When you do something you hadn’t thought you could possibly . . .

Moving into a new place brings all kinds of joy, as well as disappointments. The posty finally delivered the correct phono connectors to plug the ageing cassette deck into the big beast of a receiver, so I inserted a cassette, powered up and hit the Play button. Nothing happened.

The photo-compare image shows first (or leftmost) the player sitting without twirling the tape around. Difficult to show motion, or lack thereof, but the tell is the green volume bars, of which only a silent single bar baseline appears.

After endless attempts, with the machine making a kind of brisk and abortive mechanical noise, I realised that this machine was not functioning, that perhaps something had gone wrong in the move. But after checking out various cassette deck forums, I decided that the most likely problem was a perished belt. In fact, the deck had not been used back home in Sparty for donkey’s years, so it was probably unfair to blame the move. The issue had, however, become one of repair, or junk, and then to try to acquire another deck.

Being rather foolhardy, I decided to take the deck apart and see if I could figure out the problem. I reasoned that I couldn’t make it worse than not working. I did get the cover off, and then after a few attempts I also managed to extract the drive mechanism, revealing the two belts. They certainly looked, and felt, passingly loose and tired. But how to get them out was another story.

The helpful YouTube How-To video I found on replacing cassette deck belt drives was dealing with a different configuration, so I was left to judge things by my wits alone. Fortunately I had sequestered a good pair of forceps from some other job, with which I managed to extract the most challenging belt, the primary driver. The other one, the one that drives the track counter, slipped off without any intervention on my part.

What comes apart should go back together, right? So I ordered a new belt kit, and waited. Sometimes eBay sellers are very prompt, and two days later the new belts arrived. I could hardly wait to begin the replacement effort, but I found a calm moment and commenced. As I’d hoped, by pushing one of the cogs slightly ajar out of its mooring, a small enough space was revealed to squish the main belt into place. It seemed to be flat and taut, once I had the other cogs in position. For some reason, the track counter drive didn’t seem to be playing ball, and I doubted whether I had that one installed correctly.

But I put the mechanism back into position and plugged the machine in to the mains. To my huge delight, the cassette spools twirled around, and the light bars on the front lit up showing that sound was emanating, or would be if I could make the connection right to the receiver and then on to the speakers. So I put the cover back on and proceeded to re-connect the deck into the home audiovisual system.

And sound did come out of the system! So hard to believe, and yet, it’s true. I do seem to have fixed the fault, and the cassette player actually works! As I’d thought, the track counter did not, but I could not care a jot about that. It was the music, of course, that I was after. The first thing we listened to, together, was the Millenium Concert we sang in, at Hexham Abbey with the Orpheus Choir, of Brahms’ Song of Destiny (Shicksalslied). The second half of the concert was Rossini’s Stabat Mater, another intense and moving sing. But to hear the concert again, some 23 years after we performed it, by the wonder of cassette technology, was a great joy.

Probably as much enhanced by my own delight in my accomplishment on the repair side, as by the pleasure of the reminiscence.

There’s still life in the old grey fox yet, then!

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