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Pancake Tapes  (February 2022)

 

When one thinks of magnetic audio media, what comes to mind includes open reel tapes, cassettes, and 8-tracks, among others.  But they also come in a form known as a “pancake,” which is a length of tape wrapped around a hub with nothing but the tightness of the wind to keep it together (Figure 1).  Pancakes were never meant for home use.  Rather, large pancakes can be spooled onto smaller reels to be sold to consumers, either as blank tape or duplicated recordings.  They are also used in recording studios.  While I had heard of pancakes, I had never encountered one until discovering that six customer tapes that I expected to be open reel tapes turned out to be pancakes.

Pancake with DIN hub.JPG

Figure 1.  A pancake tape with a DIN hub.

 

Pancakes can fall apart, especially if the wind is loose (Figure 2—the photo was staged with a tape destined for recycling; the red and yellow tapes are leader separating recordings made at different times and spliced together to form the compilation pancake).  Consequently, I wasn’t ready to tempt fate by mounting one on my tape deck.  After a little research, I found two ways to mount a pancake.  One is to cannibalize an empty aluminum reel and screw the two flanges to the pancake’s hub to turn it into an open-reel tape.  The other is to anchor the pancake on a special metal plate, which in turn can be mounted horizontally onto the tape deck.

Dropped pancake.jpg

Figure 2.  A deliberately mishandled pancake.

 

Ready to disassemble a 10.5” aluminum reel, I took a closer look at the pancake’s hub and realized that this approach wouldn’t work.  The standard spindle for U.S. tape decks is the three-prong “cine” spindle (Figure 3), but the customer’s pancakes all had DIN hubs (Deutches Institut fűr Normung, or German Institute for Standardization), which made sense since the tapes were recorded in Germany (front of hub visible in Figure 1, back in Figure 4).  Besides having a different diameter than my reel’s hub, there’s nothing on the DIN hub to which the reel flanges can be attached.

Three-prong cine spindle.JPG

Figure 3.  Three-prong cine spindle.

DIN hub (back).JPG

Figure 4.  Back of a DIN hub.

 

Searching the Internet for a plate that would attach a DIN hub to a cine spindle produced some leads—all in Europe.  The web sites didn’t mention what spindle they would attach to.  Since the likely target audience was the European market, I figured the plates were designed to anchor DIN hubs to DIN spindles, not cines, so I needed to look elsewhere.

 

I contacted companies within a 30-mile radius that, at least at one time, performed restoration work to see if one would be able to handle the conversion.  None could, but I was referred to a company in Canada that had the capability.  I emailed and subsequently spoke with an individual from this company.  Fortunately for me, he had two plates that were designed specifically for the brand of tape deck that I own and offered to sell me one (Figure 5).  I jumped at the chance.

Plate with DIN clamp.JPG

Figure 5.  Pancake plate with a DIN-to-cine clamp.

 

The plate arrived less than a week later, and I was back in business.  After installing a cine spindle extension to accommodate the height of the plate’s clamp, I carefully mounted each pancake on the plate, anchored the plate onto the tape deck’s spindle, and played the tape, digitizing it on my computer (Figure 6).

Pancake playing.JPG

Figure 6.  Playing a pancake.

 

I completed the project in short order.  The likelihood that I’ll ever encounter another European pancake is miniscule, but at least I’ll be prepared.

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