I look back at cassette tapes a lot like I do my time in braces. I can see the necessity, I can see why it made life better at the time, and I can see the lasting impact that it made in my overall quality of life. That being said, I would never go back to those times again if you paid me.
Cassettes, like braces, were a really awesome development at the time for a few reasons, but they certainly had their drawbacks too.
First, they made buying new music really affordable. You could get a new tape for around $5.00. More importantly, they made music portable. Cassettes opened up the possibilities of music in your car, at home, while you were walking down the street--basically everywhere.
But they certainly had their quirks.
Personally, I hated the inconvenience of having to rewind my tapes. I don’t want to know how many hours I lost off of my life by waiting for my favorite Coolio album to get back to the start. Second, it was basically impossible to jump straight forward or back to your favorite song. Lastly, the tape could mess up sometimes, and you’d have to stick your finger in the spool and get the little cellophane strip wound back up. Annoying.
While tapes were a bit agitating, they were very popular for a good few years. Here’s the lowdown of those little plastic tapes’ history that I love to hate so much.
A Belgian company named Phillips (sound familiar?) invents cassette tapes and reveals them to the world in Europe. Initially they carry the names: Compact Cassettes, Compact Audio Cassettes, or Musicasettes (cute!).
Cassettes first arrive in the USA. At the same time, Philips releases a home-recording machine for tapes. Sony also bullies Phillips into licensing them the technology for free.
The first pre-recorded music cassettes hit the market. Initially consisting of 49 titles, this was the first step in creating truly portable music.
Boomboxes become all the rage. An entire culture of street dancing blooms from this completely portable music device. Cities are changed forever.
The first Walkman is released to the public. Manufactured by Sony, this light and portable box included headphones and hours of jams. Where boomboxes made music-on-the-move possible, the Walkman made it personal.
Cassettes finally overtake vinyl LPs as the music medium of choice for home consumers. This supremacy wouldn’t last long.
CD players overtake tape players in total sales. At basically the exact same time, CD sales start eclipsing tape sales, leaving cassettes to start wasting away, unused, on shelves all across the world.
Most major companies decide that it’s not worth it anymore to sell pre-recorded cassette tapes and cease production. Blank tapes are still available.
The last car with a cassette player built-in is sold. After this, it was all CDs, which would eventually also fall out of favor for a USB port.
The Oxford dictionary removes cassette player from its pages, probably signaling the end of an era. RIP cassettes.
That’s basically it. Tapes lived a charmed, 40ish year life. I think we can all appreciate that. And for those of you who can't seem to part with the memories on your old cassette tapes, there's good news. KODAK Digitizing Box can digitize your tapes and other audio devices so that your precious 80s albums, first love mixtapes, and garage band home recordings don’t fade away with time.