Tuesday, January 21, 2003


The announcement that yet another CD format is being released reminds us how "obsolete" tape is becoming -- and how frail. Many people have massive collections of VHS videotapes. Some have huge collections on the harder-to-find Beta format. As these tapes get older they can start to deteriorate. If the process continues they can become unplayable and even damage equipment.
So, some hints for those with aging tape collections:
Remember there is a condition called "print through" that often plagues older tapes. When layers of video and audio tapes lie against each other while in storage, some of the information -- in the form of magnetic energy -- can move from one layer to the adjacent ones. The condition is most noticeable on audio tapes where there is an echo often heard before the actual sound and one at the end.
Many archival companies actually record masters at a lower level to prevent this or put a layer of neutral material between each wind of the tape.
One way to prevent this from happening is time-consuming, though. That is to fast forward and then rewind all tapes in storage every year or so.
Many recording studios actually leave their audio tapes in a configuration called "tails out." That means to be played the tape has to be rewound first.
Little can be done to avoid the deterioration that happens with older magnetic tape, except to make sure tapes are kept in a cool, dry storage area.
An incident comes to mind that is symptomatic of the problem. A small Midwestern town's mayor recently contacted a local audio engineer asking about the possible condition of recordings made during the city's 150th anniversary in 1966. The recordings were interviews made on Main Street during the celebration, eventually put into a time capsule for opening and playing in 2016. Would the tapes be playable?
"Possibly," was the engineer's reply. "A bigger question," he noted, "will be if there's even a tape recorder available at the time capable of playing the tapes.

Copyright 2003 by United Press International.
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