Video production stories

Baker man . . .

1 Comment

. . . baking tapes

You may have heard about the so-called Sticky Tape Syndrome.  From the late seventies to the early nineties some tape manufacturers used a compound in their reel-to-reel tapes to bind the magnetic particles to the plastic base of the tape.  The compound contained moisture-hungry polyurethane elements which, over time, sucked water molecules into the tape.  I have around twenty old demo tapes and recordings from as long ago as 1981 that needed to be transferred to a digital format for posterity’s sake.  Some may think it cruel to inflict dodgy, out-of-tune, poorly played eighties pop on my unborn grand children but how else are they going to really appreciate what a great time they happen to live in?  I was lucky enough to pick up a working Revox PR99 on Ebay for a measly £50 (worth it just as an ornament) and set about digitising my old tunes.    

It didn’t go well.  Within a few minutes the spools ground to a halt, impeded by the sticky black mess that was accumulating on the guide rollers and the heads.  My first experience of Sticky Tape Syndrome, trouble was, I didn’t know it.  I assumed that the Ebay-sourced Revox had a dodgy reel motor and forgot about it for nearly five years.  Eventually, after being badgered by old band members, I went searching for another quarter-inch machine to play the tapes on.  It happens that Paul White, editor of Sound on Sound magazine lives down the road so I gave him call and he agreed to loan me his vintage Tascam.  He also told me all about Sticky Tape Syndrome and the remedy; four hours in an electric oven at 50°C.  There are lots of explanations out there on the web about how to do this but basically, you wrap your NAB spools in aluminium foil, heat up the oven (it’s recommended to use an oven thermometer to be certain of the temperature), pop the tapes in for four hours, then let them cool for a further four hours.  And that’s it.  Every baked tape has played without issue although copious quantities of vodka and cotton buds have been used to keep the heads clean of the inevitable dry-shedding that is to be expected from thirty year old tape stock. The newly digital audio files have since been re-mastered and maximised with the help of iZotope Ozone 5 and they sound great, better than I remember actually.  My grandchildren may yet be a little bit proud.

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Author: Ralph Tittley

Video Producer

One thought on “Baker man . . .

  1. Dear JR,

    Who killed you?

    Sorry. For a moment there I was trapped in the 1980s.

    I must object in the strongest terms to a) being described as an ‘old band member’ on your weblog. It makes me sound like Uncle Monty in Withnail & I – ‘old now’. b) How dare you bake my work in the oven. It was already deep fried when I recorded it. If I wanted a baked potato, I would spell it potatoe, like Dan Qayle (2nd ’80s reference)

    Beyond that, congratulations on beating the six year penalty which would have involved sponge cake, spanking and cowbells.

    However, it is surely time that you returned my DvDs. God knows what your DvD overdue bill is at your local store.

    I am cc-ing this correspondence to young Mark, who believes that you are his uncle.

    Lots of Love,

    Jake.

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