Beyond the 8-track: A fascinating graveyard of forgotten music formats

[This was my column this week for GlobalNews.ca. – AC]

Sitting on a shelf in my home office is a collection of old electronic gadgets that were, in their day, state-of-the-art: a Sony Sport Cassette Walkman in bright yellow that’s guaranteed to be waterproof, a Motorola StarTAC flip phone that weighs close to a pound, an HD Radio still in its plastic packaging, a Seiko portable CD player, a Hitachi laptop with Windows 3.11 installed.

While they may still be in working condition — although I doubt the StarTAC could connect to anything anymore — they’re totally useless.

But I can’t bear to part with them. I have a soft spot for old, obsolete technology, especially the kind used to listen to music.

Most people are familiar with the standard progression of physical music formats. Wax cylinder gave way to the rotating discs of the phonograph and the gramophones, which eventually standardized into 10-inch, 78 RPM discs. Then came 33-1/3 long-playing albums, seven-inch 45 RPM singles, the eight-track, cassettes and the CD. We could also throw in reel-to-reel tapes, the MiniDisc and digital audio tape (DAT).

But this only scratches the surface of music devices that were marketed over the years. How many of these failures have you heard of?

Keep reading.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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