Dan Curtis ~ Professional Personal Historian

Entries tagged as ‘Preservation’

How to Salvage a Damaged Audio Cassette.

September 9, 2009 · 4 Comments

audio tape brokenThis article was inspired by a personal history colleague of mine  in Victoria.  She wondered if I knew anyone who could fix an audio cassette that no longer seemed to work in her recorder. I confessed that I didn’t have any recommendations. So I got to thinking, “How difficult is it to repair an audio cassette?” I did some research.  Then I took apart a cassette  and amazingly put it back together again!  It requires patience and a steady hand but it’s not an impossible job. A word of caution. Tapes that have melded from prolonged exposure to heat and humidity are not something you’re likely to fix on your own. This will require a professional conservator and be a costly undertaking. But if your problem is a tape that has become mangled inside its case or the cassette mechanism is broken, then here’s what you can do. My advice would be to  practice first on another tape before tackling the one you want to repair.

Broken Cassette

  1. Purchase a cassette shell from an A/V supplier or find a good cassette that you’re no longer using. Open it up and remove the original tape.
  2. Find a clean table and place your cassette flat with the screw side facing up.
  3. Take a small Phillips screw driver and carefully remove the five screws. Place them in a small container.
  4. Carefully lift the top off, noting how the tape is threaded in the mechanism and the placement of the components. The picture below should help.audio cassette 2
  5. Lift your tape out of the old shell and thread it carefully into the new one. Make sure to keep the tape untwisted.
  6. Place the top back on the cassette, making sure that all the pieces fit and that nothing is pinched. Insert the screws and tighten.

Mangled tape

  1. Open the cassette as described above and survey the damage.
  2. If the tape is crinkled, just leave it. The sound may not be perfect but cutting out the offending piece or trying to smooth it out will only make the situation worse.
  3. If the tape is broken, you can purchase a splicing kit or do it yourself with some sharp scissors or razor blade and Scotch tape. Not perfect but it’ll work.
  4. If the edges of the broken tape are ragged, trim just a fraction off each end. Remember that whatever you cut off will also cut out some of your recorded audio.
  5. Cut a piece of Scotch tape exactly the width of your tape and about 3/8″ long. Trim off any overhang. Failure to do this will cause the tape to stick to the internal mechanism.
  6. Place half  of the Scotch tape on one end of the audio tape and press it down firmly. Make sure your tape is straight. If it isn’t, the tape will run unevenly and may be damaged further. Now attach the other half of the Scotch tape to the remaining half of audio tape making sure to form a seamless joint. Don’t overlap the ends. Press down firmly on this remaining segment.
  7. Carefully rethread your tape and seal up the cassette as described above.

One final word. Once you’ve made your repairs, plan to transfer your tape to a digital format as soon as possible. You can find out how to do that here.

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Categories: Audio recording · How to · Tips
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Life Story Quote of The Week.

April 27, 2009 · 5 Comments


To forget one’s ancestors is to be a brook without a source, a tree without a root.

- Chinese proverb

How many of you can name all of your eight great grandparents? That’s the question posed by Dr. Barry Baines at one of his Ethical Will Workshops. I must admit I can only name one. How about you? Probably very few – right? Think for a moment. If you don’t do something to preserve and record your life story then your children’s grandchildren will not know your name. Pretty sobering isn’t it? What are you doing to ensure that your name isn’t forgotten?

Photo by David Fielke

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Categories: Ancestors · Life stories · Preservation · Quotes · Writing
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What Do You Do With All Your Old Family Photos?

April 10, 2009 · 2 Comments

My great uncle George's daughters, Fan & Kit

My great uncle George's daughters, Fan & Kit

My mom is ninety. Her mind is clear but she has congestive heart failure and we both know that her time is limited. With her death goes the knowledgeable custodian of  several boxes of old sepia colored photographs of relatives long passed. With a sense of urgency we’ve embarked on a methodical recording and preserving of these photos. If you’re in a similar situation you might find what we’re doing of some value.

  • Step one: Mom takes a pencil (not a pen) and on the back of each photo she  lightly writes  index numbers  starting with 001, the first photo. In a notebook she  writes down the number. Beside it, as best she can recall, she indicates: (a) the names of the people in the photo and their family connection, (b) where the photo was taken, (c)  the occasion (i.e., birthday, wedding, picnic, travels etc.) and (d) the date. On the next photo she writes 002 and proceeds to write down the details as she did for the first photo. At this point we’re not  worrying about sorting the photos thematically – that can come later.
  • Step two: As Mom completes a set of photos I take them and scan them into my computer and carefully include the index number and description. We are now about half way through her collection. After I’ve scanned the photos I place them in an archival, acid free box. You can obtain these through such companies as Archival Methods, Carr McLean or The Container Store.
  • Step three: We haven’t got to this stage yet. But once I’ve made a digital copy of each photo there are a number of presentation options available – one that I’m considering is a Photo Book. I’ll most likely group the photos thematically and include the  description that my mom’s written for each photo. There are a number of web based publishers like  Blurb that specialize in Photo Books.

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to get those old family photos out of storage and  begin the work of archiving them. Let me know what you’re doing to preserve your family photos. Love to hear from you!

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Categories: Ancestors · How to · Photos · Preservation · Tips
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The Life Story Quote of The Week

January 5, 2009 · Leave a Comment


Do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and your children’s children.

Deuteronomy 4:9

How easy it is for the things we have seen to be forgotten. In ancient times there was a strong oral tradition. People made a point of passing on knowledge and wisdom. We’ve lost most of that tradition. Unless we keep some kind of record of our lives, our children and our children’s children will know nothing of our heart. That would be a terrible loss.

Photo by James Marvin Phelps

Categories: Ancestors · Life stories · Quotes
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How to Protect Your Films, Videos and Digital Media.

November 13, 2008 · Leave a Comment

cdI read a recent article that pointed out that JVC, the last maker of VHS Players, will cease production of these models. This means that the VHS cassette will soon become obsolete – gone to media heaven like the 8 track audio cassette and LP. And according to the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center, the lifespan of consumer physical digital media is estimated to be five years or less. Those family photos that you’ve stored on disk or the DVD of your last trip won’t last forever either. So what to do? Here’s what I’d suggest to protect your collection:

  • Copy all of your film, audio and video tapes to a digital format.
  • Keep alert to new formats and ensure that you copy all of your collection to the new format.
  • Make certain all your audio and video tapes, old film stock and digital media are stored in a room that is free form dust and extreme fluctuations in temperature and humidity.
  • Keep your collection away from direct sunlight and liquids. All audio and video tapes should be kept away from any magnetic fields and other electronic equipment.
  • Store your media upright in rigid containers specifically designed for that particular media. Cardboard sleeves are not suitable for storage.
  • Handle your discs by the outer edge or inside hole. Never grab them by the surface. The grease and salt from your fingers will damage the disc.
  • Drives should be cleaned regularly to avoid damaging your tapes.
  • Don’t leave a tape in the drive of a recorder for a long period of time.

For further helpful information on preservation check out these sites:

Photo by Martin

Categories: How to · Preservation · Resources
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The Life Story Quote of The Week

October 19, 2008 · Leave a Comment

Our stories, our personal stories, our family stories, those are our real gold. If we’re lucky, as we age, we put our stories in the bank, where they gather interest in deepening meaning.

Richard Louv, American writer

I agree with Richard Louv, and I would add that our family stories in order to really survive must be recorded and preserved. It’s a theme I keep coming back to, but memories fade and unless we write down our stories or capture them by audio or video recording they will be lost forever. Don’t let that happen to you!

Photo by Cindy

Categories: Life stories · Quotes
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Are You Ready To Make Thanksgiving Memorable?

October 8, 2008 · Leave a Comment

If you’re like me traditional holidays can sometimes feel like an obligation – the true meaning lost amidst crass commercialism and forced conviviality. Thanksgiving in Canada is only a week away on October 13th and in the United States it falls on November 27th.

Why not put thankfulness back into Thanksgiving by planning to record some favorite Thanksgiving memories along with the turkey and pumpkin pie. Arrange ahead to interview Mom or Dad, Grandma or Grandpa, or an ancient aunt who has so many wonderful stories to tell. Have a voice or video recorder handy and find a quiet part of the home were you can capture some wonderful memories of Thanksgivings past. Here are some questions to get you started.

  • What was your most memorable Thanksgiving? Where was it? Who was there? What was happening?
  • What do like most about Thanksgiving?
  • How has Thanksgiving changed over the years?
  • What does Thanksgiving mean to you?
  • How was Thanksgiving celebrated when you were a child?

Make this Thanksgiving memorable by taking the time to unlock and record remembrances of Thanksgivings past.

What’s your favorite Thanksgiving memory? I’d love to hear from you.

Photo by Marlene

Categories: Audio recording · Holidays · Life stories · Preservation · Video production
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Warning: Your old audio and videotapes could be destroyed by a virulent infection.

August 5, 2008 · Leave a Comment

Vanessa Thorpe writing an article in The Observer in London warns that:

A virulent infection is destroying the audio and videotapes once used to capture important moments of family life and great historic events. The fungal blight, or ‘tape mould’, has already ruined thousands of miles of audio and video tape in Britain and, according to specialist restorers, much more is likely to be deteriorating, unobserved, in storage. The infection of VHS cassettes and of the audio cassettes popular in the 1980s and 1990s is increasing at an alarming rate.

Here are some tips on preventing the spread of mould.

  • Look for a fine white dust.
  • Don’t play the damaged tape.
  • Don’t place mouldy tapes near other newer tapes.
  • Thoroughly wash your hands after handling an infected tape.
  • Keep tapes in a dark, dry place away from heat.

Categories: Audio recording · Preservation · Tips · Video production
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