The Rescue of the Radio Glen / Abbey Road EMI BTR-3 Tape Recording Machine

An inaccuracy has cropped-up in online material regarding the later days of the EMI BTR/3 stereo tape machine that once lived in the Radio Glen F-block and later in the New Terraces studios.  So, before we go further back into ancient history, let me tell you that story and maybe back it up with some material.

Around 2010 the 1287 kHz. A.M. transmitter in the bottom floor of New Terraces at Glen Eyre Halls in Southampton, used by SURGE via an ISDN link failed for one reason or another and was closed down.  That's another story, but this immediately had me rather worried.  It seemed unlikely that the transmitter equipment had been removed, and it would be a shame if it was lost in a subsequent clear-out.  This was proper professional equipment obtained by David Holroyd in a deal made with the Student Broadcast Network SBN around 1999/2000, and involved much effort on his part.  Over the years, I contacted various members of the SURGE committee by email to inform them that the transmitter equipment was still there and that it should not be lost.  On these occasions I also generally reminded them that there was a rather interesting old studio-quality tape recording machine there, that being the BTR/3.  The answer in general was apathy, along with some line similar to, "As far as I know, there is no equipment left in the old studio in Glen Eyre, at least that what I have been told by the University Residences team, and talking to long serving staff members of the Union, they would have been surprised had equipment been left there when the move was made into the current studio." (Toby Leveson, 15th January 2017)

Well, If you believe what hall management and long standing members of the union tell you, you will often lose equipment.  This is something which I've certainly found to be true in the past.  I was quite eager for the investigation to be done in a fully co-operative manner, so I refrained from going up there myself and 'blagging my way in' to what was now being used as a bedding store.  Still, the occasional email every year or so to the changing SURGE staff members didn't seem to be getting anywhere.  Well, it's the 21st century, we have social media, SURGE have a Facebook page, so on the 15th January 2017 I thought I'd try a more public approach.  As well as the above quote, this resulted in some positive sounding responses and on 10th February 2017, Toby Leveson, Georgia Rytina, Patrik Toobe, and I go up to Glen Eyre.  We get the key from reception and walk across the road and car park toward the studio, passing the old AM antenna pole and tuning box which I point out to them
.  I also point out that the antenna tuning unit inside the tuning box is worth rescuing.

"Oh, is that the aerial?" They say,  "I thought it was for the CCTV"

enter the New Terraces studio.  There we find that due to not having the right keys, we can't access the technical cupboard to get to the transmitter equipment.  However we can get into the old record library where there is some junk among the stored bedding and the old studio desk furniture.  I clamber over the various bits of wood, and in the corner there sits a big, grey, heavy-looking cabinet on wheels. 

"Look, Toby!"  I say, "That in the corner, over there, is the BTR/3 tape machine that I was telling you about.  We used to record shows on it.  It is rumoured to be from Abbey Road studios originally.  Who knows, such an urban myth might even be true!  I believe that it came to the station before my time via BBC redundant stock.  If you have somewhere to put it, you may want to make sure that it doesn't get lost.  They are not exactly valuable but they are very beautiful machines and someone might really want it.  If you can't store it in the station it I'll buy it, if you can deliver it to me in the union van."

Toby looks rather unimpressed at the prospect of getting the union van out and moving what he perceives to be half a ton of scrap metal, but there's no persuading some people.  On that day I take a picture.  It's not very good because the lights weren't working properly, but here it is, just as I found it.

BTR-3 Stereo in Glen Eyre Hall
          New Terraces February 2017

The SURGE committee agree with the hall management and the security people to get a locksmith out at some stage soon, to get into the technical cupboard.  Days and weeks pass.  I send some messages via various means and get no response.  I still get no response in May.  It's now time to go up there myself to see if there has been any progress and, if necessary, to indicate to the reception staff that if they haven't already got access to a cupboard containing an electrical supply right next to a basement room of a three floor residential block packed literally floor to ceiling with spare duvets and pillows, then they should have.  On 16th May 2017 I turn up at Glen Eyre reception and ask the nice lady on the desk if I can get into the old studios and technical cupboard. 

"Yes," she says, "But it was all removed by the SURGE people on 24th February." 

I ask if I can go in and look to make sure anyway, and indeed the cupboard is empty and the BTR/3 has gone.  Well, that's a bit of a surprise as I'd heard nothing, but at least all the gear is safe now.  Job done, if a little bit peculiar.  So some emails, calls, and text messages ensue from me to various people asking the SURGE committee what they want to do with the TX equipment.  I'll buy it if they don't want it.  Two days later on 18th May 2017 Cameron Meldrum VP DCI, one of the sabbatical officers at the union with the responsibility of overseeing SURGE, emails me with pictures and an invitation to come and look at it, which I take as an offer of sale.  I reply on 19th May 2017 and we arrange to meet at 11:00 Tuesday 23rd May 2017.

Meanwhile I just happened to be doing a bit of web-searching, wondering what may have become of the BTR-3 and came across this link on the Abbey Road studios website:

A Welcome Return For Lost Tape Machine

“When we first found the BTR-3 we had no idea what we had stumbled across, only after an online search did we realise it was a piece of recording history from Abbey Road Studios! It's amazing to think that it had been sitting there undisturbed for such a long time. It's been great fun uncovering the mystery of it,” Toby Leveson, Surge Radio station manager.

Toby has obviously been misquoted by some unscrupulous journalist for dramatic effect here.  Blowing back the cobwebs in a long abandoned studio, uncovering the 'mystery' and finding something interesting is obviously much more exciting to the reader than a story about being told exactly where and what something was, by someone who knew that it was there all along.  Magical discoveries are more interesting than my endless grinding away at many people, actively trying to avoid it being put in a skip by accident over the years.  So I let this pass.  It's just a bit of publicity nonsense.  On the following Tuesday I meet Cameron and Toby, and we exchange some decent amount of used tenners for the old transmitter equipment and get a receipt from the accounts people in the union office.  I note that they had removed the transmitter gear from the technical cupboard but couldn't be arsed to also get the antenna tuning unit out of the cabinet at the base of the antenna.  Oh well.  We pass pleasantries. 

I say, "Nice to see that the BTR/3 has found a good home."
Toby, who has been a bit quiet so far: "Yes, it is, isn't it."
Henry: "It's definitely the best place for it to be."

Well we're all jolly nice chaps aren't we?  I shake on the deal with Cameron and I drive home with an Optimod-AM 9100A, a 9100B, and a non-functional Radica AM50, safe from the skip at last.  That's almost the end, and it would have been, but there is an unfortunate post-script.  The inaccurate information in the Abbey Road link shown above and in various other places has found its way into Wikipedia thus:

It states:

"In February 2017, a rare BTR-3 tape recorder, previously used at Abbey Road Studios in the 1960s, was found by members of the Surge committee in their old Glen Eyre Halls studio."

We now know that is not quite true.  I suggest a revision to improve the accuracy of the statement which could read something like this:

"In February 2017, ex Radio Glen technical manager Henry Walmsley persuaded members of the Surge committee to rescue a rare BTR-3 tape recorder from their old Glen Eyre Halls studio.  This was previously used at Abbey Road Studios in the 1960s."

I can accept inaccurate information on general websites and in news releases all over the web.  It's on Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, LinkedIn, Facebook and probably more.  But we have to keep the Wiki clean, right kids?  I suggest that this revision is made by current SURGE members responsible for the wiki entry, rather than myself.

Previous Emails and Discussion

I could bore you with a full email and Facebook snippet trail but I don't really think that it adds a great deal to the story, other than fully supporting the order and nature of the events as presented here.  Formatting all the text into a readable chronological order would be a body of work.  However, I will do that, in the unlikely event that it becomes necessary for any reason. 

Meanwhile, don't forget the other pages relating to my experience with the Radio Glen BTR/3 and the lost tapes repository page.  I hope that SURGE and Abbey Road enjoy listening to our old tapes as much as we did making them.

The Radio Glen EMI BTR/3 General Information Page

The Radio Glen EMI BTR/3 and other Lost Tapes Repository

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general email address