Ongoing History Daily: An update on tape rot

Storing audio for long, long periods of time isn’t as easy as we once thought.  For example, about a dozen years ago, the UK found they had to deal with something called “tape rot.” A strange mold–a little white dust–is contaminating and destroying thousands and thousands of kilometres of magnetic audio and videotape.  It’s so virulent that if you get a speck on your finger from a contaminated tape and touch another tape, you’ve just pooched it. 

It’s become so bad that archives and libraries and other places where tape is stored are implementing measures that wouldn’t be out of place in a Level 4 containment lab. 

No one is sure where this mold came from, but Britain’s damp weather certainly didn’t help.  More next time.

On the last Ongoing History Daily, we went through Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt.”

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

2 thoughts on “Ongoing History Daily: An update on tape rot

  • May 18, 2022 at 11:24 am

    I don’t know if it was tape rot or not but when I went to digitize my tape collection (about 400 tapes) there was a large selection that just didn’t make it. These weren’t necessarily tapes that I’d played a lot over the years or stored differently than the others. The tapes themselves were stored relatively well for a regular person (the large cassette boxes with slots for 100 made of pressed wood) and then wrapped abundantly in plastic wrap and mylar tape for travel and storage.

    I haven’t made a personal inventory but the engineer that went through them all noticed that the majority of the tapes that failed were mostly white cassette casings with a few clear thrown into the mix. 28/354 cassettes didn’t make it. The losses were deep cuts but nothing that can’t be replaced or haven’t already been replaced. Not bad for what amounts to more than nearly four decades old cassettes.

  • May 18, 2022 at 12:26 pm

    Slowly digitising my family’s camcorder footage. The late 80s/early 90s Video8 format stuff has held up … perfectly. A huge relief.

    The early 80s Beta stuff though is a huge mess and hard to salvage. I doubt anyone watched them more than once or twice over 30 years ago … just been sitting there.


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