Archives aims test at Nixon tape

Nixon Tapes at the National Archives

The infamous 18.5-minute gap on "the Nixon tapes" continues to taunt historians, nearly 30 years after the conversation that likely once filled it was recorded and erased.

National Archives and Records Administration officials are preparing experiments that offer a faint hope that new technology can recover the conversation between President Nixon and his chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman.

Archives officials are asking technology companies to participate in a three-part test to determine if it is possible to recover erased tape recordings. If anyone succeeds, the techniques used may then be applied to the tape Nixon recorded June 20, 1972, in the White House.

The gap is believed to contain a conversation between Nixon and Hal.de.man about the June 17, 1972, break-in at the Democratic National Com.mittee offices at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. The break-in and ensuing scandal forced Nixon to resign in August 1974.

The recording, which was of poor quality, appears to have been erased several times. All that remains in the gap is a buzz, clicks and pops of changing volume. During the Watergate investigation, audio experts concluded that "recovery of the speech is not possible by any methods known to us."

But technology has changed. One theory is that computers might be able to reconstruct the speech by analyzing faint patterns that may remain in the magnetic particles of the tape.

The Archives plans to make three tapes, each with a section erased. Each tape will be progressively similar to the original Nixon tape in terms of signal levels, signal type and type of tape.

The third tape will be recorded on the original White House audio recorders. Companies will have to reconstruct the erased portion of each recording. Companies will have 12 months to recover the erased audio.

"If the technology is out there, hopefully this [experiment] will being it to the forefront," said Michael Hamilton, an audio engineer for the Archives. Protecting the Nixon tape from damage is a key concern. The Archives wants to preserve it in case future technology can recover the gap.

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