This is a story about retro-tech. My 10-year-old calls it vintage.
We all know vinyl is making a comeback. I’m not talking about car seats, and that’s a good thing. When I was a kid, we had an '80s Caprice Classic station wagon with maroon vinyl seats, and they could tear your skin off if you wore shorts on a hot day. But that’s not the point of this story. Neither, for that matter, is vinyl.
Yes, music fans have been rediscovering records, albums, you know… the spinning disks on the turntable, for quite some time. This story is about the tech we got between records and CD’s. Apparently, some people are dusting of cassette tapes.
We got thinking down this path because of a story our E.W. Scripps station in Kansas City did recently. They visited a company that will soon be the last place on earth manufacturing the tape that goes inside cassettes. The place is called National Audio. They are already cranking out thousands of cassettes and will soon be making the physical tape in house.
Some of the cassettes they produce feature new music from small bands. Others are actually big companies and labels still producing small batches of cassettes for contemporary releases.
A few of us here at TODAY'S TMJ4 started calling around to local record shops. For the millennials reading this who haven’t yet gone retro, you used to have to go to a store to buy music. The big ones we visited in the mall went out of business with the advent of digital downloading. Now small, independent shops fill the niche. Anyway, we were surprised to learn at least a couple shops are selling cassette tapes again.
Photojournalist Tamott Wolverton just joined our team, and he was INTO this story. I set up a visit to Bullseye Records on the East Side, and Tamott didn’t want to wait for me. He headed out there early to check the place out, and to meet up with Terry Hackbarth, who was running things that day.
Terry is exactly the guy you would expect and want to be behind the counter at a record store. Looks the part, knowledgeable about music and its various media, and completely, totally chill.
While Bullseye has thousands of records, it has maybe a couple hundred cassettes. Still, the fact that they have any seemed remarkable to me. Who’s buying these?
Here’s Terry on that question, “Cassette tapes, it seems like, kind of two different cross-sections of people. Either it’s kids, high school or college, who are driving old cars that have cassette decks and don’t want to listen to the radio.”
Quick interjection… those are some old cars.
Back to Terry, “So, it’s a cheap way to play music in the car. Some people, I think, it’s a nostalgic thing. You know. Finding their old tapes again, and pulling out the tape deck like they did with turntables in the last ten years or so.”
Wish I knew. Like just last year I finally threw out all my tapes that had survived earlier purges. A couple of '80s soundtracks… Batman featuring Prince, and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Some staples, like Bon Jovi, U2, Pearl Jam and for me The Black Crowes. Bob Dylan, “Blood on the Tracks.” Oh, and explicit lyrics rap albums, Easy E, Ghetto Boys, Ice-T (before he was an actor).
I know. What can I say, I was an enlightened white kid growing up in Wauwatosa.
But the prized items I regret having tossed are the mixtapes. Mixes made by me. Mixes made for me. Some upbeat, some heavy, some sappy. And here’s the thing about the mixtape, right? You had to actually listen to every song while putting it together. You didn’t drag and drop into a playlist. You organized, and strategized. The order and flow so important. There is no shuffle on the tape player.
Well, if you’re not fool like me and you’ve still got some tapes… might want to break them out. Apparently they’re back in, or at the very least, Terry will buy them from you for a few bucks at Bullseye. It’s worth it. Whether it’s a trip down memory lane, or your first time… there’s something special about touching the music before you listen… and not on an LCD screen.
Check out the video Tamott put together and enjoy.