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Remember Cassette Tape – Long Time Workhorse

remember cassette tape

Radio broadcasters and music lovers remember cassette tape as a great solution to the awkward reel-to-reel analog recording technology. You may even still have some lying around.

Lou Ottens passed away earlier this month aged 94. We know him as the Dutch engineer who invented the audio cassette for Phillips in 1962. Lodewijk Frederik Ottens was also a radio guy during World War II, but I don’t think he ever got his ham license.

I remember cassette tape as a revolutionary technology for radio news reporters, starting in the late 1960’s.  Suddenly, it became possible for reporters to carry recorders everywhere and record anything with a click. Cassette recorders, especially some solid units from Sony (top right) became the go-to tools for news and sports guys overnight. Yes, there were some small, portable open-reel machines, but we found them to be much larger and quite ungainly for portable use.

With audio cassettes ranging in length from 60 to 120 minutes, we found it easy to do interviews or record live events in mono or stereo. We could prepare news clips using the pause lever. We could find material quickly using the mechanical counters. And most of our microphones contained a remote start-stop you worked with your thumb.

Ottens sought a cassette form factor that would fit into a shirt pocket, and used a small block of wood to remind himself of that goal. So, for twenty years during 1960’s to mid 1980’s, billions of cassettes showed up everywhere!

I also remember cassette tape as a data storage device for my Commodore 64 computer, shown mid-right above. Digital data was converted to audio tones, and we could save about 100 kB of data on a cassette. But mostly, it was about music, especially storing your vinyl for a portable playback device.

Remember Cassette Tape – How it Worked

Nothing fancy, just one-eight inch wide recording tape wound onto some spindles in a very small package. Depending on material thickness, you would find around 300 feet of tape in a cassette, with a standard speed of 1.875 inches per second. (Roughly half the width and speed of a low end open reel tape.)

Quality was good enough for music by the early 1970’s and certainly voice interviews. Reliability was pretty good, but occasionally a dirty machine would eat your tape.

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