Tape Problems

The tapes on which our books are recorded can take quite a bit of punishment, but unfortunately they can break, twist, and spill and ruin your reading enjoyment, especially if you receive an old book, or a popular one that's been read many times. This problem was partially resolved in 1976 by a cassette redesign to reduce tape damage from handling, and by the production in the same year of the C-76 cassette machine, the first of our players to have a tape motion sensor to automatically shut off the machine when the take-up reel of the cassette stops moving.

Sometimes what appears to be a machine problem turns out to be a bad cassette, and it's important to prevent tape damage so that you can continue with your listening enjoyment. Here are a few tips for taking care of the cassettes and for correcting some problems you may have while listening. Some of the procedures are delicate and may require help, so please don't attempt these if you don't think you can do it. Call us at (800) 342-3688.

  • Clean Hands: It's a good idea to make sure that your hands are clean when touching the cassettes and the cassette machine. We also recommend that you keep the player and the tapes away from direct sunlight and sources of heat, such as a sunny windowsill, on top of a radiator, near the kitchen stove, and in the back window of a car. We've seen melted cassette machines looking as if they belong in a Salvador Dali painting! Likewise, protect the books and equipment from dust, dirt, food, moisture, and severely cold weather.

  • Inserting a cassette: When inserting a cassette into the machine, don't touch the tape. Each cassette tape contains a felt "pressure pad" mounted on a narrow copper spring under the tape. This pad is within the plastic tape shell at the center of the thicker, open side of the cassette. The pad opposes the player's play head, allowing the pressure of the head to be applied firmly to the tape when it is being played. This is a delicate area and should be treated with care. Handle the cassette by the edges only, and don't touch the center part where the tape and tape guides are located.

  • Loose on the spindle: Although you should receive the tapes fully rewound, handling and travel through the mail can affect them and the tape can become loose on the spindle. Before loading the cassette, check for any slackness in the tape. When the cassette is in the machine, before you play it we suggest that you press "Rewind" until the tape stops. This winds up any tape sag and spillage and prevents uneven take-up and jamming. It will also avoid a sudden jerk that could stress the tape when you hit the "Play" button. All the tape is now on the left-hand spool and all that's showing at the open side is the light-colored "leader." Doing this also ensures that you start at the beginning of the book.

  • Tape snarls: Tape snarls occur most often when the moving tape changes speed or direction quickly. A small loop forms, and this can catch on the player's drive mechanism. To lessen this risk, when playing a tape, always press the "Stop" button before hitting "Rewind" or "Fast Forward," and when going from "Rewind" or "Fast Forward" to "Play."

  • Ridged tape: A common cause of a cassette not playing is that it is "ridged," meaning that the tape has settled to one side of the spindle and binds against the wall of the cassette case. This happens when the books are knocked and vibrated as they are handled in the library and travel in the mail. If a cassette won't play or starts to drag, try smacking the flat side of the cassette on your hand or a table a few times, first one side then the other. This should help the tape settle evenly onto the spool, making it looser in the cassette case and allowing it to travel more smoothly. Sometimes giving the cassette a gentle twist will also align the tape. Another method is to fast-forward the tape for a couple of seconds and then rewind it.

  • Jammed tape: Another reason for a cassette jamming is that the tape may be too tight. This can result from the tape not running evenly onto the spools and this can cause difficulty in fast forward, rewind, and play modes. If you experience this, try the "smacking" procedure described above, or fast-forward and rewind the tape.

  • Looped or twisted tape: It can happen that through use and handling the tape can move to the underside of the pressure pad. This allows the tape to move but there will be no sound because the tape is not in contact with the play head. You might think that there's something wrong with your player, but in this instance that's not so. You'll probably need someone to help you check this and to very carefully tease the tape back to the correct position.

    • Occasionally a tape won't move because it has looped back on itself. You may not be able to see the loop, but try manually winding the tape with a pencil until the loop is visible and pull it out, and then carefully wind it onto the spool.

    • If a cassette is playing at the correct speed but is unintelligible, it may be that the tape has twisted over on itself and is playing the wrong side up. Often you can manually spool the tape, find the twist, and straighten it out.

    • If the tape you're playing speeds up and then sounds garbled, stop the player immediately. The tape has probably become snarled in the drive mechanism. Carefully remove the cassette and manually spool the tape back into the cassette.

  • Remember to switch off the cassette machine after the tape has finished playing. The machine has an automatic cut-off switch when the tape stops, but any unnecessary tension could stretch and distort the tape.
Last Updated: April 14, 2009