Al Robbins, a retired Chandler musician and clothing salesman, is earning extra money by linking the outmoded past with today’s modern technology. Robbins, 77, is owner of Al’s Olde Record and VHS Transfers, a home-based company that transfers music from outdated phonograph records to CDs and VHS films to modern DVDs.
“Most of my customers are elderly people who have large collections of old records but are unable to play them because they don’t have phonograph players,” said Robbins, a native of Worcester, Mass., who with his wife, Barbara, moved to Chandler five months ago from Delray Beach, Fla.
He said many of his customers are unable to play their favorite tapes in newer cars since tape players are passé in modern vehicles that accept only only CDs.
Most of Robbins’ projects involve transferring music from LPs, the more modern records that revolve at 33 1 /3 RPMs, or revolutions per minute, as well as old 78s, 45s and the very old 16s that were made before the 1920s and rotate at 16 RPMs.
In addition, he copies older films from VHS tapes such as weddings, family reunions or other events to DVDs as well as tape cassettes and/or old photographs that can be viewed on television. “My favorite project was transferring more than 100 LP recordings made by the late Stan Kenton to CDs,” said Robbins, who played saxophone, clarinet and flute part time while he sold clothing from a company he and his late brother, Sam Robbins, owned in Worcester.
“Stan Kenton was my hero,” said Robbins, who played mostly with local bands in Massachusetts until his retirement from the clothing and music industry at age 65.
Some of the other Big Band big names that are popular record-to-CD transfers include Benny Goodman, Count Basie and Duke Ellington.
“We moved to Florida at retirement age, but I started getting bored,” he said. “So, I did what came naturally. I started transferring all my old records to CDs so I could play them in the car and store them a lot easier than the old phonograph records.”
He said at first he made the conversions for friends and relatives for free, but later decided to start a company and charge a variety of prices, depending on the cost of buying blank CDs, the time involved and other factors.
“Transferring sound or videos is very time-consuming,” he said. “You can’t leave the equipment, not even for a minute because the phonograph needle, for example, might get stuck so you’ve got to listen and watch every minute.”
Robbins also worked as a radio disc jockey for 20 years for WICN-FM and WCUWFM, playing mostly jazz and Big Band records, including some of the older 78s and 45s. The stations are still on the air today.
He began playing with bands and earning income at age 16 and continued until retirement, when he played for free with groups in Florida mostly for the pure enjoyment of making music and socializing.
One of Robbins customers, Drew Virga of Deerfield Beach, Fla., wrote that listening to his old phonograph records converted to CDs “brought back happy memories of my youth.”
“Some of my old LPs were a little scratchy,” wrote Alan Weritch of Delray Beach, Fla. “I’m really enjoying my new CDs.”
A series of hurricanes, including the latest, Wilma, persuaded the Robbinses to leave Delray Beach and find another location: Chandler.
“I mailed 10,000 ads mostly in the Sun Lakes area and got more than 20 responses from people who, like me, had old recordings they couldn’t play and wanted CDs,” Robbins said.
His son, an advertising specialist, said the response was relatively high, and the demand from mostly elderly residents in the Valley could create a positive and productive market.
The couple have three adult children, nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild. For information about the cost of transferring audio and visual recordings to CDs and DVS call (480) 656-6002 or Robbins’ cell phone at (516) 213-5341 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
He offers free pickup and delivery for 12 or more recordings or six or more VHS tapes. Recordings can be completed within a week or less, he said.