The story of the 200A—the first tape recorder from Ampex—is inextricably linked to the history of the German Magnetophon. After World War II, an engineer by the name of John Mullin brought two older Magnetophons back as war souvenirs, modified them for HF bias and demonstrated them to Bing Crosby, who used them to record, edit and play his weekly ABC radio shows. Helped in part by the U.S. government’s declaration that all German and Japanese patents were invalid, the decks were studied by the fledgling Ampex Corp., which launched its own recorder program.
The Ampex engineering team for the 200A included Harold Lindsay and Myron Stolaroff, who kept many of the Magnetophon’s basic features such as 30 ips operation and a B-wind design, in which the tape was wound with the oxide facing out. Unlike the portable Magnetophon, the Model 200A tape had a huge polished black wooden console and heavy anodized-aluminum fixtures and fittings. Recording one track across the full width of the 1⁄4-inch tape, the 200A was capable of performance that was flat within 0.5 dB from 30 Hz to 15 kHz.
In October 1947, the first 200A prototype was demo’ed at Radio Center in Hollywood; the enthusiasm by those who heard this wonder machine was apparent, and Ampex moved forward into regular production, with units serial #1 and #2 delivering in April 1948 in time to record and edit the 27th Bing Crosby show of the 1947-’48 season. A 200A retailed at $4,000—nearly as much as a house at that time—but the convenience of editing and the ability to time-delay performances appealed to Crosby, who no longer had to perform separate shows each week to reach different time zones. Weeks later, ABC ordered 12 more recorders and other broadcasters soon followed. In all, only 112 of the 200A recorders were made (the $1,500 model 300 followed it), but the impact of the benefits of tape-based production was felt throughout the world.