Record/Play Tek: Voice Logging Specialists

“Seems like just yesterday that Ed Krepps, John Haines, and I started making voice loggers and recorders,” recalled Michael Stoll, president and chief technology officer of Record/Play Tek, Inc. of  Bristol, Ind.

On  May 1, 2003, Haines, Stoll, and Krepps celebrated their 26th anniversary in the logger/recorder manufacturing business, one they started “without the benefit of venture capitalists, banks, buy-outs or any of the other machinations of finance,” Stoll noted.

RPT had an auspicious beginning in 1977. Competitor Dictaphone Corp. had 97 percent of the $200 million U.S. voice logger market, and there were two other small market players on the West coast, but the RPT trio thought it would be a good niche market to enter.

Voice logging technology in the 1970s was built around reel-to-reel tape recorders. Therefore, making voice loggers in 1977 was not much like the process in today’s digital world, where companies simply buy pre-made computer voice logging cards and hire freshman computer science graduates to create the product.

Today, Danyel Casselman, one of the sales associates at RPT, works in a state of the art engineering area including tools such as AutoCAD (a unique drafting/design program), a full machine shop with lathes, vertical mills, and sheet metal equipment for hacking out the original reel-to-reel recorders, and the digital voice logger products of today.

But the mechanics of the product are only half the story. Also surrounding Casselman are the latest in electronic and computer programming tools to aid the RPT engineers in building functional voice logging products. Casselman and other associates sell these recorders to the TAS industry, police departments, burglar alarm central stations, and hundreds of other markets.

Occasionally RPT customers call for unusual installations. The largest order the company ever had for loggers was for backing up optical discs for the U.S. military. Optical disc technology lasted about three years before being replaced by DVD-ROMs, which RPT uses today for digital backup.

Management Team History: Haines, Stoll, and Krepps have been involved in recording for many years. Krepps made one of the first all-tube, direct-coupled recording studio audio consoles. It was for his brother’s high-end audio studio in New York City. That console made all the Coca-Cola audio commercials for many years.

Haines was national service manager for Crown International in Elkhart, Ind., a manufacturer of audio amplifiers and, in the 1960s, reel-to-reel professional recorders. Haines wanted to do mechanical design for RPT and was part of the founding team.

Mike, with a B.S. in electronics from Tri-State University and an M.B.A. from Indiana University, who startedout tinkering with his father’s disc and wire recorders, was anxious to “build something.”

And now, with 3,500 reel-to-reel recorders, cassette recorders, VHS digital recorders, and computer based voice recorders manufactured in Bristol, Indiana RPT has achieved a remarkable degree of success in serving customers’ recording needs.

Service: In the early days of reel-to-reel, Dictaphone had many sales and service offices across the U.S. and could tell its prospects, “We’ll be there in six hours no matter where you are, and have you operational in 24 hours!” By contrast, how could RPT, an entrepreneurial start-up in Indiana, manage to service a malfunctioning reel-to-reel machine as far off as Key-a-Kuck, Iowa? The same year that RPT began marketing voice loggers, United Parcel Service instituted next day, 24-hour delivery service all across the United States. This was great for RPT, but there was a catch. The UPS weight limit was 50 pounds.  How could RPT engineers build, in Bristol, a 50-pound machine that could be shipped by UPS? This led RPT to another opportunity:

Price: Dictaphone’s dual-tape machine was large and expensive. This machine had two tape transports, so one could record while the other was playing back a conversation.

Product Identification: In 1977, police departments and some TAS operators were among the few who knew how voice loggers could help them evaluate the quality of their service. Today banks, brokers, and teleservice companies all use such systems and understand their potential.

Sales: After attempting to combat Dictaphone’s massive marketing programs by setting up representative and dealer organizations, RPT decided to go it alone and set up a comprehensive, factory direct sales and service program, using modern outbound telemarketing for sales and service. Today, the sales and service database at RPT has tens of thousands of prospects and users.

Ultimately RPT made a 50-pound voice logger that sold factory direct for $6,500, with a free factory loaner available for service within 24 hours. The company’s engineers, management, production people, and sales personnel lugged a 50-pound recorder all over the country to help RPT become established as a voice logger company.

Issues confronting voice logging companies:

HIPAA: Most loggers use a form of audio compression to store audio on backup discs in a recognizable format. The problem with HIPAA is determining whether these backup discs can be put in a standard system and listened to and copied. RPT’s backup discs can only be used on RPT equipment, or over the network with a secure play USB pod under the direct control of supervisors.

The Internet: How public should a voice logging company make the recording and listening process that occurs over the Internet? And how much listening can be done via Internet access? Voice is very different from video or data. This is an unanswered legal and social question for users and manufacturers.

Data access and storage: Very cheap mass storage is now coming to the home consumer market. A RPT reel-to-reel machine held eight channels for 24 hours per reel and cost $45 in 1977. Today, one 80-cent DVD-Rom holds 10 days’ worth of continuous recording on nine channels.

Friendships: It is unique to be in business today with the relationships that have matured over the course of RPT’s business. Mike and his crew indicate they have “Refrigerator Rights” with many customers, which makes selling, installing and servicing Voice Loggers a pleasure-full experience. Here is what Mike feels relationships are all about, from Marie McGuire, AnswerTel of Athens, Alabama:

“I’m not sure if you have ever received a thanks for the RPT logger for this reason or not. My daddy normally called the office and myself every day around 9 am to say hello and chat with the staff. He passed away unexpectedly this year. I reached a point several days ago where I couldn’t remember the sound of his voice I was able to listen to his voice on the logger and make wave files and CD’s for his children and grandchildren. This is not with sorrow, but with joy, at being able to hear his laughter, his words of wisdom, and the care in his voice.” – Marie McGuire (used with permission)

For more information, contact Michael Stoll and Record/Play Tec at 574-848-5233.

[From Connection MagazineJune 2003]