This 13-year-old voice recorder captured my entire professional career
Check out that wear and tear. | Image: Andrew WebsterBack in November 2009, I was getting ready to attend the Montreal International Games Summit, and I panicked — it was my first major event as a member of the...
Back in November 2009, I was getting ready to attend the Montreal International Games Summit, and I panicked — it was my first major event as a member of the press, and I had no way to record an interview. This was a problem because I was scheduled to talk with Yoichi Wada, then president of Square Enix, along with several other notable industry people. So I rushed to Radio Shack and picked the cheapest voice recorder I could find, a little grey rectangle made by RCA that was locked up in a glass display case. I have no idea what model it is, but it went on to follow me through my entire professional career to date — now, nearly 13 years later, it’s finally being retired.
I hung on to that gadget for one main reason: I trusted it. The RCA recorder didn’t have any especially notable features; the sound quality was just OK, and it was actually pretty annoying having to keep a bunch of AAA batteries on deck. But I’ve always been paranoid about losing an interview and wasting both my time and — even worse — that of someone who agreed to talk to me for a story. So, as long as the recorder worked, I had no real reason to replace it. And it always worked. Even when the “erase” button fell off, I stuck by it. But earlier this month, while attending Summer Game Fest, I came to a sad conclusion: the rewind button didn’t function, which pushed the recorder past the point of usefulness.
But it lived a good life. In fact, it’s been with me for the entirety of my career at The Verge thus far, which dates back to 2012. Every in-person interview I’ve done in that span was recorded on that machine. I took it with me when I flew to New York to hear Shigeru Miyamoto’s grand plan for bringing Super Mario to the iPhone and when I was in Montreal to learn how the team at Ubisoft recreates an entire city like Paris. I had it with me when, just a day after filing my review, I sat down for a nice, long chat with the directors of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild in San Francisco.Shigeru Miyamoto ahead of the launch of Super Mario Run in 2016 Photo: Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge
I took it with me to many iterations of E3 in Los Angeles in order to report on the state of the Japanese game industry, explore Nintendo’s plans for the future, and try to understand Phil Spencer’s philosophy for the Xbox. It was in my hands in 2019 as I tried to keep a straight face while asking Nintendo veterans what a gooey version of Luigi would taste like. It recorded Yoko Taro speaking without his iconic mask on. I was lucky enough to talk to the key minds behind almost all of my favorite games as a child, whether it was Super Mario, Metroid, God of War, Devil May Cry, Monster Hunter, Dragon Quest, or Final Fantasy. Any time I traveled to an event or studio or even just went for coffee with someone from the entertainment industry, I felt safe knowing I had that RCA recorder in my pocket, ready to go.
And in the time before Zoom dominated most of my professional communication, I even used it to record plenty of phone calls. It was awkward — I would turn the phone’s speaker on and place the recorder right beside it — but, again, it always worked. That’s how I managed to track down the artists behind classic Atari box art and hear Sean Bean tell me what it’s like being killed in a video game. In 2013, I locked myself in a bathroom to talk with David X. Cohen about the end of Futurama so that I wouldn’t wake up my first kid from a nap.
With the proliferation of video calls and the lack of in-person events over the last few years, the recorder hasn’t gotten much work. It’s spent around 36 months tucked into a desk drawer. But earlier this month, I had a chance to use it again when Summer Game Fest put on its first-ever in-person event in Los Angeles. And it was as reliable as always; I used it to record interviews with the directors of The Callisto Protocol and Street Fighter 6 and to capture my first hands-on experience with Peridot. But, without a rewind button, actually transcribing those conversations was far too time-consuming.
It’s not clear when I’ll be going back to another in-person event, so I have time to decide what’s next. It’s not easy replacing a steady companion of more than a decade. I know I won’t be using my phone to record interviews; again, I’m paranoid, and I’d much prefer something simple and straightforward so that a dead battery or software update doesn’t mess up an interview. But I also love the idea of a single-purpose device. The RCA recorder is something I associate completely with the act of conducting an interview, a key part of my job, and as it turns out, that means that it’s become an object imbued with memories. If I’m lucky, I’ll find something that’ll help me capture even more.