Louisville Magazine

FEB 2019

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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64 LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 2.19 601 Baxter Ave. Magnetic Tape Recorder Co. is place has always amazed Charlie Green. In 1991, he used to sit in the empty lot across the street from the big brick building at the corner of Payne Street and Baxter Avenue with his ermos of coffee and some doughnuts and watch people walk in and out of Magnetic Tape Recorder. He was jobless then, after the engraving company where he worked, a union shop, closed down. He'd gone back to tech school to learn computer electronics — a contin- uation of his high school education at Ahrens Trade School — but hadn't found anything he liked. His father had always said, "If you learn electronics, Charlie, you'll have work all your life." And he did, minus Vietnam and those days in the vacant lot. He was handy with anything. Why not try stereo repair? When Green bought Magnetic Tape from ready-to-retire Gene and Hazel Dillingham later that same year — selling his house and all his rental properties and moving above the showroom — the place was a mess of acquired stuff. When he told his grandma he was going to make the backroom storage, she said, "Char- lie, are you going to live long enough?" Every night after closing up shop, he and his wife Marlene would carry boxes of record needles upstairs, sit on the floor and sort through thousands of them, labeling them while they watched TV. On weekends, they'd pull the blinds shut, or- ganize the front room the best they could, Marlene forming a road map of the store in her head. After about three months, Marlene cuddled up next to Charlie and told him she didn't want to go back to work at TGI Fridays, where she'd been a longtime waitress. "But I don't know nothing about run- ning a store," Marlene said. "Did you know anything about waitress- ing when you started?" Charlie said. "Well, no," she said. "You started off slow, now look at you!" he said. "We'll find a way to make this work." Folks would bring in their Vietnam War-era turntables or '70s speakers that were huge, thanks to what Magnetic Tapers call the "size wars" of the era, when everyone wanted monster receivers like the old wooden-cased Pioneer or a 60-pound Sony. ey'd bring in those sleek rack speaker systems from the '80s. Lots of repairs despite being the '90s, when surround-sound home theaters were hot. For attorneys and doctors, Green worked on reel-to-reel dictation and transcription equipment, which used the magnetic tape that gives the business its name. Gene Dil- lingham wanted something that sounded hi-tech when he opened up shop in 1956. In '93 or '94, in walked James Hall, a skinny boy in big teardrop glasses. "Hell, if you coulda seen a picture of him," Green says. At first he just worked the counter, answering phones. As time passed, Green learned that Hall is a fix-it guy. Cars, toasters, anything. Hall has a mind for it. He'd sit in a cramped corner, work on Green's old units. en he moved on to fixing blown-out or dried-up capacitors for customers. Twenty years later and he's still back here in the something-shoved-every- where work area, clicking another part into his online shopping cart, like some alumi- num heat sinks to keep transistors cool. Harder and harder to find parts these days. Still, Hall has his mass of service manuals, with their foldout diagrams that look like a city layout. He bought them from other stereo shops as they closed down. On this mid-December day, he hopes to work on a "delicate little motor" in a turntable. Ben Smith has worked here for about five years. He's traditionally a TV guy but has tinkered in everything: stereos, cordless phones, answering machines, tape decks, CD players, VCRs. Right now, he's working on a Sony stereo for resale. Already cleaned all the controls, re-soldered weak connections inside the amplifier, replaced the memory capacitor. Moving to Magnetic Tape was a natural switch for Smith after he and his brother closed down their store, Bailey TV. He's a member of LETA, the Louisville Elec- tronic Technicians Association, which is how he met Green, who has just walked in from upstairs to pick up a package. "I'll miss the place," says Green, now 70 and retired. His interest in the business started fading away several years ago when Marlene was diagnosed with cancer. He spent less time selling stuff on eBay to Chi- na, England, Ireland and places in South America, and more time with his wife, listening to her soft Irish music on KET. "I called it angel music," Green says. He showed up at the shop less, handing the reins over to Hall. When Marlene died in 2012, Green considered closing the shop, one of the last of its kind in Kentucky. But there was something about this tradition, the novelty. People coming in with their father's record player, wanting to, in a way, bring back Dad. Some younger folks were interested in stereos older than themselves. Take Joseph Hanna, for example, the kid who came poking around in June 2013 talking about turntable motors and meters and volts. e kid who never stopped showing up. Green hired him part time, then full time, and, as of last year, Hanna — a U of L music major who has been buying records since he was 11 — owns the company. First things first, he'd like to get the business on the computer. "Everything we do is on pen

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