The Radio Corporation of America introduced a device in 1958 that changed the consumption of home music; the RCA tape cartridge. Before the tape cartridge came into the scene, people were using the magnetic tape which according to the experience of many was not a realistic option for home use. This is because magnetic tapes were used on reel to reel players which were relatively complicated for consumers compared to record players.

The RCA tape cartridge introduced the possibility of encoding 60 minutes of high quality audio for home listening. However, despite this breakthrough, these tapes disappeared from shelves by 1964 because their sales dipped as a result of hesitance on the part of hi-fi enthusiast and retailers to adopt this technology.

The 8-Track Tape

Screenshot 2016-06-27 at 1.43.08 PMLater, a number of competing systems came into the market in an attempt to gain dominance through magnetic tapes, but this was not possible up until 1964 when the 8-track tape was developed. This tape was an improvement of the 4-track tape done by Bill Lear of Lear Jet Corporation together with representatives from General Motors, Ford, Ampex, RCA, and Motorola. The 4-track tape was also an improvement of the 3-track model.

8-track players were then integrated in cars in the 60s and 70s making this format the most dominant of the day despite its 46 minute play time. Towards the end of the 60s, all cars manufactured by Ford had 8-track players fitted in them as an upgrade and this contributed significantly to the release of hundreds of tapes. The Lear tape dominated the market, but the 8-track tape still remained an iconic music storage method.

Compact Cassette Tapes

In the early 1970s, Phillips came up with compact cassette tapes which had a capacity to carry high fidelity musical content. These tapes rose to domination very fast with the demand in the automobile music market reaching record highs. They were small in size, an attribute that favored them because smaller tape decks in homes and cars were preferred to the large ones. Even solders fighting in Vietnam grow fond of these tape decks because of their size and portability.

When manufacturers started making smaller and more portable tape decks, he Phillips cassette had its place in music cemented. Portable stereos became a common scene as people found them more feasible than those that were in existence during the times when the 8-track was the standard format.

The Impact of the Walkman

In 1979, Sony came up with the Walkman which is considered an innovation more important than the cassette. These gadgets which were in essence tiny portable stereo tape players deepened the acceptance of tapes among the music listening public. They brought a personal touch to music. Originally released as the Stowaway in the UK, the Sound-About in the US and the Freestyle in Sweden, the Walkman changed how people consumed music. They were no longer tied to large home record players or portable tape decks, but rather listeners could easily carry their music along with them irrespective of where they went. Since the first Walkman came with two headphone jacks, you could enjoy music with a friend.

For the first time, cassettes outsold vinyl in 1983 because of the popularity of the Walkman and other devices similar to it that had been developed by manufacturers. With continuous innovation, AM/FM radios came into the scene as well as rechargeable batteries, bass boost, and auto reverse all of which enhanced the utility of the Walkman. To prove that the Walkman name was indeed an iconic development, it is still in use on a range of devices today amongst them cassette players, CD players, and video MP3 players.