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The Death of an Era – the Portable Cassette Recorder


The era in question of course died years ago but as I’m having my “Autumnal Spring Clean” as colleague Simon put it… after many years of taking this item off the shelf, cleaning it and putting it back there, it’s finally going in the bin, leaving only a photo on the web in remembrance.

It’s not that there is anything wrong with this Panasonic stereo radio and stereo tape cassette recorder, capable of recording straight off the radio onto tape. It’s not even as if it looks terrible. It’s in good condition and not THAT ancient looking. I’ve ensured over the years that it remains fully functional and dent-free.

It’s more to do with the fact that I’ve not had a cassette tape in the house for years – my wife through out my collection of tapes, lovingly created over many years complete with Dymo labels and one album per side, storing my tastes in music from “Spooky Tooth” and “Black Sabbath” going back as far as the time when the Philips cassette took off… which incidentally was shortly after I won the Philips competition for the best new name for the device and came up with “musicassette” – which netted me the first Philips portable cassette player and a boatload of albums I  may add. She threw them out – because they were simply gathering dust with no hope of ever being used again (and contrary to what you might hear, cassette tapes most DEFINITELY degrade while sitting doing nothing)!

Not only do I not have any tapes but I cannot imagine why I’d go out and buy one. With the likes of Spotify on the web I can listen to any track I want to including most of the oldies.. at considerably better quality than I had on the tape… and if I want to do that on the road I can put the lot on a memory stick which is 20th the size of this Panasonic unit all without any loss of quality.

What’s sad is the amount of space in my brain devoted to a complete understanding of the operation of these antiquated devices, an understanding that would still defeat the average teenager of today, however, it’s totally useless!! Of what use is knowing the struggle manufacturers had to get the head gap down to less than a micron to get hi-fi out of a media that was never intended to be hi-fi, or the variation of bias-recording techniques used to stay in the magnetic linear region to defeat the 3 main basic issues with tape – distortion, noise and saturation. I followed developments from the old reel-to-reel Ferrographs, through the Sony (ferrite and ferrite) and Akai (glass-crystal heads), dual locked capstan…. I could rant about the various technologies for a week… and given a bunch of components could probably create something from scratch. But why bother, with 2 terrabyte drives as cheap as chips and enough storage for millions of tracks… why on earth would anyone want a tape recorder.

But it’s all permanently useless, we’ll never need this again any more than we’ll ever need DOS (typical start of the bios off the top of my head included jumps for cold start, warm start, keyboard check, keyboard input, screen out etc etc….) tons and tons of now totally defunct information.

Perhaps in the future we’ll be able to get out brains wiped to make way for new information… seems such a waste – hardly in the same league as childhood memories of sweethearts and winning the bowling…

Meanwhile, the bin today is just that bit heavier…. a sad occasion. The good news is I got 4 rechargeable batteries out of the deal.




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