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.
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.
I 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.
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.
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”?