How Wiping erased a generation of Television & Radio

In the world of television and radio, few things have had the impact of wiping. Wiping is a process that was most commonly used by production and broadcasting companies, it involved erasing, recycling, and sometimes destroying tapes of audio and video. There are many reasons companies implemented this practice, and that is what we are going to take a deeper look into. 

Cost and Storage

Tape wiping was a practice done most commonly in the 1960s and 1970s but goes all the way back to the birth of television. The biggest known reason involves the cost of tape in that era. The cost of tape was much more expensive than it is now. Storing the episodes was also much more difficult. Early television broadcast performances live predominantly, as there wasn’t really a way to record it. It was also thought the content would have no historical value to it and that saving it would be a pointless exercise. 

Impact

The countries most commonly affected by the act of wiping were the United States & The United Kingdom. In the UK, there was no policy on archiving until 1978; Meaning much of 50 years’ worth of BBC content remains lost and is still being actively recovered by various organizations. In the US, nothing was prone to wiping like soap operas and game shows, which were the two most affected genres of television. When soap operas changed to videotaping in the 1960s, the cost of tape was still high at the time which kept them prone to wiping.

Some shows, however, could keep their episodes. Others, especially the ones produced by Procter & Gamble, remain lost. The Tonight Show also lost over a decade of episodes because of being taped over, along with several game shows; Some lost almost entirely such as the original run of Jeopardy!, Second Chance, The Big Showdown, Winning Streak, Snap Judgement. 

Aftermath

Tape wiping has had a tremendous impact on television history and over time the beliefs that no one wants to see the episodes in reruns or at all have turned out to be false. As vintage media has a cult fanbase and from time to time gains mainstream appeal. People like to see vintage television and any other material that either spawns from it. With media being much easier to record and store nowadays, things have been easier to discover further down the line. Much wiped material may never surface ever again, but we’re lucky to have what exists.

Paige S

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