Early July 2003, S: Kenn Stokes arrived from Tasmania to restore his '80s live band productions from Tape to CD.  We plugged the Nakamichi into a Luna because we knew the converters were good.  Then we documented Kenn's DJ and recording career and along with it some of the early history of tape recording.

Due to the way the original recordings were made (left side feed from mixing desk and right side from a microphone) we were able to use the mid/side technology of MASTERIT EQ on Scope to create a more realistic stereo ambience.


Dante: So far during your stay here we’ve restored 32 of your tapes.  Approximately how many tapes of Hobart Pub Bands do you have?

S: My ‘guesstimation’ is some 200 hours live pub music, radio program promos, plus short skits, comedies, sound effects for theatre plays, interviews from my home studio and radio programs.

Dante: How did you get into the recording game?

S: I think there must be a stray gene for it and I must have copped a double dose of it.  In primary school one of my mates’ father owned a radio station (WPAB in Ponce, Puerto Rico), and we spend hours there. I learned how to cut sound on wire recorders and the ‘new fangled’ tape recorders, as well as the cutting of production discs.

My older sister had an American music program on another station in my pre-teens, and it gave me the opportunity to experience the broadcasting side. I realized I did not want an occupation in commercial radio, but liked the opportunities of the media. The bug was still biting hard.  My sister eventually became the station owner until her early death (may she Rest in Peace).

My first paycheck from my first teen-age summer job bought my first tape recorder: a German Grundig 7” reel-to-reel. I got into creating what the parents called ‘noise’ by cutting and re-assembling bits of tapes to create ‘sounds-scapes’. There was little opportunity for live recording with high school and uni life-style raging. It was the '60s, and I remember little of that rush!  Live recording was almost unheard of except for maybe jazz.

I did have my on-air program and the first ‘Rock & Roll and Rhythm & Blues’ Radio Program on WTUL, a closed-circuit radio station for Tulane University in New Orleans.  I used the double term because I hit both Afro-American and 'white’ studios around New Orleans for material. Unusual at that time, as the two styles were still kept apart in the deep south.  Being a limited broadcast range station I got away with it. For me it doubled the amount of studios I could visit. (That could be the topic of a book, some of those artists were right off the planet). ‘Payola’ was rampant, and further convinced me I did not want a life in commercial broadcasting. Live recording was still rare in most music genres.

I bought one of the first cassette recorders when they came out. The little Phillips 'Norelco' (used early by The Beatles) still works, but really no good for high quality recordings.

My first paycheck in Tasmania bought me a three-head Sony with max speed of 7.5 IPS. Good for decent home use but never for anything professional. I recorded for various community groups presentations, some individual slick rip-off merchants, and many folk/blues friends with guitars and vocals at home, but never a group at home nor in the ‘wilds’ of pubs where music was starting to make a greater appearance outside cabarets. Recording was not even considered save someone recording with a hand held cassette recorder.

I still taped a ‘PA Radio Station’ at a Tasmanian school where students created their own programs in a ‘Pastoral Care’ period which was played over the school PA in the following week’s period for those classrooms who elected to have it during that period. Out of 25+ students, one makes his living as a TV personality on the northern NSW/Qld border, and another has created many creative community radio programs and has published numerous cassette sets of plays, as well as numerous songs of his own created using the portastudio. Nothing in live music area.

Dante: Could you tell us a bit about the radio show you hosted on community FM and its connection to the live music scene?

S: I asked for and got the midnight-to-dawn slot on the local community radio station 7CAE-FM from 02:00 to 06:00 Saturday night/Sunday mornings: it was a ‘dead-air’ slot that the station management thought I was loony for taking: ‘There are no listeners.’, ‘Everybody is asleep.’ I knew better. I was a rager in those days. There was live music EVERYWHERE, and most venues closed at 01:00. I had been to numerous parties after closing. Eaten snacks over coffee after closing. Arrested for D.W.I. after closing. Sat at home or lounged in bed listening to tapes and records after closing. The ABC signed off at midnight, and the commercial stations kept yelling at you with their narrow selection of oft repeated music and ads all night long, same as daytime.

I’d listen to music at the live music venues, then shoot off to the program. There was an audience out there, and considering the selection available, the program became widely listened to by many varied people. Because I ‘pushed’ local music, I started receiving ‘demo tapes’ from groups and individuals, and you were one of the contributors by producing program promos. How I wished I could pull off a ‘live broadcast’ as the old Double-J used to do in Sydney. We were too poor for all that was needed.

Dante: What sort of equipment did you use?

S: Opportunity came from the availability of what is considered one of the best portable cassette decks on the market at the time. I bought a Nakamichi 550 and a set of three Nakamichi microphones. This deck had sufficient gain in the earphone outlet that eliminated the need of carrying an amplifier so I could hear what I was recording. I was recording in the same room as the band, the audience and the mixing panel. I could now hear what was coming into this deck, and it started. I was able to record a decent sound!

Almost live to air’ is what I called it. I’d record a band, pack up and go to the studio and that night play back what had happened earlier that evening. It allowed musos to hear what they sounded like to their audiences and what each other sounded like. The live music ragers listening to the music they just had finished paying for again: while driving home, watching submarine races, waiting for the sun atop Mt Wellington, or at parties. Matric parties joined in and sent cheerios to each other. People liked it: it was local, it was our music, it was involvement, it was fun!

Dante: What sort of set-up did you use?

S: One of the difficulties with live recording is getting away from the sources of the sound so you can hear what is actually going through the equipment, and not into your ears. Notice that studios have a massive amount of insulation around the control room to accomplish this, especially for the lower sounds like the bass drum and the bass guitar, which travel easily through materials.

With live recording the best setup is to go to another room to record, and run a long multiple-line cable to all your microphones where the band is playing. I could not afford the cable, nor all the microphones, nor all the patches to plug into band equipment, nor a decent mixer to mix all these inputs on my side of the mixer to feed into the tape recorder. Further, an amplifier and speakers are needed to give the volume to hear what the equipment receives. At that time I was just a relief teacher on a fairly low income, and didn’t have the transport to carry all this expensive equipment.

I tried one of my conventional reel-to-reel decks once, but the earphone outlet had no volume, so I could hear the sounds through the cans (earphones), which were not acoustically transparent,  giving me no control over what was being recorded. I could not afford another amp to just feed the earphones, and I wanted to travel light to rush to the show afterwards. Reel-to-reel machines were heavy and bulky, to boot.

The Nakamichi 550 gave me everything I wanted at a reasonable price: at a tenth the price of what I wanted, but workable. The headphone amplifier had enough guts in it to drown out the external noise; it did the trick, but I always had deadened ears for about a day after recording. One case for cables, mics, headphones, and other gear plus the Naka: portable.

Dante: How did you record the bands?

S: I would take a live feed from the front-of-house mixing desk as one channel into the recorder, and the other channel took its feed from a strategically placed ambience mic gaffer-taped to the ceiling above the band (avoiding the front of the bins that gave the audience their sound). Neither proved easy, and required a bit of Wiley the coyote’s box of tricks 

Most sound engineers are more protective of anything you stick into their desks than of their girlfriends. I built a gadget that gave me a sturdy 600 ohm:600 ohm isolation with a radio station transformer that had a 600 volt breakdown for the protection of my gear.  But I would ‘sell’ it as protection of their desk. They were afraid that I would change the characteristics of their desk, and at times I was unplugged because they had problems on their side of things and thought it was my fault, only to find out it was not.

Most groups allowed me easier access the second time around. I used to make the comparison to virgins.

The placement of the ambience mic was the most nebulous task and one of the most important as properly done it could capture what I liked about live music: that spontaneous interchange between an audience and the band members. Too far from the group gave a tunnel effect with a horrible echo, too close you had no audience, and it had to have a neutral position that captured most of the members of the group and their instruments in a delicate balance.

Experience with the venue helped over time. Bands usually followed a standard configuration, usually, which made some things easier. Venue repairs or any other structural changes could stuff the acoustics and I had to start again. Also, publicans got upset over ‘X’ of missing ceiling paint where I gaffered my mic. Years of experience with mic use helped this placement, usually.

Before I ever placed the mic for the first time, I prayed to a number of deities from different religions, read a chapter out of the Bible, and cast an I Ching or three to finalize my decision on mic placement. Lightning bolts never hit me, so I guess I was on the right track.

I am happy to say that I was fairly successful at recording bands.

Dante: How would you describe the live music scene in those days compared to today?

S: Raging prior to drinking restrictions. Just in the Hobart CBD where I operated from there were over a dozen venues with live music, and that’s excluding the regular jazz concerts, the regular folk get-togethers, and a massive Country & Western scene that blew me away every time I visited one of their live venues. I think a lot of pubs made a lot of money off the live music scene, and musos were for the most part making some money, covering costs. I understand that in Melbourne musos were out of pocket for providing live music, and a number of Melbourne groups would come down to Tasmania for a spin and to replenish their coffers.

Dante: Outlets apart from radio station?

S: Copies to band members / radio shows etc.   Made radio show 50% live / Australian music.   Also environmentalists. 


Dante and 'S' Ken Stokes July 2003

Recorded on Nakamichi 550, Digitized and Mastered on Scope PCI

  "Hell Is For Children" The Shifters 1982