Posted on

How to fix a Walkie-Recordall briefcase recorder?

Hello, I [know someone] who has a Walkie-Recordall briefcase recorder made by Miles Reproducing Company, NYC from the early 1950’s. We are trying to help him find a place to repair this device as the tapes contain recordings of famous artists who lived here.
I wonder if you can recommend anyplace that is expert in this regard?

Thank you so much, M.B.

Dear M,

Thank you for writing in. While we don’t know anyone who repairs this kind of device, we wanted to warn you that it contains a small amount of radium in it, and it is dangerous for an amateur to repair, and indeed dangerous to even store in a closed room like a closet.

The W-R has a strip of radium in it that was used to help remove the surface dust and static charge from the recording tape media. The radium is inside a shielded box, and it should only be worked on by a trained specialist. There is enough radium to be a health hazard.

Because these machines were used primarily for the spoken word, they were probably used at very low tape speeds (15/16″ per second). The W-R tapes may be listened to on any tape recorder that runs tape at the proper speed.

If the machine no longer contains the source of radiation, it can be serviced by almost any audio repair facility that has experience with tape recorders.

If you intend to keep the device, and it still has the radium in it, take precautions to store it in a garage or ventilated room. This is because radium decays into radon gas, and a buildup of that radioactive gas is dangerous to live with. If you google the terms “vintage device radium radon gas” you will see some reputable scientific tests indicating this.

On that note, our recommendation is to find another tape device to play the tapes.

Wishing you good luck in your quest,
Walter Davies and Christine McCall