50 Years of Cassette Tapes – Fahmida Mehreen
Life today is engulfed in boundless forms of technology. Amidst all the fascinating creations, cassette tape is one of the most notable ones that had brought a revolution in the history of recording. Today, we perceive it as a rectangular device with a black magnetic strip encircled around two hollows, and it is usually found piled up in our store room or on the shelves of our grandparents’ room. But behind all these, lies the noteworthy history of this archaic rectangular device.
In August 1963, the first cassette tape, also known as compact cassette was invented by Lou Ottens. The product was developed for Philips in Europe. Followed by this, it was marketed by Norelco in USA. In an interview published by the Time Magazine, Ottens says, “It was a big surprise for the market. It was so small in comparison with reel-to-reel recorders that it was at that moment a sensation.” Gradually, as prices went down it became more and more popular among the teen population. With the growing popularity, engineer Ray Dolby worked to triumph over its paucities. He used his hiss reduction technology and came up with the advanced versions which materialized in pro and reel-to-reel recorders between 1968 and1969. But this was just the beginning.
Over time, music recording became trendy like never before. In case of pre-recorded cassettes, sales had outdone 8-tracks in the mid-1970s, and further overtook LPs in early 1980s. On the other hand, the 90-minutes blank tapes became extremely popular for home usage since it had the capacity to record 2 complete music albums. By late 1970s more powerful and superior players or better called as “boomboxes” started to evolve. After the tremendous success of home VCRs Sony Corporation marketed its Walkman, a battery-operated radio and tape players in 1978. Listening to music just needed a press of a button!
First Compact Cassette
Nevertheless, progress and innovation in technology is persistent. Nothing lasts forever. Soon after the emergence of Betamax VCRs that used the video technology alike digital audio recordings; Philips, Sony, and other makers of recording devices started to work on recording TV signals on a reflective disc with the aid of laser. Analog laser video discs were launched in 1973 and compact audio discs were launched in 1983. The worldwide sale of blank cassettes in 1996 was 2.098 billion pieces which decreased by 4.5% to 2.003 billion in 1997. By the end of 1999, CDs started to become well-liked for homely uses. Primarily, recorded CDs were not extensively available, but by 2000 it was offered to mass population. Once again, recording of music experienced a revolution and leaped forward. But, with the uprising of CDs the significance of cassettes went down.
In the later years, more dynamic innovations like the digital video discs (DVDs) in 1995, mp3 players in 1999, and iPod in 2001 have completely driven out cassette tapes. With improved and ingenious configurations, the new recording appliances have made cassette tapes obsolete. Nowadays, many youngsters consider this, once a fashionable device, as an antique.
In August 2013, cassette tape had stepped into 50 years. It may not be as functional as the latest sophisticated recording players and gadgets but it is still intact in its purpose. After 5 decades of its invention, I, being someone who has seen its utility during my early days of life, can say with my head up that it has never let us down. It is us, who chose to look beyond it.