Cassette tape nostalgia. Rewind.

Cassette History - photo

Living in New York in the 80’s I spent a good amount of time recording the local radio onto cassette tapes. Classic rap shows like DJ Red Alert’s Rap Attack on Kiss FM and DJ Marley Marl on 103.5 WBLS. I also grabbed freestyle hits like When I Hear Music by Debbie Deb and Silent Morning by Noel. As my music taste broadened I discovered I could pick up a faint signal from a alternative Long Island Radio Station WLIR and recorded Depeche Mode, New Order and other new wave masterpieces.Ghettoblaster

I had a giant Conion boombox I bought at the Spring Valley flea market. It was the size of a car door! It had a double cassette deck, turntable inputs, an alarm and the above said FM tuner. If you want to see how big these boomboxes really were check out this YouTube video.

One of my favorite pastimes was making mix tapes for my friends and the car. Heading over to Tower or Sam Goody to pick up a 10 pack of blank Maxxell XLS-II 90s was a weekly journey. I miss opening the plastic wrapping and cracking open a clean new cassette. Each mix needed a unique name. It took special handwriting skill to write the track list super small and neatly on the paper inlay. Next one would apply two rectangle stickers with the name of the mix onto the cassette itself (one on each side). Finally I would snap out two little plastic squares on top of the cassette. This was a record protect system. In an emergency you could tape back over the hole where you snapped out the plastic and record onto the tape again.

Cassettes in a row - photoI have a few thousand of these cassettes in storage. Before they deteriorate I plan on taking photos of each one and making them all digital. I’m going to leave the tape hiss. It’s going to be a kick hearing 80s radio commericals like “Crazy Eddie! His prices are insane!” Those of you who live in the New York area will know what I mean. If you have cassettes but no machine to play them in not to worry because Tascam still makes new ones.

There were over a hundred cassette manufacturers. Two great websites have galleries of blank cassettes. Warning: this is extremely nostalgic. Tapedeck.org is slick and has been featured in many hip lifestyle magazines. 365.com has large user generated archive of blank cassettes.

But cassettes were useless without boomboxes and the Sony Walkman. The great website pocketcalculatorshow.com has a fantasic journey into the boombox era and a great homage to the Sony Walkman.

What if you made a mix today? Add a customized cassette album cover to the mp3! Head over to says-it.com/cassette, pick a cassette style, input the name of your mix and it gives you an image free to use as you like.

wire to the ear - mixtape

Lastly before you head back into the future Wikipedia’s entry on the cassette is worth a look. Did you know cassette is the French word meaning “little box”?

photo credit: Dead Air, Joseph Robertson, and chaos.nt

11 Comments

  1. Dude… Cracking open brand new tapes was the best. Even better was the sound it made when you inserted the tape and closed the compartment. Stacking tapes was fun too. Remeber those 100+ cassette holders. It was like a mini-wall of cassettes. Totally awesome.

    Then they made those clear cassettes available – like the ones they used for pro cassettes. Damn! Mix tapes were the shit. Mix CDs just don’t seem to have that effort and love. They feel cold and aggressive. Whereas you knew that mixtape took a minute to record and duplicate, even on HIGH-SPEED DUB!

    Reply

  2. Taping Kool DJ Red Alert on my ol’ Crown double decker is where it all started. Frankie Bones tapes ….I had alot of em..they were mostly red and alot of em broke, I’d do anything to get my hands on his freebie mixtape you got when you bought your tickets to “Beleive” back in ’96, anyone got one copy it and hit me up.

    Reply

  3. In January I will visit NY and my storage space. I will bring back a bunch of cassettes and a deck. I’m sure people out there still have some classic Frankie Bones mixes. He’s very active on MySpace. I bet you could find some download links hidden on one of his pages or with a fan of his.

    Reply

  4. I recall taping CDs and albums, and the care that went into it. Lotsa guys would record them too hot, or too low. I always thought that chrome tapes recorded with Dolby B sounded great if they were pushed just a little hot– around 3 db peaked. Back in those days, if you had a really good chrome tape you better not forget about it, and leave it in a buddy’s car. That might be the last you ever saw of it. We didn’t record mix tapes all that much. We taped albums and CDs. There was that one moment in time when some dudes had CD decks, and we played the tapes we made from CDs in our cars. If somebody had a brand new CD? All his buddies wanted tapes of it. And not tapes made from a tape. Some guys were cheap and never bought the chrome or metal, but I bought both and they sound great even now. Still remember that TDK SA-X chrome tape as having low noise and great treble. I taped an Elton John Greatest Hits on one of those, and I recall being amazed at how great it sounded on a good car system. I had that Van Halen 5150 on a Maxell metal tape, and it was fabulous. Some guys wouldn’t use dolby, but it always worked fine for me. Thanks for a great website!

    Reply

    1. That reminds me how sometimes I would tape over and old tape… I totally forgot about that. Music definitely had more worth back then. Even if I could dub a cassette at 2x sometimes I would do it at 1x so I can listen as it records.

      Reply

  5. Yeah, I hear ya Oliver. We rarely did tape to tape dubbing down South where I live, and I rarely taped over something. Usually, whatever I taped was recorded onto virgin tape and left that way. My friends and I taped albums up till about 1985 or so, and CDs until car CD players got reasonable. Never forget the first time I heard a TDK SA-X playing some Elton John taped from a CD player. I’d never heard music so pure, as it had no album pops. SA-X had very low tape hiss as well. You could play it on jam boxes without noise reduction and it still sounded great. You guys should check out the youtube videos on cassettes; there’s a whole group of nostalgia fans who collect decks and tapes. I bought some guy’s entire cassette collection for 20 bucks or so recently; all his stuff was on chrome tapes made from albums. They sound great. He didn’t use noise reduction, and didn’t tape them quite as loud as I would have, but his choice of music was fabulous. Lotsa old rock and blues– straight from the 70s and 80s. I got a pristine Denon deck at a thrift store for 20 bucks, and built a system in my dining room. Listen to cassettes every day!

    Reply

  6. I made a little video (with my Nikon Coolpix camera) for you guys! It shows the part of my cassette collection which I bought from another guy; he had two cases of old rock and blues taped on chrome cassettes. I think I paid like 25 bucks for it. All of it was taped from albums and dates from the early 1980s. Watch the video and see if you like it!

    http://www.motionbox.com/videos/0096d1b7191de2c28f

    Reply

    1. Thats a great video! Thanks for creating and posting it. Cool “ladder” system too!

      Reply

  7. I had a hobby as a child recording off the Fm Radio Stations from WBLS,
    Kiss FM, WDRE, WLIR, Z100, 89.1 The Perfect Beat, Friday Night Express and other Radio Stations in Boston Mass, Heilbronn Germany and Ft Benning Goergia

    For me it was a must to record every time of beat and mixes and I started late in ’77 when I was only 14 years old. I stop recording back in 2006, and started to download Mp3 Track due to the space that I could save on my desktop vs cassettes that I recorded on all 25,000 of them that took a lot of space in my Studio Apt here in NYC. One day in 2004 I did some surfing online to find out how to digitize all of my cassettes and put all of them on a Mini Disc and play them where ever I go…with cassettes the quality would lose it’s sound quality are 10 play backs. Mean while with the Mini Disc was another wall in front of me, because like cassettes they also take space in my apartment. By accident when I was looking on line to how to rip all of my MD files from my Mini Disc and cut or slice every track to Cassette tracks like I once had on cassettes. So to make along story short, I then started to rip all of my MD’S and make every track a Cassette track and believe it was time consuming and worth it. Today I have over 1700 Cassette Tracks that are digitized as MPEG Audio file and I can store all of them on my Laptop top which do not tack a lot of space and the sound quality is close to MP3 but is is good for me. While listen to my Cassette Tracks that I successfully digitized from 1979 to 2006, I notice 75 percent of the tracks that I recoded from the FM Radio Stations (Remixed Vers or Radio Edit) you can’t find these tracks any where. I have them and would love to share it with those who love music from back in the day.

    Reply

  8. If like me you still play around with Nakamichis and Revoxes et al come and join us at http://www.tapeheads.net

    Reply

  9. I’m looking for a software app that behaves like an old cassette player with RW,FF etc. As a long time musician I miss being able to rewind or fast forward recordings by increments for the purpose of learning new songs or riffs.If you’ve heard of anything that fits the bill I would appreciate it.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>