Tom's Fidelipac Dynamax DCR1000 Digital Cart Machine Page
I worked in radio back when cart machines used the traditional endless-loop tape cartridges. Some years later, I got involved in rebuilding a radio studio and was looking for something to replace the ancient cart machines with when I happened upon a used DCR1000 on the large auction site. I actually had no idea digital cart machines using computer diskettes had ever existed and I was intrigued and purchased the set. Unfortunately, although each of the two master players worked fine by itself, neither could play a disk that had been recorded on the other. Fortunately, I was able to purchase a second DCR1000 system shortly thereafter, which mostly worked. Its acquisition then enabled me to know how to replace the drives on the first set.
The DCR1000 consisted of two parts: the DCR1020 master player and the DCR1040 record module. The latter took its power from the former via a multi-wire cord and data was exchanged between the two via a ribbon cable. The master player could also power sub-players, although I never saw a photo of one or anything to indicate these were actually produced. When first introduced, the master player sold for $2,750, subplayer for $1,650 and record module for $2,600. Therefore, a typical control room set consisting of two master players and a record module would set a station back $8,100. The cost of the same system had increased $350 by 1996.
The DCR1000 apparently was originally announced in early 1991, with delivery anticipated to begin that summer. Based on the pre-release information, it would appear that the unit was originally intended to use either a standard DS/HD diskette for recording 30-second stereo spots at 44.1KHz or a DS/ED (extended density) diskette for sixties at the same bitrate. This latter type of diskette was used briefly by the MFM drives in certain microchannel IBM computers of the time. It had a 4mb unformatted capacity, double that of the common 3.5-inch diskette. However, Fidelipac instead seems to have introduced their own proprietary 13.3mb "triple density" diskette in place of the more readily available and lower cost ED. Although the disk drives in the original two machines I had seemed to have sensor switches for the ED diskette, they weren't able to recognize or use these disks. Post-1991 advertisements for and reviews of the DCR1000 mention only the use of the 2mb and 13.3mb capacities.
I have seen an example of the triple-density diskette and noted two physical differences in the plastic case. First, the "write protect" slider was on the right side rather than the left. Also, there appeared to be an additional depression molded into the underside of the case, probably to prevent the activation of a microswitch.
When the LS-120 SuperDisk was introduced, Fidelipac offered these drives as an upgrade or factory-installed option. The LS-240 could also be used. The use of an optical-magnetic disk greatly increased the versatility of these machines thanks to the much greater recording time.
I've read online comments to the effect that the diskette drives in these were rather unreliable and especially prone to microswitch failures. Some stations apparently resorted to substituting a standard computer drive, and in fact, it appears Fidelipac may have ended up doing the same thing. Of the four master players I owned, two had the original NEC FD1335H 2mb/13mb diskette drives in them. Dating from early 1994, these drives had a black bezel, but more importantly, they differed from most off-the-shelf drives in that the power and data connectors were on the upper edge of the back panel. This was necessary because the shelf on which the mounted had a back on it which would otherwise interfere, were they in the traditional lower position. Although each side of the shelf had holes for three mounting screws, these drives could only use two of them. The other pair of players I had are from late 1995 or early 1996. Although these two were likely manufactured on the same day, each of them contained a standard drive of a different type, both of which had beige bezels. One was a Newtronics (Mitsumi) D359T5 and the other a Sony MPF520-1. The Sony was rather loud, so I installed another D359T5, taken from a computer, in its place. The transplant didn't work at first, until I discovered that the original Newtronics had a jumper wire soldered between a pin of the data connector and one of the micro switches. Once this modification was made to the transplanted drive, it functioned fine. I suspect a modification or two may have been made to the Sony drive, as well. This drive had the oddity of not being able to activate from a diskette that was write-protected. I'm about 90% certain that these drive substitutions were made by Fidelipac, rather than done in the field. First, a nice job had been done cutting away the interfering back of the steel mounting shelf, apparently using a metal-cutting bandsaw, which most stations wouldn't own. Second, the ribbon data cable was appropriately sized and formed to reach the connector, which was now on the opposite side of the shelf. The one was used in my earlier machines was much longer. Finally, the diskette drives were mounted using six screws and lock washers that matched the type used in my first machines. The key here is that only four screws could be used with the NEC drives. I might also add that the manufacturing dates on the Newtronics and Sony drives seemed to be in line with when the master players in question were likely manufactured. Plus, the jumper installed on the Newtronics looked factory-done in addition to being of a gauge thinner than the insulated wire most stations would have access to. One could surmise that with the original type of drive having problems, Fidelipac started procuring substitutes from any source available. One rather doubts these other drives could handle the triple-density diskettes they were selling, however.
Roughly a year after purchasing the newer set, I bought a single DCR1020 master player for parts. Dating from 1992, this unit differed in significant ways from those produced later on. It used a metal cover with fewer and a different arrangement of ventilation slots and had none on the right side. Inside, the NEC FD1335H was mounted hanging below a metal bracket that was essentially the mirror image of those without a back from 1996. This was likely a result of there being no cover over the drive's circuit board, unlike later versions. In addition, an SCSI connector that could accept another drive as well as three resistor arrays were not installed on the lower board in this unit. The layout of the board was also different at the far end. Most importantly, this early version was programmed differently and was not forward-compatible. Although diskettes formatted on this machine could be used without problem on newer players, the reverse was not true. In fact, something got encoded on the diskette that displayed a warning on the newer machines if an attempt was made to record on it in stereo at 44.1KHz. Of course, that particular option was not available initially when using a 2mb diskette. In addition, only a single setup option (for handling multiple cuts) was available rather than the 23 or so that appeared by 1996. I suspect Fidelipac eventually offered an update for earlier machines, probably involving a swap of a proprietary IC or two.
I understand that Fidelipac eventually came out with a second generation of digital machine (perhaps model DCR10) that was a single, wider unit which could be customized with recording capability/options, but I never saw one offered for sale. Of course, once stations began storing and accessing their audio on computers, the digital cart machine was rendered as obsolete as its continuous-loop analog predecessor.
It might also be noted that similar digital cart machines were manufactured in the UK during the same time period. In fact, some of the key components used in the DCR1000 were actually manufactured overseas and in at least some cases, recorded diskettes were compatible between these machines.
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