Tips & Techniques: Salvaging Old Reel Masters

Last month we asked if anyone had a solution to Ira Lipson's problem with old reel masters sticking and squealing. Mike Bailey of WPBH-FM in Panama City, FL came up with this fun remedy:

It is a common misconception that properly stored magnetic tape will last indefinitely. Reality: that treasured cassette collection -- years of borrowing other people's albums and all the money you spent on pre-recorded tapes - every single one of your tapes is on a timer that is set to SELF-DESTRUCT! (Within ten to twenty-five years!) Ira's problem is one that I have encountered many times over my two decades in production. Emulsion breakdown. The plastic coating that holds the magnetic particles on the tape turns to glue. It sticks to guide posts and heads and causes the squealing that will be picked up (somehow?) on a dub. Eventually, tape won't even roll on the machine. In extreme cases tape sticks to itself on the reel and back-winds instead of unreeling. You can test for emulsion breakdown before you put it on the machine by pulling a few feet of tape through a tightly squeezed thumb and forefinger. If there is a quarter-inch bar of emulsion on your thumb and finger, you have breakdown!

Solution: 99% of the time I toss it; it's not worth the hours of trouble. There once was a 20-cut jingle package I HAD to save. This solution will only work for the 30 second to 60 second cuts on a reel. Anything longer is pretty much impossible. Start with a big bottle of alcohol/head cleaner, plenty of wood handled swabs, a roll of paper towels, and a hand held hair dryer (optional) on the "no heat" setting. Cue up the first cut the best you can. Remove the tape from the machine and COMPLETELY clean the tape path. Let it completely dry before replacing the tape on the path. Hit play and record that cut. (Hopefully the levels are okay the first time!) Cue up the next cut. And completely clean again. Repeat. It takes forever, and in some cases you can't even dub a 60 second cut.

Don't attempt the following -- I tried it all: Don't attempt to clean the tape with ANYTHING. It just makes it worse. Don't try to powder (baby, talc, etc.) the tape -- major mess! Believe me, unless your job is at stake, just give it up and remember to dub your favorite cassettes every ten years! You might be able to use this to convince the boss to go digital. Don't tell him that the same thing is likely to happen with floppy discs with 0% chance of saving them! 

 

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