Assistant Ellen Burke with the 3M-M56 during a session at Wally Heider studios San Francisco in 1971
The Birth of the M56, by Dale Manquen
The 1960s saw a tremendous amount of tape recorder development. In addition to new Ampex products, which included the AG350, MR70, AG440, and MM1000, there were new companies that entered the market. Scully, 3M, MCI, Stephens and AutoTec were among the new entries. At the same time, individuals were building custom configurations with new track formats using heads built by Lipps, Nortronics, IEM, Norton and Applied Magnetics. The 3 and 4-track recorders using ½” tape were soon eclipsed by 8 and 12-track 1”, and then 16 and 24-track 2”. The jump from 4 to 24 tracks took place in the blink of an eye – about 5 years! During this time studios were also scrambling to update their consoles with more inputs, more busses, and more flexible monitoring to accommodate overdubbing, the new way of recording.
Somewhere along the line of product development at 3M, we developed an 8-channel reproduce module. I think the customer was Irv Joel at A&R Recording in New York. The module was the same 5 1/4 height as the rest of our single-channel record/reproduce modules, but it was crammed with 8 reproduce cards and 8 line amplifiers. On the back panel were 8 output transformers, 8 head connectors and 8 XLR3 connectors. In the center of the module was a small VU meter (from Ron Newdoll) and a selector switch that connected the meter to any of the 8 outputs. The power supply was mounted externally on the floor of the recorder’s cabinet. In a way, this was probably the beginning of the product evolution that would eventually lead to the M56 compact 16-track recorder.
With Camarillo less than an hour away from Hollywood, we frequently would visit with customers regarding their requirements. I remember one of those meetings with Bruce Botnick at Sunset Sound. We were talking about 8-track machines since Wally’s 8-track was a frequent resident at Sunset before they bought their own machine. Bruce was discussing the process of overdubbing and he made the comment “I really don’t need a full 8-track recorder. I could get by with just one channel of record if I could move the record channel around. Just give me 1 selectable channel of record and 8 channels of playback and I will be happy.”
After the meeting, I began to think about what it would take to fill his wish. Having only one channel of record would save quite a bit of money and space. We had the 8-channel reproduce module described above, and all we would need would be one record module. The new part would be the head switching for the record side.
This story doesn’t involve Wally to any large extent, but it describes Wally’s willingness to stretch the envelope.
The Beach Boys were headed for the Honolulu International Center (HIC) in Hawaii, and they hired Heider Recording to record the performances. This was to be the first double 8-track remote, two machines running together, making redundant recordings with a slight overlap so that nothing got lost. The 8-track 1″ format was still fairly new, and not many people had two machines that they could send out on a remote, but Wally had two 3M Model 23 8-tracks ready for the job.
What Wally didn’t have was an 8-bus console to feed the 8-track machines. Frank DeMedio was working on an 8-bus console that would eventually be used in Wally’s Studio 3, but it wasn’t finished.
Wally invited me to travel to Hawaii as the tech, accompanying Bill Halverson on the job. I guess he figured I knew the tape machines inside out, and I could probably figure out any console problems. To help me become familiar with the console, he suggested that I visit Frank’s home, where Frank and his Dad were building the console, sometime prior to the trip for a familiarization by Frank. That sounded like a good plan.
Time went by and there was no familiarization trip. Finally, time ran out, and the night before the trip I went over to Frank’s place. What I found was only the pieces of a console. I asked if there was anything that I could do to help, but Frank suggested that I just make myself comfortable for a while as they finished up. That was maybe around 7:00 p.m.
Since the console was due to be loaded onto a pallet at the airport around 10:00 a.m. the following morning, I assumed that things were under control and I would soon be able to get a rundown. By about 9:00 p.m. I was starting to get concerned. Things were still scattered around the room. My offer to help once again was refused.
I guess it takes a lot of energy to keep a hyperactive giant running. Wally certainly enjoyed eating to keep the fires stoked.
I remember John’s Kingburger, a sidewalk hamburger shack directly across Vine Street from the Capitol tower. John was a very quiet guy who lived with his dog(s?) and made on Hell of a hamburger. The meat patty wasn’t thick, but it was made from fresh meat, formed large enough to cover the large buns John used. John used lots of seasoning to bring out the flavor of the meat. The real crowning glory of his hamburgers was the trimmings. He would stack up lots of lettuce leaves, slices from big beefsteak tomatoes and beautiful slices of large onions. I think John would pick up his daily supply of vegetables from the L.A. Produce Market each morning. My mouth waters just describing those masterpieces. Pardon me while I wipe the drool off my chin!
Lunch for Wally was two of John’s burgers, and then at least one chilidog for dessert.
Once when I was visiting L.A. during my 2-year stint at New Mexico State University’s graduate school (1969-1971), I stopped at John’s stand just as I was leaving town in my Volkswagen to drive back to New Mexico. I can remember how proud I was that first time that I was actually able to finish off 2 Kingburgers, but I certainly couldn’t handle a chilidog chaser. I also bought an extra burger to take to my girlfriend back home. On my straight-through drive to New Mexico of about 800 miles there were several times when my girlfriend almost lost her opportunity to see her first Kingburger. I did manage to deliver the burger intact, and she ate it and enjoyed it very much.
Wally’s First 3M 8-Track
Wally Heider was always willing to play a hunch. If he thought something new could be successful, he was willing to be the first one on the block with the new toy. One of his hunches was to buy the first 3M Isoloop 8-track recorder ever delivered. That hunch paid off immediately.
Wally’s 8-track was among the first 3 machines to be hand-built by the design team at 3M Mincom. The other two machines consisted of a 1/2″ 2-channel Dynatrack-only machine delivered to Ross Ritchie at the Marine Band in Washington, and a 1/2″/1″ 4-track shipped to Rolf Epstein at the Film Board of Canada.
Wally’s machine was unique. During the design process for the second-generation NAB/Dynatrack machine, a design company, Ford and Earl Associates of Troy, Michigan, was commissioned to come up with the industrial design of the machine and mounting cabinet. One of their first questions was “Can’t we get rid of that terrible buff color on those meters?” Well, they certainly lost that battle, but the console design was very impressive. The machine was mounted in a walnut grained cabinet using contoured sheetmetal and Heliarced wraparounds. The cabinet was mounted on a bird-foot pedestal with 4 casters – similar to a desk chair.
Unfortunately, after the first two prototypes of the console were built, that technique was way too expensive. The compound rolled corners and Heliarced aluminum were completely overbudget. The console was redesigned with flat sheetmetal pieces and a deeper (horizontally) wooden box that brought the lower electronics modules forward for better viewing and access.
I first met Wally at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1966. But first let me set the stage…
I grew up in Las Cruces, New Mexico and attended New Mexico State University. I loved electromechanical gadgets, and I began a lifelong romance with tape recorders when I was in high school. My first recorder was a Masco recorder that I bought from a newspaper ad for $25. I did all kinds of modifications to this machine and my later Concertone 1401 and Magnecord PT-6R. When I was ready to graduate, I interviewed all the normal campus recruiters from the oil and aerospace companies (and the CIA). I also took a wild fling at finding a job in tape recorders, writing letters to Honeywell, 3M and Ampex.
As a result, I was invited by 3M to St. Paul to interview someone named John T. Mullin. I had no idea what Jack’s historical contributions were, nor had I ever been involved in a professional recording session. (Most of my recording was just disk-to-tape copies of friends’ records.) For some reason, Jack liked me and offered me a job. If I had known the odds against me landing that job, I never would have tried! I moved to St. Paul in May of 1965.