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A pilot project to duplicate the belt recordings was initially undertaken in June 1992. At that time, the belts were duplicated onto analog cassettes, beginning with belts from November 22, 1963, and continuing through February 26, 1964. Each belt was recorded in its entirety onto a separate 60-minute analog cassette. No attempt was made at that time to list the subject matter of the conversations, nor to inventory the complete collection of recordings; however, an inventory of the transcript collection was begun by the Supervisory Archivist prior to the pilot project.
As previously stated, the earliest presidential recordings were made on IBM belts. The Library no longer possessed working IBM dictating equipment but was able to obtain a working machine on loan to duplicate these belts during the pilot project. After that was done, the machine was returned to IBM.
In April 1993, the Archives staff prepared a preliminary inventory of all the belts in the collection, using the information recorded by President Johnson's secretarial staff on the slips and envelopes which accompanied the belts. After surveying the collection, the Archives staff decided that Digital Audio Tape (DAT) would be a more suitable medium for duplication of the Dictabelts than analog cassette. After the preliminary inventory was completed, duplication of the belts resumed, using DAT equipment and beginning with February 27, 1964.
As has been noted, a single Dictabelt could hold recordings of several telephone conversations. The use of DAT technology enabled the staff to insert an electronic identification marker, or Program Number (PNO), at the start of each conversation to facilitate locating the beginning of the conversation on the tape. The staff used the Tape and PNO numbers to link description information to each individual conversation. Contents of belts were recorded in their entirety, and mute sound was inserted to separate the contents of belts. When the recording of a conversation originally continued onto a second belt, mute sound was also recorded to indicate the separate belts and the staff inserted another PNO marker at the beginning of the continuation. Therefore, some single conversations which span more than one belt have more than one PNO number. In many cases, some of the conversation at the end of the first belt was also recorded on the beginning of the second belt on the original recordings, and this repetition has been preserved on the DAT recordings. Continuations are noted in the Comments section of the descriptions, which can be found on our Web site.
When the Library began processing the White House Series, a number of changes were made to improve both the quality and the efficiency of tape production. First, the conversations on the White House Series have been reproduced on tapes containing no more than 74 minutes of recording, in anticipation of eventually making the collection available on compact disks, which contain a maximum of 74 minutes of recorded time. In order to fit the maximum number of conversations in a 74-minute format, the Library decided not to preserve the original full contents of individual belts on single tapes. That is, contents of a single belt may be divided between two tapes in the White House Series. However, the Library has always retained on a single 74-minute tape those conversations which span more than one belt. The finding aids available in the Reading Room which accompany each tape contain photocopies of the accompanying slip information; when the contents of a belt have been divided between tapes, the copies of the slip have been annotated to indicate this division.
Because of the sound problems inherent in some of the original recordings, some belts have been re-recorded several times in an attempt to get the best recording. The Archives staff has made a judgment on the quality of the various recordings and has made the best recording possible available. When that recording has been substituted for one which was duplicated with other conversations originally recorded on a belt, four seconds of mute sound have been inserted before and after the PNO to indicate that substitution. Occasionally, two different re-recordings have been made available when the recording quality of each is superior in different parts of the conversation; these are noted as "Re-Records" in the Comments section of the description. On very rare occasions, when a single audible recording of a lengthy conversation could not be made, the Archives staff prepared a composite recording of the audible portions of more than one recording of a conversation so that all audible parts of the conversation are available as a single PNO. In these cases, a note has been made in the Comments section of the description to alert the researcher.
Apparently, more than one Dictabelt machine was used to record conversations on some days, so the calls for that day may have been recorded out of chronological sequence on the various belts used that day. The Archives staff has arranged all of the conversations on a day in chronological sequence, regardless of where they may have been recorded on the original belts. Mute sound has been inserted to indicate that a conversation has been separated from the original sequence of the recorded conversations on the original belts.
Closures on the White House Series are indicated by a tone for the actual length of the closure. When a conversation is closed in its entirety, four seconds of mute sound precede and follow the tone to distinguish from sanitizations, which are indicated by a tone which flows immediately from the preceding words. Closures on the JFK Series are indicated on the tape by a recording by the Archives staff describing the closure, rather than a tone.
All tapes released as part of the White House Series are labeled with the letters "WH," followed by the year and month of the conversation, a period, and the tape number. Conversations are arranged on the tapes chronologically, unless recordings were discovered after tape production for a given month had been completed. These conversations have been recorded on the final tape for that month, and descriptive information has been included with the tape where the conversations should have appeared chronologically.
The Archives staff has prepared descriptive material to accompany each of the tapes of conversations released. The descriptive information includes: a title page; a table of contents; a copyright disclaimer; a document withdrawal sheet describing closures on the tape where applicable; a copy of the tape cover; copies of the lists prepared by President Johnson's secretarial staff which accompanied the original Dictabelt and IBM recordings; and descriptive notes prepared by the Archives staff for each conversation. A brief description of the various sections of the descriptive notes is included in Appendix A.
In the descriptive notes, each conversation is listed separately. Any information written on the slips or envelopes by the President's secretarial staff has been included in the Comments section of the descriptive notes and enclosed in quotation marks.
While the belts were intended to record the President's telephone conversations, other conversations were occasionally recorded, apparently when the speakerphone and recording equipment were left on. Such conversations are described in the Speaker section of the descriptive notes as "Office Conversation." At other times, the equipment recorded the sounds of a teletype machine, radio, television or other non-human sounds; these recordings are described as "Office Noise." Finally, static was sometimes recorded, and these recordings are described as "Machine Noise."