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Toronto, ON

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Canada's first spy shop.  Spy gadgets including electronic security, counter surveillance, video cameras and GPS tracking devices.  Online shopping available for Canada.

Retro Product - TLC Phone Recorder

Spytechblog

As a business that sells somewhat unusual products, we recognize that any additional information we provide can benefit not only our customers, but casual readers as well.  Since the owners and staff at Spytech have accumulated decades of collective experience in the business, we have decided to share our knowledge through this "Spytechblog".

Retro Product - TLC Phone Recorder

Hans School

The 1990's were a different time.  Music had instruments in it, Pluto was still a distinguished planet, skateboards didn't hover, and telephones were only capable of voice communication.  Appropriately, Spytech was stocked with the pre-digital technology that people needed to cope in this primitive environment.  As you can imagine the tools of spy-craft were large and crude in those days, but still worth revisiting, if only to remind ourselves how far we have advanced since then.

TLC - 1 the 12 hour tape recorder

This invention tackled the age-old problem of recording massive amounts of telephone conversations.  Back in the 90's people had to use lengthy monologues to explain concepts that are now summed up in today's more efficient texting lingo like  😠  or OMG.  Of course any normal tape recorder could connect to a phone, just by using a phone jack like this one, but the problem was that the longest tapes available were only 120 minutes long.  The solution was to build a recorder that would spin the tape six times slower than normal speed, and consequently record six hours per side instead of one.  Which is just what one brilliant technician accomplished!  The resulting product was known as the TLC - 1 (there was also a similar TLC - 2) 12 hour tape recorder.

The TLC - 1 tape recorder as it appeared on our website circa 1999 courtesy of the Wayback Machine on the Internet Archive (https://archive.org/web/)

The TLC - 1 tape recorder as it appeared on our website circa 1999 courtesy of the Wayback Machine on the Internet Archive (https://archive.org/web/)

The 1990's staff of Spytech often speculated as to what TLC stood for.  Was it "Te-Le-Corder" like the label said?  Was it "Tender Loving 'Corder"?  Or maybe it was the initials of the mysterious genius who invented it?  Alas, we never learned the answer, because we never bothered to ask the manufacturer.

In it's heyday, this invention was a huge success, along with pagers and grunge music.  People were able to record their phone calls endlessly as long as they remembered to keep flipping over the tape when it got to the end.  These tapes could only play back on the same TLC - 1 recorder they were made on because obviously any other recorder would play them six times faster.  The other problem was that the recorder was not the most portable machine, so you couldn't put it in your pocket, or listen to it on the go.  But those issues were small problems compared to the positives this device offered at the time.

Finally pagers were eventually replaced by smart phones, grunge music was inevitably replaced by post-grunge and even the TLC - 1 was slowly replaced by the ever increasing memory size of digital recorders.  These days you can record hundreds of hours onto a digital recorder that is smaller than even just the tape from a TLC - 1. 

So let us salute an invention that was surely ahead of its time.  A recorder that had a 6 hour recording time in an era when digital recorders still boasted about having 30 seconds.  A machine that would never give you a computer virus but would occasionally eat your tape.  A spy gadget that was so huge that the only way to detect it was to trip over it.  This is the TLC-1.