Between our WMAR-TV and WJZ-TV Collections, there are about 10,000 U-matic tapes with unique local television content that need to be digitized for preservation–we have started to slowly go through these tapes, starting with the oldest tapes from 1977 and those that are requested by researchers.

In the last few days in Special Collections we have been dealing with some sticky issues with some U-matics that a researcher needs to view. In December of 1982, it seems that WJZ started to use a different, cheaper brand of U-matic. This specific brand is extremely problematic for audiovisual archiving now: the splices that hold the tape to the plastic hubs need fixing for almost every tape, many of the inner workings of the cassette are made of cheap plastic that breaks easily, and the glue that is holding some of these components together has started to seep out, leaving a gooey, sticky substance over certain parts of the tape that can damage the tape and the playback deck.

Our intern Massimo Petrozzi will be spending the day opening up these cassettes and cleaning the glue residue before the tapes are put into the playback deck. Check out our step-by-step guide on how to open a U-matic tape, and most importantly, how to put the tape back together again.

With a lot of hard work and patience, these tapes will eventually be digitized and available online, like this successful U-matic transfer:

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