asked if they could come in on Saturday to take a pic for the next day's paper. That's the photo story on the TRL History website showing Brian Churchill sitting on the floor next to the Blattnerphone (last thing I did before going home on the Friday was to slap a Telecom logo on the table supporting the machine. So negative was the media against Telecom back then that I suspected the story might run without any mention of Telecom. The photographer did ask Brian if he could remove it and to his credit Brian said no).
Come Monday the yarn went off like a box of crackers. TV crews and journos everywhere. The Corporate Affairs people in Telecom HQ were pleased that TRL had generated some positive covered for the beleaguered old firm. Although internally at TRL, Management complained that it made TRL look old and backward (not that they had any praise for all the other media coverage of cutting edge TRL research that was obtained on an ongoing basis).
Anyway, here's the text of the original media release (hope it come out - it was copied from the old Wang Office computer system in some strange font).


A Blast from the Past - but a Walkman it isn't!
A mystery that has puzzled Canadian radio broadcasters for more than 50 years will be solved today at Telecom Research Laboratories in the Melbourne suburb of Clayton.
At 2:30 pm Telecom will set the metre-diameter reels rolling on the world's only working example of a 1930s Blattnerphone - a recording machine that was once the pinnacle of sound recording technology. The Blattnerphone will play back rare Canadian radio recordings that have not been heard since the days of Great Depression.
Ernest J. Dick, Corporate Archivist for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and Telecom's Brian Churchill and John Smyth will be all ears when they play back the 11 reels of steel magnetic tape shipped to Australia especially for the occasion. Each of the reels weighs up to 15 kg and holds three kilometres of steel tape that has not been played since the 1930s.
Will it be Winston Churchill raising the spirit of Canadians during World War II, the exploits of radio serial heroes and heroines, or original recordings of famous musicians? No one will know until the tapes are played.
The precursor to today's pocket-sized cassette players, the Blattnerphone is a visual marvel of antique engineering. The machine was developed by Louis Blattner in England and was first demonstrated to the public in 1929. It was a breakthrough at the time because radio stations could broadcast up to 35 minutes of uninterrupted prerecorded sound. The Blattnerphone was first used in 1932 during the inaugural broadcast of the BBC Empire Service.
The Blattnerphone in TRL's possession was originally purchased by the former Postmaster-General's Department, and was later used by ABC radio. After World War II its capabilities were rapidly overtaken by more modern technology, and after falling into disrepair it was handed over to the Museum of Victoria for preservation. Since then it has been lovingly restored to working order by skilled technicians at Telecom Research Laboratories.
The information relinquished by the Canadian tapes today will be faithfully transcribed by Mr Dick, and taken to Canberra to be presented to enthusiastic delegates attending the International Association of Sound Archives conference being held from September 23 to 29.

When : 2:30pm Monday, 21 September 1992
Where: Conference Room, 1st Floor, Building M6

Telecom Research Laboratories

770 Blackburn Road,

Clayton. Vic.

Interviews: Mr Ernest Dick, Mr Brian Churchill and Mr John Smyth will be attending and available for interview.

Released by: Telecom Corporate Affairs Directorate

Date: Monday, 21 September 1992

Enquires: Stephen Nason Science Writer

Telecom Research Laboratories

Tel: (03) 253-6537

Fax: (03) 253-6321