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The Reluctant Casette

February 16, 2014

About ten years ago, I used to go with a group to the cafe at the McNally-Robinson bookstore.  Along with the meal, they had free entertainment.  I heard a group called A Taste of New Orleans many times.  They played New Orleans jazz.  I liked them so much that I bought the casette they were selling.  When I tried this casette at home, it wouldn’t play on my casette deck.  I recall transfering the tape and reels to a new casette case at that time.  Both my parents grew up with jazz music.  The next time I visited them, I brought the casette with me and played it for them on their casette player.  When she heard one piece, my mother said “That’s the music I want played at my funeral, that arrangement”.

My mother’s now about 93 years old.  Casettes are obsolete.  I needed something more modern with that same music.  That group never made a CD of their music, just the one casette.  The leader, Ernie Labovich, had died a few years ago.  I would have to copy the casette myself.  I found my old casette deck and my collection of casettes.  The one that I wanted was there, along with the original casette case filled with blank tape.  My deck was a top-quality Pioneer model.  It was over 20 years old.  When I tried that casette in it, I found that it would start to play but quickly stop.  The problem was that the takeup reel stopped turning.  Maybe the clutch in the casette deck was slipping too easily?  I tried several other casettes.  All of them played correctly except for that one.  Even the original case with blank tape ran all the way through.  I tried transferring the tape and reels back to the original case.  That was easy to do, but when I tried it in the casette deck it still had the same problem.  This is quite annoying.  All I wanted to do was to play it once so I could copy it.

Maybe another casette player would work?  My Sony stereo had two casette drives, although I hadn’t used them for some time.  It was only about ten years old.  Maybe it would work?  I tried that casette in the stereo.  It stopped almost immediately.  Lights flashed.  The stereo switched back and forth from drive A to drive B.  I  finally got it to stop, but the casette was stuck in the drive.  That casette was irreplaceable!  What do I do now?  I could only open the door part way.  I didn’t want to break anything.  Very carefully, I forced the door open a bit more and removed the casette.  The auto-reverse mechanism had broken, leaving the tape head at the middle of its rotation.  More importantly, the casette was intact.  I’m not going to put it back in that stereo again.  The Pioneer deck was my only hope.

What should I do now?  Every other casette played nicely in the casette deck.  There had to be something wrong with that one casette, the irreplaceable one.  It had to be the reels.  Again I took it apart.  When I examined one reel with a magnifier, I found roughness in one place.  With a bit of delicate work and some frustration, I replaced that reel with one from the other casette.  It played all the way through on my casette deck!  This was like a miracle.  The other reel had the same roughness.  I replaced it too, this time more easily.  Again, it played all the way through the other way.  That was all I needed.  Finally, I could copy it.

My Pioneer deck was connected to my Windows XP computer so that I could listen to the output through the computer speakers.  I used a free program called Audacity to make the copy.  The steps I followed are all outlined in the Audacity tutorial.  It took most of a day for me to get it right, but I eventually succeeded in producing a group of WAV files, one for each piece on the casette.  I also copied them to MP3 files, in case I needed them too.  Only the easy part was left, burning the WAV files to a blank CD.  I didn’t celebrate until I had played that CD on both of my stereo systems.  All of the pieces, including the one that my mother wanted, were intact and sounded perfect.  I celebrated then.

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