WASHINGTON — Nearly three decades after Watergate, the tables have turned. Now the public can tape Richard Nixon.

Friday is the first make-your-own Nixon tape day at the National Archives in College Park, Md.

Record a personal copy of Nixon rapping his desk on July 1, 1971, when he tells chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman to stand firm against those leaking information: "We're up against an enemy, a conspiracy. We are going to use any means, is that clear?"

Copy excerpts of Nixon's discussions about the Vietnam War, civil rights demonstrators, the Supreme Court, busing, domestic issues and the opening of China. Or make a copy of the clicks, hisses and buzzes on the famous 18 1/2-minute gap that exists on a tape recorded in June 1972, three days after the Watergate break-in.

Giving the public permission to make free copies at the archives is one of several actions in recent years that have made the Nixon tapes more accessible.

Transcripts of some of the 3,700 hours of recordings have been perused for years. But the public could only listen to the 1,284 tapes the government has released so far if they traveled to the archives and clamped on cumbersome earphones. Copying was prohibited. Besides a few bootleg tapes illegally broadcast years ago and snippets of recordings played in court and at Nixon's California library, the tapes have not been aired publicly.

Early last year, 265 hours of excerpted conversations, mostly related to Watergate, went on sale.

Now, representatives of Nixon's estate have agreed to let the public buy and copy any of the Nixon tapes the government has released so far. Under an earlier agreement signed by the archives and the Nixon estate, the rest of the tapes were not supposed to be available for copying or purchase until 2003.

Starting Friday, researchers can take their own recording equipment to the National Archives II building in College Park and copy:

—265 hours pertaining to Watergate and "abuse of governmental power." These tapes include conversations about the break-in and bugging of the Democratic National Committee headquarters in 1972, subsequent cover-up and wrongdoing by the White House.

—154 hours of conversations that took place in the Cabinet Room at the White House.

—865 hours of tapes made in Nixon's offices and on his telephones in 1971. These represent the first two batches of chronological tape releases covering about a year of the Nixon presidency from February 1971, when the taping system was first installed, to December 1971.

"It's much easier to transcribe them when you can take them home," said Timothy Naftali, who is working on a project at the Miller Center of Public Affairs, a nonpartisan research institute at the University of Virginia, to transcribe presidential recordings. Naftali said the center will begin transcribing the Nixon tapes within the next few months — a laborious process that takes about two hours for each minute.

The Nixon estate decided to make all the released tapes available for copying and purchase because it believes the conversations should be heard in context — in chronological order.

"History won't fully appreciate the immense accomplishments and equally immense pressures of President Nixon's wartime White House, nor will it understand the way the Vietnam War and the passions it aroused colored virtually every aspect of the president's work, until historians have a chance to study these recordings in detail," said John Taylor, co-executor of the Nixon estate.

Roughly 2,400 hours of Nixon tapes are still being processed. They too will be available for copying or purchase when they are opened. The next scheduled opening of Nixon tapes, recorded from January 1972 to June 1972, is expected late this year.


On the Net: National Archives: www.nara.gov