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The Sound of Science - 'VHS Tapes'

NIU STEM Outreach

Newt: You're listening to The Sound of Science on WNIJ. I'm Newt with NIU STEAM.

Becky: And I'm Becky.

Newt: The neat thing about fashion is that even if something goes out of style, chances are that it will come back into style a few decades down the road. The same can't always be said for retro technology.

Becky: Recent years have seen an increasing interest in records and vinyl. We agree, that tech is pretty cool, but so is the technology behind VHS tapes and the VCR.

Newt: VHS stands for video home system and VCR is video cassette recorder. Back in the day, you might rent a VHS, pop it in the VCR and watch the questionable quality recording of your favorite movie. Or maybe you used one of these little beauties to record something off the television. But how does it work?

Becky: Unlike CDs and DVDs which rely on microscopic divots and grooves that hold the data. A VHS has magnetic tape that holds both imagery and the audio. The VCR would then read the magnetic tape with an electromagnet that spun at 1800 rpm.

Newt: The first VHS tape was released in Korea in 1972. And the last major box office film to have a VHS release came out in 2006. As a medium the VHS wasn't as advanced as we might expect from our media players today. Nothing lasts forever, so the magnetic tape degraded over time and use. If you watched your favorite movie too often, you could wear out your copy.

Becky: Even if you were careful, the VHS would sometimes get stuck in the VCR, damaging the magnetic tape. This would crumble a small portion of the magnetic tape, making it unreadable to the VCR. Video stores and VHS owners would cut the crumpled tape out of the magnetic tape sequence and then tape it back together using clear adhesive tape. Some artists and videographers leaned into this as an art form.

Newt: Not all of human creation lasts forever. In fact, very little other than a Nokia phone is expected to survive too long. Some of our more fragile possessions deserve a little spotlight before they disappear from existence.

Becky: This has been the sound of science on WNIJ, where you learn something new every day.