In Praise of the Cassette Tape (Not from Me, Mind You…)

I’m of the opinion that the cassette is an old, outdated, useless, hateful technology that being romanticized, nay, fetishized by a bunch of people who don’t remember what it was like to use these things when we had no other choice.  Yet this nonsense continues.

However, I am a fair person and willing to allow for equal time in any argument, no matter how wrong a person’s position may be. Here is an article actually praising cassettes. This is from David Lloyd’s Radio Moments blog. (I take no responsibility for the drivel you’re about to read.)

Kenny was unbelievably excited as a kid when he was given his second tape recorder as a gift.  Radio anoraks will understand how enjoyment was amplified manifold with a second machine. One machine meant you could record and play; two enabled you to copy and mix.

These were simple times. The Radio Times was printed on toilet paper; Morecambe and Wise ruled on the black and white telly; and Ed Stewart broadcast on Christmas mornings on medium wave from a magic carpet.  But most importantly, yes, these were the days of audio tape cassettes.  A devilishly clever transparent plastic box housing a plastic gubbins laced with mucky brown tape.

The sight of an audio cassette excites a generation even now. Would it be a C60, C90 or C120? The latter could accommodate an entire edition of the BBC’s Top 20 chart show, but it was frail and could die without warning. Would it be a bargain ASDA version, or a more resilient TDK, Agfa or Philips one. An old colleague reminds me he once interviewed the BASF Chairman, who was a little perturbed to find that his company, the largest chemical producer in the World, seemed best known for its cassettes.

The pause button on the cassette machine was a boon. It allowed we anoraks to record the bits in between records almost seamlessly, so we could assemble hours of ‘bits of radio’. A clip here, a favourite presenter there, spiced with a great jingle with the beginning cut off.

Playing through those cassettes now, it’s annoying to find the promise of a priceless piece of radio begin before it’s chopped off in its prime in favour of a jingle you’d already heard a million times.

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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.

One thought on “In Praise of the Cassette Tape (Not from Me, Mind You…)

  • January 5, 2016 at 1:25 pm
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    Well, I have to kind of agree with the guy. I loved making up my own mixes of favourite songs on cassettes, taped directly from the vinyl albums. The sound quality was good if you bought decent tapes. I always hated 8-track, and thought it was the stupidest format ever. With cassettes you could fit all the songs on, without them having to fade out and in midway through. I still have those little suitcases in my basement, filled with all my old mixtapes. That was what we had at the time, until the CD-R came along to replace it. Now I use those. I guess I am still old-fashioned.

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