History of the Cassette Tape
History of the Cassette Tape
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History of the Cassette Tape

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By Katy Sommerfeld

The cassette tape was one of the first technologies that allowed us to share music and recordings on a much wider scale. Today, we may think of cassette tapes as retro and vintage artifacts from funkier, groovier days; but this wonderful invention helped society progress to some of the best technologies that have ever come into existence. So let’s give it up for the cassette tape.


The Origins of the Cassette Tape: Who, What, When and Where?

The Cassette Tape, or Compact Cassette,  was first developed by the Philips company in 1962 in Belgium. Philips released the invention to Europe at the Berlin Radio Show on August 30, 1963; the invention was released in the United States in November of next year. Up until then, listening to music was largely vinyl based and not exactly on-the-go friendly. The cassette tape made it easy and convenient to take your favorite music with you.


The Compact Cassette holds two small spools inside its plastic exterior. These spools wind the magnetic-coated film and pass it from one side to the other. This magnetic film is where the audio content is stored and can be recorded on a cassette tape.

 

So What Was All The Buzz About?

The Compact Cassette was so revolutionary because it gave anyone the ability to record tracks of audio by themselves. Before the Compact Cassette, reel-to-reel audio technology was difficult to use - not to mention bulky - and required training, which left its use mostly to professionals in radio. When the cassette tape came on the scene, it was revolutionary for this reason. Not only were your favorite audio tracks available, but you could create your own mixtape to give to a friend or a sweetheart. It was the ultimate act of love because it took time to plan the playlist and record the tracks. There wasn’t simply an “add to playlist” button like we have today.


When Sony’s Walkman came onto the scene, this made Philips’ cassette tape success skyrocket. The Walkman gave people of all ages the ability to listen to their favorite music on the go - no more waiting for the car or for your stereo at home. People could now go about their everyday routine pumping a daily soundtrack into their ears. These two inventions went hand in hand … or make that hand in ear.


Time Brings Newer and Better Things

The Compact Cassette really hit its peak in the 1980’s, but was quickly surpassed in the 90’s by compact disc (CD) sales. By the early 2000’s, cassette tapes had become almost nonexistent, with more album releases occurring solely on vinyl or CD. Similar to how the VHS tape went the wayside to the much more sophisticated DVD.


Today, we are witnessing a slight comeback of the cassette tape. Whether it’s a hipster thing or a nostalgia thing, cassette tapes are making a small comeback. Even some of the biggest artists in the industry are releasing albums on cassette, along with the usual formats of CD and vinyl. The popular clothing store Urban Outfitters stocks cassette tapes on its shelves for customers to browse and buy, just like in the 1980’s. It may not have the same following or allure as vinyl, but it’s on a small rise. Although we are seeing the trend coming back, the revival is miniscule and will probably not gain as much monetary value as other more popular audio formats. The Compact Cassette was a revolutionary technology that allowed us to record in our own homes and, paired with the walkman, allowed us to take music on the go – whenever, wherever. But just like everything else in history, it had its time, and now it lives in the past as a memory that gives us nostalgia for big hair and leg warmers.


Do you have cassette tapes at home that are just sitting around? Perhaps, old mixtapes from past loves? Let Legacybox digitize them for you! Legacyabox offers digitization for audio formats as well as video and print.

Let them take care of your memories and create lasting, digital versions for you to keep in your family for years to come.

bulk photo scanning offer 

Fun facts about cassette tapes

Cassettes were so revolutionary for their time that it’s only fitting that the technology has a laundry list of fun facts.

 

  • The original purpose of the compact cassette tape was for dictation, not music.
  • Over the cassette’s lifespan from 1963 to 1988, more than 3 billion tapes were sold.
  • The lifespan of the magnetic tape inside an audio cassette is approximately 10-30 years. Which is why digitization is so important.
  • SFX Cassette was the first music magazine to exist not on paper, but solely on tape.
  • The cassette tape is largely responsible for the live bootleg boom in the 80s.
  • Sony stopped production of its infamous Walkman in 2010.
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