Dictabelt (1947 – 1980)

Introduced by Dictaphone in 1947, the Dictabelt (or Memobelt) was a voice recording  system using a thin plastic belt 3.5-inches wide and 12-inches in circumference. Dictabelts could contain up to 15 minutes of dictation (30 minutes on the rare long play versions).

Recordings on Dictabelt are pressed into the plastic by a stylus, and had better fidelity than wax cylinders but unlike wax could not be re-recorded. The belts could also be folded and placed in envelopes to be sent by post, and recordings could withstand 20 plays before becoming degraded.

Dictabelt machines (branded as Time-Master)  ceased to be manufactured in the 1970s, but the the belts continued to be produced until around 1980. Belts were made of red plastic from 1950 to 1964, blue from 1964 to 1975, and purple belts from 1975 onwards.

Along with a Gray Audograph sound recorder, a Dictabelt recorded the police department radio channels during the John F. Kennedy assassination. These recordings were reviewed by the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations.

Sources / Resources

Preservation / Migration

Over time the plastic can become brittle, and creases from storage can become permanent.

5 comments on “Dictabelt (1947 – 1980)

  1. I have been watching some old Congressional hearings from the late ’70s and early ’80s. At these hearings, there is always a person sitting at a table near the witness table with his/her mouth inside what looks like an upside down bell. I assume it was for recording the proceedings, but I can’t figure out how it was being done without disturbing the proceedings. Anyone know what I’m talking about and have insight?

    • Hi Matthew have just come across your request I worked for Dictaphone in the 1960s in the UK the “Bell Shaped ” item was known as a Dictaphone Stenograph it was used to record the proceedings and was connected to a Dictaphone recording machine, the reason it was like a gas mask was to prevent the persons recorded speech from being heard in the courtroom, it was only used in the US and was not aloud in the UK regards Ray.

  2. I’ve just found an unopened box of red Dictabelts. Bought back lots of memories. I must have known Ray.

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