by Jerry Vigil
The ITC-99B: Usage & Maintenance Tips
There are many pieces of equipment that are common to a radio production studio, from Otari reel-to-reels and ITC cart machines to Eventide Harmonizers and Orban limiters. We will select one of these familiar machines every now and then and offer some tips on usage and maintenance of the units.
The ITC-99B is one of the most common record/playback cart decks in production studios today. Here are a few tips and reminders for those of you using the unit.
To begin with, let's talk about the erase coil in the unit. The ELSA (erase, azimuth adjust, splice locate) function will erase the cart twice during its entire cycle. ITC technicians warn that this cycle should not occur more than once every 5 minutes, or you risk overheating the coil. This MAY result in a burnt coil, however, most (we're not sure if all) of the units offer a circuit breaker that will disable the erase coil when it reaches a certain temperature. The overheating will occur if you use the machine just to erase carts, one after the other--IT ISN'T DESIGNED TO BE A CART ERASER. If you must use it as a cart eraser, you should skip the azimuth adjust function by pressing the small red button and the large blue "CUE" button simultaneously. Wait for the "CUE" button to flash ONE time, then release them both. This will erase the cart and find the splice while skipping the azimuth adjust. This can be done twice in a 5 minute period without risk of overheating. If the blue "CUE" light flashes twice, the unit will simply locate the splice.
A frantic dub session at 4:30pm with 50 dubs to go is another cause of overheating. If you can make a dub, label it, remove the reel, and thread up and cue the next dub, all in less than 5 minutes, you are faster than the cart machine. You can avoid the overheating by skipping the azimuth adjust function as described above. We don't recommend doing this because of the phase problems that can arise, but we do know that quality often must be sacrificed for quantity.
Have you ever made a dub then played it back only to find that you recorded over the splice? Why didn't this $6500 machine find the splice?!!! Before you call an engineer, clean the pinch roller. If the pinch roller is dirty, the unit has a tendency, during the ELSA cycle, to stop as soon as it has erased the cart for the second time. This leads one to believe that it has located the splice, but the truth is, the buildup of particles from the tape on the pinch roller is enough to make the machine think it has found the splice. The splice locate function uses the distance between the pinch roller and the capstan to determine if a splice is present. (Tape with splicing tape on it is thicker than tape alone.) If there is enough buildup on the pinch roller, the unit will think it has found the splice the moment it goes into the splice locate mode.
You should clean the pinch roller, capstan, and heads at least once a day. Head cleaner can be used on the pinch roller, but cleaners designed for pinch rollers shouldn't be used on heads. If you are able to easily slide the top cover of the unit back, you can get to the pinch roller easily. Your setup, however, may have the unit stashed neatly in a tightly packed rack of equipment, making access to the top cover difficult. If such is the case, take an old cart and take the top cover off. Remove all the loose parts on the inside and discard them. Throw the top half of the cart away as well. Go to your friendly engineer's toolbox and locate a pair of pliers. With the pliers, break off the plastic shaft in the center of the bottom half of the cart. Then break off the front part of the cart that normally has the label stuck to it. (This is good therapy when your sales department decides to have a 2 for 1 sale on spots.) What you end up with is a piece of plastic that most people will throw away if they see it, so label it somehow to indicate that it is to be used for cleaning the pinch rollers. This "piece of plastic" can be inserted into the cart machine just like any other cart. Plug it in and hit start. The pinch roller will engage and begin rotating with the capstan. You can now moisten a Q-tip with cleaning solution and simply hold the Q-tip against the side of the pinch roller. Don't be surprised if you use several Q-tips to get the roller relatively clean.
Finally, while we're on the subject of the pinch roller, be sure you have a few spares in stock. If a cart with tape too tight is played in the machine, and the tape doesn't move, the capstan can put an indention in the pinch roller. Once this happens, the splice locate function will not operate properly and the pinch roller will need to be replaced.
Multi-Track Work: Punch-ins & Spot Erasures
Punch-ins are real time savers in a production room, especially with voice tracks. Say you're laying the voice track for a 60 second spot, and, after you've recorded the track, you realize you read the phone number incorrectly at the end. With a reel of 2-track work tape, you might simply re-record the last few seconds of the spot and edit it to the first take. With multi-track tape, however, you would be one of the few if you actually cut and splice on a 60 dollar reel of half-inch tape. Rather than re-record the entire track, a punch in will save you lots of time.
A punch in on a multi-track is done by backing the tape up to a point a few seconds prior to the point where you want to begin re-recording the voice track. Put that track in the sync mode with record ready and roll the tape. At the point where you want to begin recording, just hit record and begin reading that part of the script over again. To do this, you should be monitoring the output of the multi-track machine (console in tape monitor mode) and not the program of the console. When you hit record, the multi-track machine will automatically leave the sync mode and go into the input/record mode, so you will be able to hear what you are recording.
The best places to punch in are places where you have a bit of a pause, such as a place where you took a breath. The timing involved with punch ins on a voice track is critical. It will take time to master punch ins on voice tracks, but it's easy once you get the hang of it.
When you have the machine in the sync mode and hit record, the erase and record heads take over. The sync mode is playing back audio from the record head, but the record head is an inch or so away from the erase head, so the erase head and record head are not actually in sync with each other. At 15ips, this will cause a delay of roughly 1/15 of a second. This delay means that the erase head won't begin erasing at the exact point that you punch in. This is enough delay to make a difference on a tight punch in. This may be a little confusing; Just realize that you can punch in a fraction of a second before you think you can, without erasing audio at that point. As with anything else, practice makes perfect.
Now that we've covered punch ins, let's look at how to fix the bad ones. Even the most experience "punch in" artist is going to have a few bad punch ins when working with voice tracks.
Let's say you're recording the line, "Today only, save fifty dollars." What you meant to say is "...save fifty cents." There is no pause between "fifty" and "dollars", so you will have to do your punch in between "only" and "save". So you do your punch in, but you don't hit the record button soon enough. The new track plays back like this: "Today only, sa- save fifty cents." You will discover that the more times you try to do a particular punch in, the messier the track will get. Sometimes you'll wish you could just edit the "sa-" out, but alas, you don't want to cut that 60 dollar reel of 1/2 inch tape up. You can, however, use your grease pencil and make some edit marks!
Determine whether your machine is in the "repro" mode or the "sync" mode. If it's in the "repro" mode, use the playback head to make your edit marks. If it's in the "sync" mode, use the record head. For this example, let's use the playback head. Remove the tape from between the capstan and pinch roller and place it outside the capstan. This will disable the transport of the tape and allow you to enter the "record" mode and freely rock the reels back and forth. Put the voice track in "safe" mode and hit "record" (and "play", if necessary to enter record mode). Now rock the reels back and forth and cue up to the point just after the word "only" and right before the "sa-" sound that you want to erase. Put an edit mark there, dead center on the playback head. Move the tape just past the "sa-" sound and just before the word "save". Place an edit mark there. The space between the two edit marks is the area you want to erase. Your machine is still in the record mode, but the erase head isn't "ON" because the track is in the "safe" mode. Move the tape to the erase head and center the head between the two edit marks. Switch the track to "record ready" mode. The erase head is ON. Carefully move the tape back and forth, keeping the erase head between the two edit marks. Once you've passed the erase head over the tape, from the first edit mark to the second one, the unwanted audio is history, and the punch in is perfect!