A Great Tape Story Gone Bad

A Great Tape Story Gone Bad

Written by Robert Blanda, Riverview Studios

I loaded the tape, pressed play, my heart sunk.

Riverview Studios has been through many formats for storing video over the years. During most of these years, magnetic tape of many formats have crossed our paths. Whether written in Analog format or digital format (DAT, DV Digital, etc), shelf life is 15 years. If you’re lucky. 

We frequently enjoy antiquing and “yard sailing” during the weekend. Sometimes my better half and I ride our bicycles to local yard sales and antique stores while we’re bicycle touring. On rare occasions, I’ll find reel-to-reel tape or out-of-print reel to reel tape that screams “buy me now!”

Reel to Reel of Frank Sinatra's "That's Life" on reel-to-reel tape

Reel to Reel of Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life” on reel-to-reel tape

On a trip in Deerfield, Massachusetts we stopped at a very large (yet creepy) indoor flea market that happened to have a record store “shed.” Within that shed, I found an open reel copy of Frank Sinatra’s That’s Life. The cover box was in excellent condition and it was only $8. The wallet flew out of my pocket and we were on our way. 

On the journey back to New Jersey, all I could think about was loading up the tape and hearing that original recording of Francis Albert. I don’t think I unpacked the car before feeding the tape. 

After feeding the tape, I turned on the amp and pre-amp, sat in my lounger with a cold drink ready for a little listening session.

The take-up reel began spinning faster while the feed reel stopped. I got out of my chair and realized the leader had broken off the tape. I re-fed the raw tape instead, pressed play and then it happened – my heart sunk. 

At no point would the tape play, regardless of how many times I guided it along the tape path. The tape was so brittle it continued to break again and again. Eventually, I had to open the take-up reel and feed it into the garbage. I wasn’t upset about the $8. I was upset that I didn’t get to hear the tape – or even run it one time to digitize it. 

It’s not too late!

Long story short, don’t think for one minute your home movies are going to last. According to many sources, the shelf life of tape is only about 15 years, but you might get lucky. 

Learn about how we digitize tape for you before disaster strikes by clicking here



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PO Box 128
Bordentown, NJ 08505


(609) 298-4882


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