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The properties of a magnetic tape recorder are viewed in terms of a digital magnetic recording/playback channel which exhibits fading (reduction of playback-signal level) and nonlinear behavior. A method is presented whereby channel nonlinearity may be quantified in a format useful for signal and receiver design. Measurements show this nonlinearity to be relatively small for symmetric two-level signals. Deep fades (dropouts) are the most significant source of errors in digital tape recordings. Fading is considered as multiplicative noise on an essentially linear channel, and measurements are made of the fade probability distribution and an associated additional time dispersion. While the fading process appears to occur relatively slowly (compared with the bit period), neither its probability distribution nor its associated dispersion encourage the use of a receiver which is able to adapt to the changing channel characteristics. Finally an attempt is made to ascribe the fading process to repeatable variations in head-tape separation, and a corresponding probability distribution for this separation is obtained. A helical-scan video recorder was used throughout the measurements because of its low cost and its potential as a high-density storage facility.