RetroTech: Recordable Paper – The 3M Sound Page


Today I’m doing one of my favorite things Which is covering an unusual old Recording format, now I’ve done quite a few videos about these over the years and every now and then someone will get in touch to say What are you going to do when you run out of them? well There’s no need to worry about that because when that happens I could just start making them up, after all who’s going to believe that In this box here. I’ve got a device that can play back recordable paper, I mean as if that was ever a thing Right so let’s open that case up take the machine out and have a good look at it. This is something I’ve been trying to find for a couple of years now in working order and this one’s in really good condition inside the case we’ve also got some paper for it and the Microphone and the machine in question is the 3M sound page system. This is an educational tool that made its debut in the U.S. In 1974 now whilst it was sold there by 3M, it wasn’t manufactured by them it was imported from Japan and it was made there by Ricoh. Now Ricoh sold this at home as well as in some other countries under the name the “Ricoh Synchrofax”, now I could find mention of that name going back to 1959 now back, then Rico’s business was office equipment and the Synchrofax was launched as an office tool dictation type device, however, sometime between 1959 and 1974 it found a niche in the educational market and the product was effectively Relaunched as an educational tool, and that’s the version of the machine that made its way to the US in 1974 and sure enough before it found its way into my hands my 3M sound page system was the property of the Oklahoma educational department, right So let me give you a quick demonstration you open the lid you put your piece of paper on the machine Close the lid on top of it and press play It’s puzzle time We’re going to fit the words “bat” “hat” “fat” and “mat” in stories! There is a lady in the circus that all the people come to see because she is so What word fits in my story Draw a line from the first picture to that word Did you draw a line from the picture to the word fat? The numeral three is next to the word fat There is a lady in the circus that all the people come to see because she is so “fat”, good! It’s time to clean your windows and finish for today Now I don’t know about you, but that gave me a bit of a creepy vibe There’s something just a little bit unnerving about it, but if you think that’s weird just wait til later on anyway Let’s have a look how this works so on this side is just a normal piece of paper, but on the reverse It’s covered in the same kind of material you get on magnetic tape Now whilst this particular piece of technology might date back to 1959 the idea of coating paper in materials like ferric oxide and recording on them is nothing new, some of the first open real recorders use paper reels of tape with special coatings Perhaps the most unusual thing about this machine is the fact that the paper or Recording material stays still and it’s the recording head that does on a moving, now This is the speed that it moves up whilst the device is playing down at the bottom is the record and playhead and as the device rotates this gradually moves in towards the Center it does this over a period of four minutes That’s the maximum amount of recording time you can get on one page, now when it reaches the end it will automatically return But if you want to you can manually return it if you were to stop the page at an earlier point you can fast-forward and rewind and whilst you’re doing this the Recording, if there was a sheet on top of there, would be getting played back It’s designed to be easy to use you can imagine a classroom full of children each one of these on their desks with their headphones Plugged into it, they’ll need To be able to operate it on their own and the play button in the middle is also the stop button It’s a toggle switch and at certain points in the programs it instructs the user to Stop the recording to draw a picture or answer a question and then press play when they’re finished and when they do press play it Continues from where they left off These words all begin with the letters “SH” are your windows nice and clean girls and boys Girls and boys are your windows nice and clean won’t you show me? Two for one it’s lots of fun as you can plainly see S and H together make the sound we hear as “SHHHH” “SHHHH” “SHHHH” So say it after me “SHHHH” And meet Shelley the shoemaker in his shoe shop I’m Shelley the shoemaker. I’m short and a little shy “Shoes” “Shoestring” Now show me what you learned One of the things that fascinates me about these is how good they still sound after all these years just Imagine how many children have handled these pages roughly? And they still sound as good as they originally did I’d imagine, now the copyright date on them is 1974 that’s not necessarily the date that these were printed But theoretically they could be that old, now as well as those children’s titles and introductions to maths as some more advanced titles here Let’s just have a quick listen to this one You have heard lots of statements for instance you have heard the statement the earth is round When scientists first started making that statement most people didn’t believe it they thought the earth was flat because it looked flat They wouldn’t believe the earth was round until the scientists proved it Even though they were wrong about the earth being flat these people were right to want proof Anybody can make a statement, now whilst I was researching this video One of the articles I’ve found was from this company that had trained people on how to use these devices in Education in particular they trained people to use them in a detention center It seems the sound page with its combination of images and audio in an easy-to-use format was something that found itself particularly suited for educating people with learning difficulties As well as the prepared programs you could also get your own blank pages So you could draw or photocopy your information onto one site and record your own audio on the other, now these ones looked blank But when I put them into my machine, they revealed a bit of a story I’ve edited some of it together for you here. Just have a listen to this the teacher should now say This picture is to be someone you know very well So it should be the best of all I want each of you to make a picture of yourself Your whole self not just your face While the children are drawing stroll about the room and encourage those who are slow or seem to be having difficulty by saying These drawings are very fine. You boys and girls are doing very well By referring to the attached sheets on some page five we will now begin to score the drawing Item number one head present Any clear method of representing the head features along without any outline for the head itself are not credited for this point Now look at the drawing This drawing has a head so place a 1 in a plus in the blank after the one total up or Count all the pluses that you have, you should have a raw score of approximately 48 To convert this raw score of 48 to IQ score you will now have to change to sound page Numbers 8 The idea of those teachers scoring children’s IQs based on Self-portraits of whether or not they drawn a head on them made me feel a little bit melancholy But then this cheered me up No ends somehow the kids have managed to get hold of this sound page system And those old teachers recordings and recorded music off the radio over the top of them. Let’s just have a quick listen the exploration of new items which might increase [Music Plays] There are quite a few of these and given the names of the tracks in the artist. I think they all date from 1996 although perhaps the children should have spent a little bit more time practicing their spelling The records [Inaudible] the greatest hits from 1996 from such top artists as Alians Morseet Cleion Dein Jewl and Keith Sweat Also numerous assaulted tracks all with love in the title this compilation is not available in any stores it can only be found on misappropriated school equipment Well as the saying goes if you can’t beat them join them It’s time to clean your windows and finished for today Yes make sure you delete those browsing cookies anyway, that’s it for the moment as always thanks for watching

100 thoughts on “RetroTech: Recordable Paper – The 3M Sound Page”

  1. Okay, so back then you had to go to the circus to see fat people? wow.
    Nowadays, you just have to go to the nearest city and you'll see plenty of them.
    The way things change…

    Btw, can you please open it up to show us the inner workings?

  2. These days the fat lady at the circus would have a hundred angry 'Liberals' screaming in the kids' faces that they're NAZIs… followed up by a lengthy Twitter campaign to get he guy in the book shop fired

  3. I shared your video with my sister, an elementary school teacher. She said that they still have these in their speech classrooms.

  4. Talk about a missing link in the evolution of electronics. I have never seen this device before not even in the military. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Wouldn't it have been a bit cost prohibitive in the 1970s for each student to have one on their desk? They likely assigned a few students at a time to use the device. That's the way they did it with the recordable card reader in my first grade.

  6. Although I have my doubts you’ll read this Mat, I wanted to bring something (albiet a mundane thing) to your attention that may or may not be of any interest to you.
    I happened upon a different, less unusual educational device that uses magnetic recording to teach language, in this case, using cassette tapes. The device is a Sony ER-9030 Educational Recorder. There were other Sony ER models, all of which seem to be primarily designed as drop-in units for use in Language Labs in schools and universities. What makes them interesting, to me at least, is one, that I’ve never seen any consumer cassette deck designed to be set into a tabletop, and two, the cassette decks themselves are not only cleverly designed, and perhaps a little overbuilt, but they aren’t designed to be used as independant units. They were all wired in to a controling console unit, such as a Sony LLC-9000, from which a teacher could take control of the student decks. The console usually included one or two “master” cassette decks, similar to the student decks, but which have seperate model numbers, and presumably additional features available to the teacher. The system seems to be a “modern” replacement for reel-to-reel setups that were more common in the 60s and 70s. There isn’t a lot of information out there on the system, but periodically (at least in the US) people will list some of the student units for sale on eBay. I have yet to figure out a way to use my ER-9030 independantly of the system it was designed to be used with, as it does not appear to have any standard power inputs. It does, however, have a standard 3.5mm headphone and microphone jack which can be accessed from the body of the deck, which is in practice, below a tabletop. What makes the device very interesting, is that it uses electronic soft-touch buttons to control cassette functions, but the play/record head, erase head, and pinch roller are not moved into position by the buttons. Instead, to cut costs of motorizing the action, the function is achieved by a spring-loaded mechanism that will pull the heads and pinch roller in the moment that the cassette door has been completely shut. There is also a solinoid that is connected to a door-locking mechanism, which I am guessing is activated whenever any of the cassette deck features are in use. The deck is designed to use the Left and Right channels for “question and answer” type use, similar to that 8-track trivia game you showed us in another video, only without all the clever programming going on. The Erase head has seperate channels, so that they can be erased independantly of eachother. The deck also appears to have cueing abilities. All in all, it seems like a very fascinating system, and I highly reccomend looking it up. I found most of my information through looking up the control unit (LLC-9000). I believe that Sony was not the only user of a system using cassettes to teach language classes through such a network, but I haven’t really looked into any others at this time.

  7. What a interesting device this machine is. Here, in USSR (Estonia SSR) school we had only reel-to-reel tapes for english lessons and sometimes simple little devices with red and green light and some buttons, using punch cards with questions on them). If i'll be able to find something interesting, i'll send it to TechMoan, as i am commander Shepard and this is my favourite channel on YouTube! (lol). Thank you for nice job!

  8. wow that reminds pe of the general electric play and talk recording paper turntable great vintage find thank you for sharing

  9. I have to say my fave TM vids are audio devices from bygone eras and this did not let me down! Can I ask did you record the audio with a mic or did take a cheeky bypass the speaker with a cheeky line out and record from that? the sound quality really was pretty good all things considered!

  10. It might be interesting to use some magnetic developer to show the actual recording on the back side of the paper. I remember my dad using this stuff to look at the tracks on 9-track tape from the old mainframes. I bought a 2oz bottle a few years ago to look at the sectors of a floppy disk. https://www.magneticdeveloper.com/product/dropper-2oz

  11. I remember word cards in school in the 1970s, where each card – about the size of a computer punched card – had a word spelled in big letters. At the bottom of each card was a magnetic strip, with the spoken word recorded on it. The card was then slid into a machine that would play the word as the card went through it.

    I think it had several channels, because I remember being able to listen to the standard clear word that can with the cards, then by holding a switch down you could hear another channel where a teacher at the school attempted to record their own version. Some of them where hilarious, because the teacher versions had all sorts of background noises and sounds of other kids being naughty. That was when I was seven, and I haven't stopped taking things apart and rebuilding them since, which is why Techmoan takes up so much of my procrastination time 🙂

    I've not seen details of these machines since, but from memory they were about the size of a small portable typewriter and were encased in shiny pewter-like metal.

  12. I was hoping it was a device that would convert drawings into sound but alas no. There is an optical sound synthesizer called ANS. you draw on a sheet of glass and it converts the patterns into sound. I believe only one exists and it is in a museum in Russia but the experimental electronic band COIL managed to get permission to use it and recorded an album called ANS …it’s very cool, you should check both synth and album out

  13. Now that I am looking at this, I remember we had something like this (I was born in 2001, and this event was in 2005 or 2006 at this one school I had to go because of my Autism assistance) where I remember it was a tape recorder and we can record a sentence that is 6 or 7 seconds and we can play it back or record it over to make new sentences. I remember the film strip was about 12 centimetres and it looked like the back side of a credit card. The recorder itself was white and a had somewhat if a similar setup as you showed me. Do you have a video about that? I am 17 years old and yearn to see it again

  14. Your videos are fascinating! Have you done one on the Panasonic RC6900, the first "talking clock"? It uses magnetic sheets like this paper recorder, and a moving head; the magnetic sheets advance with the time, and when the PLAY button is pressed, the head sweeps, in an arc, across the inner sheet (for the hour), and the outer sheet (for the minutes). Back in my youth as a tech I worked for Panasonic, and repaired several of these fascinating devices. IIRC, you could get replacement magnetic sheets in various languages!

  15. Flat earth and circus fat lady. More the technology has advanced.

    1996! What a trip. I can see as a dictaphone in 60s 70s I’d be useful. Record a letter for the typist and write notes and corrections and filing the page, yeah.

  16. I vaguely remember seeing at least one of these at school at some point, though I never heard one being played. This would have been the very late '80s to the early '90s. I find it interesting that children young enough to be having "sh" explained to them were supposed to be using and controlling the machine. If there was an adult to look over their shoulder and do it for them, they could have just, you know, taught it to them in person. It does seem to make sense for certain applications for special needs children, though. Also, I'm from Texas and can verify that those voices are indeed Oklahomans. No doubt about it.

  17. "Is he going to play the music? The copyright system might recognise them and… ah, right. Never mind. Nobody's recognising this."

  18. Wow. I've known most of the formats you've presented, having lived them. This one is very cool and obscure. I'm of the same era and experience, but can still be surprised. Reminds me a bit of the early LeapFrog devices, whom a friend of mine helped develop. While mostly digital vs analog, these occupied the same kind of educational market. I recall trainers like this that were on casette.. with audio cues that might advance a slide projector or microfilm. Sitting in libraries or school AV dept going over such "interactive" lessons. Things changed so much in these last 50 years, how can we express how much? You've done wonders to bring it to those who are curious. Keep up the good content. We need to preserve this early stuff. I'm jaded only a little bit because it seems only relevant if you lived through it. My offspring only knows post internet experiences. There should be a term.. like BC/AD .. before internet and post internet. BI/PI. How does one pinpoint a paradigm shift and define it?

  19. Not going to lie, we still had one in my Special ED class back in the early 2000s… I remembered the teacher letting the kid who had high-functioning autism use it, wail the rest of us 1st graders learned some sign language, this was always about 15 minutes before my speech therapy session; I had issues with combined sounds mainly "ch" sounding like "sh" & the "th" sound coming out as "thee" in stead of "th". I was also ambidextrous, but a teacher who didn't "believe in left handed people" forced me to use my right hand. Damm Oklahoma Education System…

  20. As an Okie, I can clearly say that the man dictating instruction to the teachers in the sound pages sounds like he's talking with a Southeastern Oklahoma accent…that or Texas accent…

  21. clever idea – surprised it didn't get more use in schools as it's very easy for kids to use. almost like a primitive touch screen.
    but the big problem is it's creepy. sounds like they recorded it in a spooky cave 🎃💀🎃
    wonder if that's the recording itself or caused by magnetic degradation.

  22. The female voice that says , "it time to clean your windows " . Sounds like the female voice in HBO's 1980's "Brain Games.."

  23. 2:42 – 6:07, GREAT SCOTT!!! The designers of this device must be from the future, clearly they traveled into the past in an attempt to make everyone less touchy and moronic while at an age where they were less bloody-minded… I feel so sorry that their efforts were all in vain… We must be in for rough times ahead if time travel was the only solution.

  24. I need one of these, such a neat concept. Actually I can see younger kids having fun with it if you tell them "hey you can record your voice on this piece of paper"

  25. I laughed so hard at the lady in the circus is so fat. I laugh every time I hear that sentence. You can't even say girls and boys anymore.

  26. Rather than fake forms of media, you could always review fictional ones, like these spinning discs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6NRMYUpgyJ8

  27. https://youtu.be/kdfTuE9XHas?t=285 are your windows nice and clean boys and girls ? ….this page features words beginning 'sh' …like SHIT!!! 😛

  28. You didn't talk about the quality of the recordings. Based on the musical items, it seems like they were not high-quality, although it could just be because it was 20-year-old, probably not-well-maintained, equipment at the time they recorded them in 1996. You did note that a sheet could only hold 4 minutes of music, so at least one spec given.

  29. We had these stupid things in school everybody would erase what was recorded and record themselves saying a cuss word or something

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