With all the excitement that comes with a 5-year-old on Christmas morning, I ran downstairs to the living room where the tree was surrounded by boxes and bows. My brother and I began tearing into our presents as our parents watched. There aren't many things I remember getting that year, but one gift stands out.
It was 1982, and Mom and Dad had gotten me a Fisher Price Model 826 cassette recorder, in all its 1980s tan-and-brown glory. I didn't know it at the time, but this was one of the most impactful gifts they could have given me. Really, there's no way I could have known.
It was the most simple of cassette recorders. Battery-operated, it featured a small microphone built into the front, and a speaker built into the back. Record, play, stop, fast forward, rewind. As simple as it was, it was about to unlock a new world for me.
Bundled with the recorder was a cassette tape. Side 1 was titled "Discover a World of Sounds", and was a guide to using the tape recorder. I don't remember much from that side of the tape, but one section that always stuck in my mind was an appearance by venerated voice artist and sound effects guy Fred Newman. His energetic, infectious tutorial on making mouth sounds simply clicked with me. Though I didn't retain much from that tape, I never forgot how to imitate a trumpet. And I never forgot about Mr. Newman, who would continue to pop up in places like "The All New Mickey Mouse Club", and on "A Prairie Home Companion".
Side 2 of the cassette, "Record Your World of Sounds", was blank. Of course it was! How else would one get started with the Fisher Price Model 826? Suddenly, recorded sound wasn't just something that came through the radio, or the TV, or the turntable or 8-track player in the den (it was a JC Penny home stereo system, by the way). No, recorded sound was something I was now able to create! And I did. A lot.
I was hooked. I carried that tape recorder with me and recorded all sorts of weird things. I didn't accomplish anything notable, but I did fall in love with exploring a world of sound. That love stayed with me, though the tape recorder was lost to a garage sale some time ago. Thanks to the Internet, I was able to replace it recently (pictured above), for the sake of sentimentality.
I've been through so many other recorders over the years, on a journey from simple recording and playback to multitrack recording and mixing, and from analog to digital. Even as I learned and grew and made more complex recordings, and as I continue to do so, one thing can be pinpointed as the catalyst for all of it: a brown and tan Fisher Price #826 cassette recorder.
And somewhere, in a box in my basement, still remains a small, yellow cassette tape. Side 1 features a delightful appearance by Fred Newman. Side 2 is presented by my 5-year-old self, though that recording will remain in storage because, well, I was a weird kid. Some things never change.