Magnetic recording tape was never designed as a long-term storage medium. Tape is primarily designed to be easy to use and easy to copy. Luckily, magnetic tape is quite durable and can stand up to amazing abuse for extended periods of time. If properly cared for, tape can actually last far longer than the machinery on which it is played. Still, we constantly see tapes pulled from storage in a state of advanced decay, rendering the materials unusable.
The badly deteriorating condition of many of the recordings in America and around the world is due to one very simple reason: most tapes have not been stored or handled properly. Tape is not physically impressive. When it is not being used, tape makes no sound, provides no picture, and to the casual observer appears unchanged over time. But, just like any other material, magnetic tape decays when exposed to harmful environments.
For years tapes have been piled in odd corners, stuffed in attics and dumped in wet basements to get them out of the way. Unintentionally, tapes have been exposed to the most destructive conditions possible. There are three primary environmental factors that cause tape to decay:
Storage environments must be cool, dry, clean and relatively stable to maintain tape in good condition. Proper storage can extend tape life by years or even decades. If you are having problems playing back some of your tapes, you should consider taking action now before additional tapes deteriorate.
Here are a few simple tests to perform that can help warn of danger:
Over the last few years a lot has happened to bring the problems of preserving magnetic tape to the public eye:
SPECS BROS.? extensive involvement in these recent initiatives reflects our ongoing commitment to the field of preservation: we have been helping clients with these issues since 1983 and continue to be key players in current developments. To assist with your preservation efforts, SPECS BROS. can evaluate your collection, assess environmental effects and determine the condition of your materials. We offer testing, consulting and a variety of restoration services proven to return "unusable" tapes to playable condition.