by Matt M.
Bigfoots / sasquatches periodically vocalize with loud howls and screams. Their howls and screams are heard most often at night and most frequently in summer and fall. In the proper acoustic environments, such as mountain valleys, their vocalizations can be heard for well over a mile.
Back in 1993 I started looking for a way to record these vocalizations. I knew I'd have to set up a portable recording system at a well chosen site. To be effective the system would have to record continuously for a few hours at a time without interuption. An expensive, portable reel-to-reel recorder and high end microphone would do the trick nicely, but I didn't want to use expensive recording equipment for a few reasons. I was sure some of it would get ruined in the course of experimenting with it outdoors, so each component had to be marginally expendable. More importantly, I wanted to do something that could be easily repeated by other researchers in other locations. I knew if I stayed away from expensive, super high tech equipment as much as possible, and instead perfected a system that was put together from inexpensive parts and components, it would increase the likelihood that other people would engage in their own little bigfoot research projects, which would, in turn, help to validate and/or explain the results of my project. Recordings of bigfoot vocalizations wouldn't be worth anything scientifically if I was the only person in the country who could get them.
A cheap tape recorder only records for 45 minutes continuously before the tape has to be flipped over or changed. That means staying awake all night long or waking up every 45 minutes to flip the tape. I actually tried this few times while camping and found it to be a pain in the ass. If I only had to wake up once at night to change tapes it would make a big difference, and it would virtually assure that I wouldn't miss any forest sounds from dusk til dawn.
I looked into dictation machines that could record continuously for more than 45 minutes by recording at very slow speeds but found that the sound quality suffered greatly at these slow recording speeds. Then it occured to me one night while watching TV that a common VCR can record for six hours on slow play, and still have excellent audio reproduction. I wondered if there was a way to use an old VCR as big tape recorder.
The auxilliary input jacks in the back of a VCR allow you to feed in audio and video from different sources. If sound could be fed into the VCR from a microphone then it could be used as big tape recorder and could record forest sounds for six hours without interuption. However, I couldn't plug a microphone directly into the back of the VCR because the auxilliary inputs are designed to receive signals from the auxilliary outputs of another device, such as a stereo. A combination came to mind : an FM wireless mic, received by an FM stereo receiver, that was connected via the aux. inputs / outputs to a VCR. It was an easy combination to work with because I already had everything except the FM wireless mic.
I checked out some FM wireless mics at Radio Shack and discovered another problem. All the FM wireless mics in consumer electronic shops are made to be used with PA systems. They're made for singers and public speakers, which means they're designed to filter out background noises and only pick up voices near the mic. I wanted to hear the distant background noises. If the mic filtered out distant sounds it would defeat the purpose of the mic.
After asking around for a few months I learned from an Audubon Society member that there was a wireless microphone used by bird watchers to record distant bird calls. This mic came unassembled as a $40 mail-order kit. The supplier wouldn't sell it preassembled because of some FCC restriction.
This birding mic has the ability to capture distant sounds from all directions and transmit them on an adjustable FM radio frequency for up to three miles. In order to do this effectively the mic has to be set to transmit on a frequency where it won't be competing with any FM radio stations. In other words, the mic-transmitter has to be tuned to a dead spot on the FM dial.
I liked the sound of the price, but I had never built anything from a kit before. Eventually I met a local Ham radio wiz who promised me he could solder this kit mic together in about an hour and charge me $25 for the job. That worked for me. So I ordered the kit, brought it to the ham radio dude's house and watched him put it together. Sure enough he got it working in about an hour. The assembled kit was nothing more than a pocket size circuit board with a tiny microphone element on one side and a couple of wires hanging off the other side. It has a tiny screw for changing the FM frequency on which it transmits.
Here are some video stills of the circuit board right after it was assembled. In the first pic I layed a penny on it for scale.
This mic won't survive very long in the field unless it's contained within a weatherproof housing. For relatively brief recording sessions the Audubon people simply stick the circuit board inside an 8 oz. styrofoam coffee cup then hang the whole thing upside down in a tree, in the woods. I was gearing toward something that could stay mounted in a tree, in the woods, all year round, in northeast Ohio. A styrofoam cup wouldn't provide enough protection for that kind of usage. I had to construct a housing that would withstand extremes in temperature, intense summer humidity, the severe freezing winds of Alberta Clippers in the winter, lake-effect snow, and all sorts insidious precipitation. It had to be insect unfriendly, and otherwise unappetizing to all forest nibblers. It had to be inconspicuous so it wouldn't be found and stolen. And most importantly, the pencil-eraser-size mic element couldn't get wet ... at all.
The housing design I came up with is shown below. The second picture here shows the finished product mounted on a tree, underneath a tree branch. That's how the mic was mounted when it captured the Columbiana County recordings, two clips of which can be found on the "Eyewitness Sketches of Ohio Bigfoots" page.
The housing is made from a few easily obtainable items : a plastic funnel, camo duct tape, a whole lot of candle wax, and few other small parts that can be purchased at any Radio Shack. Below you'll find a link to more pages explaining how to build this housing.
The mic kit itself (without the housing) is available from a company in New Hampshire called "Information Unlimited". You can order a free catalog from them by calling (800) 221-1705.
The catalog number for this particular kit is FMV1K. The price listed is $39.50. Shipping is a few bucks extra.
Remember, the kit contains only the electronic parts for the circuitboard. The materials for the housing are widely available at other shops such as Wal-Mart and Radio Shack.
Next Page : Building the housing for the mic.
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