Return of the cassette tape

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Return of the cassette tape

 Kang Ki-heon
The author is an industry 1 team reporterof the JoongAng Ilbo.


The official name of cassette tape is the “compact cassette.” The cassette is the plastic cover protecting the magnetic plastic tape. Compact cassette refers to the smaller size of the cassettes compared to existing products when they first came out. The cassette tape was invented by Lou Ottens (1926-2021), who was in charge of product development at the Dutch company Philips. Ottens, who passed away earlier this month, said in an interview with Time magazine in 2013 that what he regretted the most as an engineer was Sony’s developing of the Walkman instead of Philips. In 1979, Sony introduced Walkman first and became a global brand.

The cassette tape was first presented at the Berlin Radio Show in 1963. It was a major breakthrough in the music storage medium market dominated by LPs and reel tapes. As big reel tapes were reduced to a portable size, the recording industry changed drastically. It is estimated that more than 100 billion cassette tapes were sold worldwide.

When CDs, with drastically improved sound quality, were introduced in 1982, the cassette tape faced a crisis. However, it could co-exist with CDs thanks to the portable size and affordable price. In Korea, cassette tapes had a heyday in the 1990s, leading the street charts. Mix tapes were a popular gift among friends and loved ones. But in the 2000s, as digital music on MP3 players dominated the market, cassette tapes and CDs gradually disappeared. Cassette tapes’ weakness — sounds slowed and lost quality after repeated use — was fatal.

Lately, the cassette tape is getting renewed attention. Along with LPs, they are riding on the retro trend. Last year, a band formed in a television variety show released new songs on cassette tapes. Thanks to the popularity, KT sold cassette tape players.

In politics, outdated cassette tapes are rolling again. Over the speculation allegations of the Korea Land and Housing Corp. employees, President Moon Jae-in championed the “eradication of deep-rooted vices” through the “candlelight spirit” once again. The tape of “eradicating past evils” has been on auto-play for the past four years and had little impact. Even the inventor of the cassette tape could not find a way to restore tapes that had lost quality.
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