Akai 202D-SS

One of the Longer Reel Stories...

In August 1974 the Army sent me from the East Coast to Germany. I arrived in Frankfurt unassigned, that is, with no specified assignment, so at the intake station they looked down a list and saw the next opening for my MOS (Military Occupational Specialty), 95B, was a place called Wackernheim. They gave me instructions on how to get there and I traveled an hour or two to this village where, on its outskirts was McCully Barracks. This was a small base to say the least. I found my way to the building/barracks to where I was assigned and checked in. Since I was a military policeman and didn't see much that needed policing I asked what they did here. I was informed that this was Air Defense Artillery, AKA a Nike Hercules missile site, and I would be on the security detail, AKA guard duty. (Sigh....) The missiles were actually about 2.6 miles (4 klicks) south at an above-ground site, encircled with 2 rows of high fencing, concertina wire, guard towers, and gate houses. I was told that my shift started the following morning for a schedule that was 24-hours on (there) and 24-hours off. That became my life for the next 14 months at Battery A, 2nd Battallion, 1st ADA.

You can look at a Google Maps satellite view of the missile site as it looks now. It was inactivated June 30, 1983 and the forest is reclaiming it.

Building the Sound System

That said, since I had arrived with only the contents of a duffle bag, which contained mostly army-issued stuff, I figured that one of my first efforts would be to find out about where to buy stereo and camera equipment. As I went around the barracks it was clear to see, and hear, there were plenty of stereo afficionados in the building and most rooms had at least one or two custom-built, wooden wall lockers which contained the latest rigs. Also, there seemed to be no noise ordinance in effect. If you didn't like what was blasting from down the hallway, either put on your headphones or turn your own amp up louder. Occassionaly there was a "Battles of the Amps" and speakers were pulled out into the hallways and everyone turned them up full blast.

It took a few months but I finally got started building a hi-fi system of my own. Before going into the army I was very interested in quadraphonic and this was my opportunity to get into it. My first acquisition to that end, on February 18, 1975, was this Akai 202D-SS which I bought at the Weisbaden Air Force exchange for $380, which was 75% of my monthly take-home pay at the time. I must have had a friend with car on that day because, according to my receipts, after that stop I went to the Weisbaden Audio-Photo Club (more on that below) and bought a case of recording tape, a set of Koss K/6LCQ quadraphonic headphones, and some speaker wire. My roommate had a receiver and a turntable and my plan was to use his equipment to start with, with my deck, to start building a music collection on tape. We were probably in his car, an old Opel he'd bought earlier.

A word about getting around.

I lived just outside the town of Wackernheim. The places to buy equipment were in Weisbaden, about 20 miles away, through Mainz and across the Rhine River. Most of us didn't have cars so to get there it was a matter of walking from our barracks to the town of Heidesheim am Rhein, about a mile away, where we could get a street car (Strassenbahn) that would take us to the rail station (Bahnhof) in Mainz. From there I would take a train across the river and get off at either Mainz-Kastel or the Weisbaden station. The Weisbaden Audio-Photo Club was located in Building 2A of the Kastel Storage Center in Mainz-Kastel. The Air Force Exchange was located near the station.

The issue wasn't "getting there" as much as it was getting back. Loaded up with a heavy piece of audio equipment usually meant taking a cab to avoid toting the load from the exchange or the club back to the train station. Once on the other end, either in Heidesheim or Mainz, take another cab back to the base. The cabs couldn't drive on to the base so it was a workout getting from the gate to the barracks. When I bought my Sansui QRX-7500 receiver at the Air Force Exchange in Wiesbaden I lucked out and ran into a co-worker who had car and gave me ride all the way back to the barracks. I also remember a ride in a cab stuffed with speaker boxes. We did what we had to do.

Building the Tape Library

I first bought some pre-recorded (factory) quadraphonic tapes so I'd have something to listen to right away:

The Best of the Doors
Holiday by America
Aqualung by Jethro Tull

I joined the Weisbaden Audio-Photo Club. This was located near the Weisbaden Air Force Base and was, nominally, a military establishment. It was like a big catalog store. It had many listening rooms where we could demo receivers, tape machines, turntables, speakers, headphones, and every other type of audio equipment one could imagine. They carried anything that the nearby Air Force exchange did not. Once you decided what you wanted you'd go down to the order desk, fill out a form, pay for it, and it was then brought out from the warehouse. They also had a massive collection of photo equipment.

In addition to the listening rooms they had a Tape Duplication Department. There they had booths that were available on a first-come-first-served basis, each booth housing 2 quadraphonic reel-to-reel machines and, I think, a few other pieces of equipment. Across the room was the tape library where users could check out a factory, pre-recorded tape from a collection of around 500 reels, both stereo and quadraphonic. These were listed in a catalog available there. I have kept my copy of the catalog and made a PDF of it. It contains many notes to myself. You can view it here as a PDF, 20 MB: Tape Duplicating Catalog

I would go in there and buy a case of recording tape, 12 reels of Scotch 212, 1800', in those cool flip-out front plastic boxes. Then I'd grab a booth, or two if it wasn't busy, and copy away. Over the time I was there I probably copied about 2 dozens reels. I suppose I'd have copied more but it was a time-consumming process and it was a jaunt to get there. Counting those copies, over my time in Germany I filled about 50 reels of tape, most from vinyl I borrowed in my barracks.

I regret that didn't record lots of radio off-the-air while I was over there. I do have one random clip from a music show. I have the "scoped" version here, a 4-minute sample: German Radio excerpt, 1975

My System in Germany, 1975

Click on an image to enlarge it.

The larger speakers in the center were actually my roommate's. My equipment consisted of:

Akai 202D-SS quadraphonic reel-to-reel
2 Teac AN-60 Dolby units
Sansui QRX-7500 quadraphonic receiver
Dual 1226 turntable with Grado F-1+ cartridge and Shibata stylus
2 Kenwood KL-4040 speakers

The 202D-SS Back in the States

After my army days, the 202 took up residence in several places I lived in Southern California. I continued to buy tape and record vinyl of all types. I also got back into the hobby of collecting old time radio shows and used this machine to record off the air from local stations KPCC, KCRW, and KCSN. I also recorded lots of newer radio drama from KCRW's afternoon playhouse" series. I used this machine in the late-70s to record "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" as well as all three radio versions of the "Star Wars" trilogy as they were originally broadcast on local radio. Add to this the recording of a variety of talk radio from Michael Benner on KLOS to Rush Limbaugh, Tom Leykis, and Joe Crummey on KFI. And let's not forget all the Joe Frank shows I recorded from KCRW.

The reel collection was growing and by the late 1980s I had over 100 reels of music (5-6 albums per reel), 130 reels of old time radio shows, and quite a few reels of new-time radio. The 202D-SS was kept very busy.

The Repair Fiasco

At some point the machine needed some work and after all these years of taping it was time for new heads. Things were sounding a bit muffled so I looked for a local shop that could do the job and found one in Downey. I stopped by and chatted with them and they seemed up to the job so I dropped off my deck and they said it would only take a week or two. They required a deposit, $100 I think, which I wasn't happy about since they had the deck but maybe that was what it was worth so I paid it.

After a couple of weeks I called and was told it wasn't ready. I called a week later and got the same response, a routine that continued for a few more weeks. I decided to drop by the shop to see what the hold up was. As I drove into the industrial park where they were located I saw their technician walking out. He said that I shouldn't do business with them and he'd quit because he wasn't getting paid. I went into the shop and asked the owner about my deck. He gave me the run around about waiting for parts but I knew he was lying and walked around him into the back of the shop. I saw dozens and dozens of reel-to-reels in various states of disassembly. I told him I was taking mine with me and wanted my deposit back. He refused. I found my deck in the mess. The head cover had been removed, which I found, but not the reverse buttons.

I took it all with me and headed right to the Downey Police Department where I filed a report for fraud, telling them that this guy was just taking in machines and deposits and not doing the work. They looked him up and surprise, surprise his wife worked at the police station. I was assured that they would address this and that I'd get my deposit back, which I did about a week later. I drove past the shop later and saw that it was closed. I have no idea what happened to the other decks there.

I asked around and found another shop, this one in Torrance, CA. They were great and had the deck back to me in about a week for a reasonable price. They also found some non-original replacements for the missing reverse buttons.

My System in 1978 and 1985

Click on an image to enlarge it.

Retirement Arrives and the Reawakening

A few years after moving to Montana in 1991, I set the 202D-SS aside. I hadn't been using it much because my Akai GX-260D had become my daily player and, since my Sansui QRX-7500 quadraphonic receiver was giving me trouble, I wasn't playing the 4-channel tapes much. I stored it in the corner of my photographic darkroom for quite a few years. That room is in a dry basement so not a bad place to go into suspended animation.

As I mentioned on the front page, in 2018 I decided to rebuild a 1970's hi-fi system, specifically mine, since I still had most it. The 202D-SS was one of the first pieces to land on my bench for rehabilitation. Upon opening I was dismayed by what I found: corrosion! How is that possible? It was stored in the same room as other "old things" that didn't suffer this problem but there it was, a waxy, corrosive coating on the chassis and many of the parts. My best guess is that the electrolyte leaked from one or more of the motor capacitors and caused all of this. Here are some photos:

I was not sure whether to junk it or to attempt a repair as it really did look too far gone. About that time I'd been watching auctions at ShopGoodwill and had already picked up a deck or two when I saw an Akai 202D-SS come up. I went ahead and successfully won the auction. It arrived in fine shape. It did need motor capacitors but other than that it worked great. Since I had the new one to use as a reference I went ahead and dove into the old one. I thought I owed it to my old friend.

I completely disassembled it in order to free up the chassis parts that had the bulk of the corrosion. I washed and scrubbed them before immersing them in Evapo-Rust which returned them to almost new condition. The slide switches, pictured above, had to have their 20-some pins desoldered from the board before I could disassembled them, followed by a meticulously cleaning and re-assembly, before resoldering in place. Piece after piece I cleaned and repaired and eventually got it back together. And, you know what, it works. Mostly. The male end of ribbon connector that connected the wires from the heads to the main circuit board was so badly corroded there was no way to repair it so I simply removed the wires from it and soldered them directly to the backside of the female connector. I kept good track of which wire went where and double-checked it againt both the photos I took and my back up machine, however I have a problem with getting the correct channel in the right place. Perhaps it's a problem with those slide switches. It was time to move on so this will be dealt with later.

The next problem was that main cam, a known issue in the Akai line, fell apart during testing. The metal just gets crumbly. I was able to find a replacement part on eBay along with the long missing reversing arrow buttons.

The 'After" Repair Pictures

Now my original Akai 202D-SS awaits some final tweaking and sorting before I put in back in use but it still looks pretty good. And, yes, if you look at the photo below of the back side, it came as a 220V deck since I bought it in Europe. I switched it to 110V/60 cycle but rather that replace the cord or cut the 220V plug off the end, I added a 110V plug adapter.

Click on an image to enlarge it.

Updated November 2020.