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A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE TELEPHONE RECORDINGS

While in the Senate, Lyndon Johnson often made a record of his telephone conversations by having a third party, frequently Walter Jenkins, listen in on his conversations and take shorthand notes. The notes were transcribed and many of the transcripts are filed in the pre-presidential collection, "Notes and Transcripts of Johnson Telephone Conversations."

During the Vice Presidential period, Johnson used an Edison Voicewriter to record his conversations. The Voicewriter used thin red flat disks which were similar in appearance to 45 rpm records and recorded by making a groove in the disk. All of the recorded Vice Presidential telephone conversations that the LBJ Library has located are on the Edison Voicewriter disks. The staff has also found IBM belts and Dictaphone Dictabelt recordings of speeches and interviews from the Pre-Presidential period.

The earliest "belt" recordings of telephone conversations were created on November 22, 1963. Conversations recorded on November 22 and 23, 1963, are on IBM magnetic belts. According to the President's Daily Diary, Johnson was in his office in the Executive Office Building (EOB) when these conversations took place. After November 23, 1963, conversations were recorded on Dictaphone equipment, although Johnson continued to use the EOB office through November 25.

The IBM belts are dark brown in color and appear to be an iron oxide bonded to a base material. They are magnetic recordings, and the belts contain no grooves. When the Library staff played the IBM belts in June 1992, the sound quality was very poor.

The Dictaphone Corporation referred to their belts as "Dictabelt Records," and the recordings were created on Dictaphone equipment which cut a groove in the belt with a needle. Most Dictabelts are made of a blue transparent plastic material, although a few early belts are red. The company described the process as "the sound you can see" and printed "Dictabelt Visible Record" along the edge of some of the belts. Although sound quality varies on the Dictabelts, it is far superior to that of IBM belts. Unless otherwise noted in the description, recordings in this collection were made on Dictabelts with Dictaphone equipment. Because the majority of the recordings were made on Dictabelts, the recordings commonly were referred to as "Dictabelts" by President Johnson's staff.

The dictating equipment used to record the conversations was attached to the telephone line. Johnson signaled the secretary when he wanted a conversation recorded, and she pressed a switch located at her desk to activate the machine. It appears from the content and nature of the recordings that the secretaries often left the machine running and recorded many conversations inadvertently, including many office conversations. Office conversations may also have been picked up by the speakerphone in the Oval Office.

Some of the Dictabelts were designed to run for 15 minutes; others are 30-minute belts. Although a belt may contain only one conversation, most contain several conversations. The Dictaphone recorder held two belts and would switch automatically to the second belt, enabling the secretary to record a long conversation on two belts without interruption. The secretary prepared a slip listing the recording information for each belt. However, these slips are not always accurate. Some conversations are not listed on the slips, and some are listed which were not recorded.

The White House Communications Agency (WHCA) and the Signal Corps also recorded some of President Johnson's telephone conversations. The Signal Corps apparently was responsible for making the recordings when the President was away from the White House, either at the LBJ Ranch or on presidential trips. Some of these recordings were made on reel-to-reel audio tape, but most were made on Dictaphone belts. Occasionally, both the Signal Corps and the President's secretaries recorded conversations. In such cases, both recordings have been included in the collection and are described as "concurrent recordings."

It is the policy of the National Archives and Records Administration that Archives personnel will not transcribe presidential recordings. However, President Johnson's White House secretarial staff prepared transcripts of many, but not all, of the recordings. Notes found with the transcripts indicate that transcripts for some recordings were prepared long after, sometimes several years after, the conversation took place. When President Johnson left office and began working on The Vantage Point, his Austin staff made additional transcriptions and summaries. Occasionally there is more than one version of a transcript for the same conversation in the collection. These transcriptions and summaries will be made available for research when the corresponding recordings of the telephone conversations are opened.

Researchers should be cautioned that the transcripts are not always reliable and should never be used without checking them against the actual recordings to assure accuracy. An example of the types of inaccuracies which may appear in the transcripts occurs in the transcript of a conversation between President Johnson and Speaker of the House John McCormack on November 29, 1963. According to the transcript, President Johnson says, "I've got a pack them bastards waiting on me," but the recording reveals that he in fact said, "I've got the Pakistani Ambassador waiting on me." Sometimes the omission of the single word "not" in a transcript completely reverses the meaning of what was actually stated in a conversation. The Archives staff has prepared Processing Notes to accompany the transcripts only in those cases where the speaker, date, or time listed on the transcript are inaccurate. No notations have been prepared to indicate inaccuracies in the text of the transcripts.