Letters to the Editor - January 1995

LettersIn July I wrote in the "Tips and Techniques" section about my encounters with sticky master tapes. Here are some valuable updates -- most importantly, DON'T THROW YOUR STICKY MASTERS AWAY! There is a solution of sorts.

I was listening to NPR's Weekend Edition of "All Things Considered" today (December 11, 1994) and they devoted the last ten minutes of the show to the problems of tape emulsion breakdown. New information to me was that there seems to be a considerable amount of tape produced between 1977 and 1982 that breaks down quickly. Some of the tape manufactured during that time began breaking down as early as 1988!

NPR did some investigative style reporting on this story and asked an Ampex official why they, or any other manufacturer, had never issued a statement on the problem of breakdown. Not having taped this program, I cannot quote him verbatim, but his response was basically that he thought everyone was aware that professional grade tape breaks down within ten years and that his company didn't see this as a problem.

Of course, most people aren't aware of the timed self-destruction of all magnetic tape. And it is a problem! The tragic problem is in the fields of archiving major news events and history, valuable information that was expected to keep forever on video tape. If you transferred all your 8mm film to video, don't throw away the film. It will probably outlast the video tape.

The best part of this NPR segment was the solution! There is hope! There is a company that has sprung up that specializes in restoring tape -- or at least making a dub of a sticky tape. They are working on secret projects for major news organizations. Here is their solution: You take your sticky tape, remove any splice tabs, splicing tape, and/or end tape, then you put it in a convection oven and bake for six hours at 130 degrees. Season to taste. Just kidding about the seasoning, but the rest is true. But, remember, NOT a regular oven, a convection oven. Fortunately, they are becoming a popular item this year. The Danmark catalog has one for about $170, and Sharp makes a combination microwave and convection oven for around $350.

There is a catch. Your baked tape is only good for about thirty days. Then it reverts to its sticky state. No one knows how many times each tape can be re-baked. The best results are if you bake the tape as soon as you discover it's breaking down and dub it right away.

I am really glad I caught this segment of the show. There is hope in preserving many years of special production effects and beds. Now the only problem is, as NPR stated, where am I going to fit the convection oven among my audio equipment?

Mike Bailey, Operations Manager
WPBH-FM, Panama City, Florida

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