Magnetic recording tape was never designed as a long-term storage medium. It was primarily designed to be easy to use and easy to copy. If properly cared for, magnetic tape can last for a long time as it's quite durable.
But most people did not have preservation and long term storage in mind when playing their Commodore 64 games back in the 80s. Magnetic tape WILL decay when exposed to harmful environments. That is a fact.. So how do we prevent this from happening? Let's first find out what is causing this decay.
There are three primary environmental factors that cause a tape to decay
- Moisture is absorbed directly from the air. Molecules in the tape react with the moisture and break down, leaving a sticky residue. Over time this may result in the tape becoming too sticky for further use.
- Heat makes the moisture problem even worse. It also causes tapes to expand and contract producing creases, stretching and structural damage.
- Dirt and debris pollute the surface of the tape and hamper playback, making reading the signal difficult.
Storage environments of tapes should be cool, dry, clean and relatively stable to maintain a tape in good condition. Proper storage can extend tape life by years or even decades. If you are having problems playing back some of your tapes, you should consider taking action now before additional tapes deteriorate.
For some of the Commodore 64 tapes available today much damage have already been done, but that's no reason not to try to extend the life of the tapes that still work. And in most cases we will be able to recover the data even from a bad tape by using other copies of the tape or by adjusting the tape deck heads. Keeping the tapes alive at least until they've been dumped/preserved is important.
Also keep the tapes away from magnetic sources like Monitors and speakers.