Cassette Geek

The always informative WFMU’s Beware of the Blog led me to Project C-90, a Russian on-line museum of blank audiocassettes. FMU’s Kenzo says:

I didn’t THINK this would get me so excited, until I stumbled onto images like the one at the right, sending me back to forgotten early childhood memories of making little home radio shows on my portable tape recorder, taking apart and unravelling the cassettes, and marvelling over how quickly the audio quality deteriorated in such a distinct way.

Oh, yes, the same for me.

I still have a closet full of cassettes that I’ve winnowed down from an even larger stash. The pared down collection contains lots of stuff that’s hard to replace (like live shows, mix tapes, gift tapes, bootlegs and airchecks) and original pre-recorded cassettes of material that either isn’t easily obtainable in other formats or I don’t care to try and replace because the tape is good enough for me.

The 3M brand tape at right brings back memories because it’s the brand of tape we used at the university A/V facility where I’ve worked for the last 11 years. Until about 2000 when I took over the audio production area, our language lab only used analog equipment and distributed all programs on these 3M cassette tapes.

Every semester or so we would cycle through the tapes used in the old-school language lab and bulk-erase them. The old woman who had run the lab for the last twenty-plus years then just stashed them away, but eventually ran out of room. So I kindly offered to take them off her hands.

Then I became the tape-fairy with hundreds of used blank cassette tapes to bestow unto friends and colleagues. I used to dump 50 or so at a time at our community radio station’s production room for anyone to take or use and they would all disappear within a week’s time.

I made many a mix tape or tape for the car with the trusty old 3Ms. Many a lucky pal got albums taped onto them.

Unlike the Walgreen’s 3-for-a-dollar tapes these 3M wonders were built to last with reasonable fidelity, provided you weren’t expecting top-of-the-line TDK metal-tape performance.

I never recorded anything too critical on them, but often used them to record random audio bits for background and insertion into my late-night radio show. Those are the specimens that still remain in my archives.

Like many folks around my vintage, the lowly cassette retains some charm in the face of obsolescence and degradation. I do dust them off every so often and maintain several working cassette decks so that I can still listen. I even chose my most recently purchased mini-system, located in the kitchen, because it has a pretty decent cassette deck for this type of stereo.

Now that I’ve seen Project C-90, I’m kind of surprised that I’ve never seen a cassette gallery on the ‘net before. Deadhead tape collectors could be fanatical about tape types and brands, and debates about cassette quality and fidelity filled countless threads on Usenet.

Minidisc is a much newer and less profligate technology, and there are numerous galleries of blank MD media to be found.

Ah, but the MD-heads are children of the internet. How many of the diehard cassette enthusiasts do you reckon still refuse to let the internet infect and destroy their lives?