Remembering hated dictaphone

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 17, 2015

I ran across some notes I made about my early days at a newspaper office while cleaning my home office last week. They reminded me that the editor-publisher took my husband and me on a tour of the plant one night before I started work there.

In those days, a couple of operators set type on linotype machines. You could smell the hot metal as you entered the office. I was among several typists who set copy on a typewriter that punched little holes in rolls of tape. Then we transferred the tape to another machine. It printed it out on paper.

The editor was a colorful character, well known in town and around the state. He wore bowties, smoked a cigar, did not hear very well, and was adept at making ballpark estimates on the number of people who attended various events in the community.

The linotype operators’ fingers fairly flew over that monstrous, black machine. They sometimes muttered words you don’t hear at Sunday school when they had to stop suddenly, jump up from the machine, run around behind it and make some adjustments. I noticed one seldom smiled and wondered why. I soon found out. The editor sometimes waited until the zero hour to hand over the long editorial page copy for a linotype operator to set after 6 p.m. on press day.

I had been there for a short time when the editor tapped me as his Dictaphone operator. I hated that instrument. It must have come out of the ark. For me, it was extremely difficult to operate. Because of his hearing disability, the editor shouted into the Dictaphone. He puffed, coughed, and kept on speaking into it when he spoke to somebody in the office or on the telephone, chewing his cigar at the same time. At times, he moved along smoothly, and then he would abruptly stop, spit out a few choice words, direct me to call somebody to find out a person’s initials or job title, and then launch right back into his dictation. I spent most of my time in front of that machine backing it up, adjusting the volume, or straining my ears trying to interpret words muffled by the cigar.

After two days of that frustrating experience, I went home and told my husband I was glad we did not have to depend on me to make our living. I knew that if I had to continue with work at the Dictaphone, we would be on starvation pretty quick. Thank goodness, the editor was as displeased with my Dictaphone work as I was. Right away, he gave the job to someone who was more capable. It did not hurt my feelings. I was grateful to him for introducing me to the newspaper world I came to love.

I did not realize then I was seeing an era of the newspaper world fade away. Gradually computers came in, making big changes in the way newspapers are produced.