Ogden veteran spreads joy through bygone audio, musical expertise
OGDEN — Stephen Burt, a resident at the George E. Wahlen Ogden Veterans Home, understands that whatever time he has left is precious.
And he intends to use it productively — by working on the analog recording machines and media that have become his area of expertise and sharing his vast knowledge and appreciation for audio with others.
The 78-year-old Burt will be giving a presentation on his decades-long passion — the enjoyment and preservation of vintage music and audio recordings through the repair and use of 8-track tapes, wire recordings, vinyl records and more — at 3 p.m. Feb. 26 at the veterans home.
The facility will be open to the public for the presentation.
Burt, who served from 1969-1971 and spent a combined 37 years working at Defense Depot Ogden, or DDO, and Hill Air Force Base, has been a certified audiophile since his younger days.
“When I got my first 8-track, and I had it in the car … I was sitting there in my bedroom, fixing it because it came apart,” Burt told the Standard-Examiner. “My dad looked at me and he said, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ I said, ‘I’m fixing my 8-track.’ He said, ‘Ah, throw the blankety-blank-blank away.’ I said, ‘No, I’m going to fix it.’ So, I fixed it.”
It was that curiosity and ingenuity that helped Burt survive in the face of significant challenges; the West Corinne native has severe dyslexia and is illiterate.
“I’m totally disabled,” Burt said. “I can’t read, I can’t write, I can’t spell, I can’t read the church scriptures — nothing. I don’t even vote because I can’t read.”
His illiteracy has been a source of angst throughout his life. As a child, Burt was bullied for it, he has battled depression at various points and he continues to require assistance for things others take for granted, like choosing what he wants to eat from a menu, filling out forms at doctor appointments and going through mail.
Nevertheless, Burt has managed to become a veritable audio savant through his many years of research and tinkering. He understands the materials, mechanical processes and science behind 8-track tape and wire-recording devices like few others in the year 2024.
That understanding and appreciation has brought him into contact with important historical figures.
A swap meet detour during a trip to Hogle Zoo four decades ago yielded gold — a box full of old wire recordings which, as it turns out, included Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1953 inaugural address, Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s 1951 “Old Soldiers Never Die” address and a 1957 speech given by Queen Elizabeth II for the first time from the throne in the Parliament of Canada.
On a lark, Burt made a cassette copy of the queen’s speech and sent it to Buckingham Palace in 1987 — amid chiding from DDO co-workers — along with a letter he had enlisted help in drafting. Days later, he received a thank you note commanded by the queen herself, which hangs in his room now.
Burt also had an emotional telephone conversation with Marvin Camras, who pioneered wire recording devices during the 1930s and ’40s, and he continues to move people to this very day.
“I’m glad and thankful for my hobbies because it keeps me busy,” Burt said. “People come to my room, they watch me tear into a tape and they just marvel, because I have the patience. I sit and mind my business and I just fix my tape, and I just love it. … The enjoyment of taking something totally dead and bringing it back to life and making it sound beautiful is something to me.”