November 2008

On Frogs and Cassette Decks

In "One Froggy Evening," a Warner Brothers cartoon from 1955, a construction worker demolishing a building finds a tin box hidden in the cornerstone. Out of it pops a singing and dancing frog, causing riches to float through the worker's head as he slinks away with his prize. But there's a catch: The frog will perform only for the man who found him, sitting flaccidly and croaking for everyone else. His life savings used for useless promotion, the worker slips the box and its contents back into the cornerstone of the new building, where it awaits its next unwitting owner.

Some of you may remember the "SS! Update" article I wrote on the Nakamichi cassette deck I found at a local Goodwill. To jog your memory, earlier this year, I happened on a Nakamichi 700ZXL cassette deck, along with its manual and a Nakamichi NR-100 outboard Dolby C noise-reduction unit, at my town's only Goodwill resale store. The 700ZXL cost $3000 new in the early 1980s, but my deck cost all $7.50 with accouterments. The deck needed some work, so I sent it to a technician, first for some diagnosis and an estimate of the cost of repairs, and then to have everything fixed.

There were a number of issues, none very serious. The technician, located across the country from me, replaced a pair of ICs and some burned-out lamps. The trickiest problem was with a relay that wouldn't activate consistently. Eventually, the fellow who did the work solved this problem too and realigned everything. "I don't think this deck has had much use," he told me after noting how good the heads looked. Hmmm. "You are going to be very pleased with the outcome." Double hmmm. I was anxious to get the 700ZXL back after five months in the shop, interested in taping some LPs. I had found some type IV/metal cassettes in the interim, so I was all set.

Well, as you can probably guess from the reference to "One Froggy Evening," there have been some problems with the deck following the repairs. None of these occurred because of shoddy work. Shipping was the cause. First, the deck was lost, and after more than a week it was delivered back to the technician who fixed it. Then, on the way to me, it was damaged in transit. It was double-boxed, wrapped in inches-thick bubblewrap and padded all around, but it took such a shot that the door was pushed inward, breaking the transport away internally and cracking the supports for the door. At this point, with it impossible to load a tape, the deck is DOA.

Of course, I shipped the deck with insurance, but I am bracing for the Battle of Reimbursement. I bought just enough coverage to pay for my losses, which are fortunately well short of my life savings. As the shipper, the technician has to initiate the claim, which he's said he'll do. The shipping company's reputation in such matters is to challenge every claim of damage. I suspect that they secretly hope people will buckle under the weight of their bureaucracy and simply give up.

I titled my first article about this cassette deck "As Luck Would Have It," but "One Buggy Cassette Deck" seems more appropriate right now. What is the moral of this story? I'm not sure there is one, other than that "big and eye-catching" pieces of audio gear, as I called the 700ZXL in my first article, are susceptible to shipping damage even if they're packed to withstand everything short of a six-foot fall onto concrete or a kick from steel-toed boot.

Unfortunately, it appears that this frog won't be singing for me or anyone else. In the spirit of "One Froggy Evening," maybe I'll donate it back to Goodwill, where it can await its next unwitting owner.

...Marc Mickelson