Roll the clock back half a century, and all kinds of fondly remembered coin-in-the-slot machines awaited passengers on the concourses of railway stations. From platform ticket machines, name plate machines, vending machines, photobooths, and of course, automatic recording booths.
In the UK these machines were originally manufactured by the Amusement Equipment Company who were based at the Wembley Exhibition Grounds site built in the early 1920s. Their 'Voice Records', 5" sized aluminium discs, were all the rage following their introduction at the 1935 Olympia Radio show. Anyone could cut a 78 rpm disc for just 6d in department stores, at the end of piers and railway stations. It's very likely that they were then dismantled early on during WW2 - not for scrap - but more likely because they could have been a security risk ('Walls Have Ears'). I've heard that the Voice Records machines were in fact converted so they could 'speak your weight' instead. It would then take some 25 years for the automatic coin-in-the-slot recording machine to be revived...
Fast forward into the pop boom of the 1960s, when 7" singles captivated the hearts of music loving teenagers. For half-a-crown (2s 6d) you could now make your own unique, one of a kind, 45 rpm disc. This time it was a 'Calibre' disc - it even looked like a vinyl single - and 'released' in booths manufactured by The British Automatic Company. The BAC had been making all kinds of coin-in-the-slot machines since the late 19th century, and had plants all over Britain, with their headquarters in the heart of the City of London. Again like the AEC in the '30s, the BAC recording booths became a popular landmark in public spaces throughout the nation. Thousands of one-of-a-kind records were recorded - and many still survive today. From joyous birthday greetings and spoken love letters, to wannabe Bob Dylan's strumming behind the booth's closed sliding-door. Like this one, photographed in 1967 at Waterloo Station:
|the sign boldy proclaims 'HI-FI', but in reality most of these recordings were stunningly LO-FI|
|This is a rather worn 7" on the BAC's Calibre label|
|Another BAC format was the 6" 45 rpm single|
|This is a blank Calibre disc. It has a 'dinkable' centre hole (for jukebox use!)|
The BAC automatic recording booths stumbled into the 1970s, and then began to be phased out as the public turned in droves to the lure of audio cassette culture. It's difficult to pinpoint a final cut-off date for these Calibre discs - except when somebody discovers an inspired Auto Recording cover of some top-ten hit from somewhere around the mid-1970s...
But nowadays, when we check out a Calibre disc, we immediately crash through a mighty potent audio window into the world of '60s Britain, when everyone could be a pop star for as little as 2s 6d!
If you'd like to discover more about this kind of audio recording scheme designed for the public, please check my earlier posts entitled 'Send it with Sound' Pts 1 & 2, which focus on another short-lived scheme, this time using tape cassettes during the 1980s...