BACK TO HOME PAGE
FDNY HAS FIVE LARGE ANALOG REELS CONTAINING 2,500 CHANNEL-HOURS OF ORIGINAL 911 CALLS AND BASE-TO-UNIT COMMUNICATIONS RECORDED ON SEPTEMBER 11, 2001.
THESE TAPES ARE 13 YEARS OLD AND DETERIORATING. THERE ARE ONLY A HANDFUL OF MACHINES IN EXISTENCE THAT CAN PLAYBACK THESE RECORDINGS
THE CONTENTS ARE A PART OF HISTORY AND MAY CONTAIN ADDITIONAL CLUES ABOUT THIS TRAGEDY
THESE RECORDINGS NEED TO BE DOWNLOADED, DIGITIZED, AND ARCHIVED FOR THE AMERICAN PEOPLE BEFORE THEY DISINTEGRATE
FDNY SAYS IT HAS NO BUDGET TO SAVE THESE RECORDINGS
ANY HELP IN GETTING THIS PROJECT GOING WILL BE APPRECIATED -WE NEED TO 'SAVE THE TAPES'
"AS A RECOGNIZED FORENSIC AUDIO EXPERT WITH 40 YEARS OF EXPERIENCE, I CAN DEFINITIVELY STATE THAT ONCE THESE TAPE REELS DISINTEGRATE, OR THE MACHINES ARE NO LONGER OPERATIONAL, THE CONTENTS WILL BE LOST FOREVER"....PAUL GINSBERG
Professional Audio Laboratories is a corporation specializing in the enhancement, authentication and transcription of tape-recorded evidence. Paul Ginsberg, its president, has been recognized as a leader in his field. He has participated in over 1,750 trials in 36 Federal districts spanning 40 years. He has examined and enhanced recordings produced by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Secret Service, Drug Enforcement Administration, U. S. Customs Service, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Securities and Exchange Commission, Internal Revenue Service, and the Central Intelligence Agency..
At the request of FDNY Paul Ginsberg, President, Professional Audio Laboratories, Inc., conducted a feasibility study in 2011, ten years after the tapes were recorded, Mr. Ginsberg examined tapes recorded on the actual machines on surrounding dates, as well as the one existant machine. The condition of the tapes and machine were observed. His observations are noted below.
Condition of Recordings:
There are five original recordings (one for each of the boroughs of NYC). They were each recorded on a large Dictaphone multi-channel logger capable of simultaneously recording 20 channels of 911 telephone and two-way radio communications. The reels are 10.5 inches in diameter and the tape is ½ inch thick. Each reel contains 24 hours of 20-channels of recording. Accordingly, the five reels contain a total of 2,400 hours of original recorded material.
These five reels have been in storage at F.D.N.Y. To our knowledge, no special precautions have been taken to preserve these reels, such as controlled temperature, humidity stability, proper vertical storage, or loose tape wrap to prevent adjacent layer magnetic print-through echoes. Assuming that such diligent precautions have not been taken, there is likely deterioration of the original tapes and their content is in jeopardy of being lost forever.
Because all recording tape deteriorates over time, as time passes the adhesive between the magnetic particle suspension and the backing breaks down. This results in flaking off of the particles, causing bad head to tape contact, and reduced playback output. Additionally, the physical tape can become brittle and break in spots, causing loss of playback and possible loss of recordings.
Clearly, this material must be downloaded and preserved in a medium that does not deteriorate physically as the originals do. Failure to do this will result in a loss of these historic recordings of the first responders on September 11. This is a critically important piece of history, as well as material that can be used as reference material for courses in how to best deal with disasters in the future, since it gives us a window through which to observe the techniques, equipment, and bravery of New York’s Bravest at their best.
Condition of Recorder:
The recordings were made on separate 20-channel Dictaphone logging recorders. The machines were manufactured 20 years ago, and Dictaphone has unfortunately gone out of business since then. There is no support, service, or spare parts for this specific machine. Professional Audio Laboratories has one of the only compatible working machines in existence. It has been specially modified for multi-channel independent playback, and over the years has been used to download recorded evidence in bank robbery, financial stock fraud, and prison escape cases. It has served us well in cases where municipalities have been sued with claims of late or inadequate response to emergency calls.
Recently the N.Y.C. Fire Department provided four reels recorded on the 9/11 machines from other, random dates. A feasibility test was designed to see whether we could configure the machine to be compatible with the recordings, download, and produce clear CD copies of communications. After considerable time was spent in experimentation, we arrived at the proper configuration and clear conversations were then downloaded from each of the reels.
In the process we discovered that the two 20-channel playback heads had drop-outs on some of the channels. Fortunately, by switching the heads and doing multiple passes, all channels are accessible.
There is no telling how much longer this 20-year old machine will operate. Once it stops, there is no way to download these recordings. Time is clearly of the essence.
Downloading of the recorded material is a delicate, precision, time-consuming process. It consists of a number of steps, required to insure the best quality transfer and archiving.
We have already determined that the tapes are 20-channel Dictaphone reels recorded at 15/32 inches per second. All playback is done in real time at this speed, for fidelity as well as to protect the original tapes. At this extremely low speed, 15/32 inch per second, ¼ that of standard consumer cassettes, it is crucial to have precise alignment in order that the playback of the recording not become muffled with a severe loss of high frequencies. For this reason we have performed tests and aligned our heads to peak the intelligibility of the test reels. This is the first step each time a reel is mounted for playback.
A number of tests are performed and the machine is connected to a forensic audio workstation. Test playback is performed and observations of signals is performed to establish proper operation.
Switching Heads – In order to detect all channels it is necessary to swap heads so that the working parts of each 20-channel head detect and transfer all of the recorded information on all
channels. All of the above steps are now repeated once the heads have been swapped.
This project needs to begin immediately before the oxide flakes off of the tapes, and/or the machine dies, and the information is lost forever.