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Cassettes, Etc.

Our home streaming through an array of channels and platforms was foreshadowed in 1970s innovations.

by Vince Farinaccio

The text about home entertainment reads: “The possibilities are endless, the limits nowhere in sight.” “On a weekday night the network fare is uninviting. You turn on the [TV] set and watch a first-run movie instead,” allowing television “to appeal to a wide diversity of tastes and needs.”

These quotes sound like an apt summary of the streaming possibilities we enjoy at home through a variety of channels and platforms that cater to our interests. But they’re actually from a 50-year old Philadelphia Inquirer supplement, an “Audio-Video Guide” focused on the “Cassette Explosion” taking place in 1971.

Two articles in the supplement serve as a sort of harbinger of the video revolution that was still a decade and a half away from entering our living rooms. Their predictions had videocassettes and video players taking their place in homes sometime in the 1970s, largely because CBS had already introduced the Electronic Recording System and RCA had SelectaVision on the market.

Home video was already seen as a viable format by everyone from manufacturers of the equipment to Hollywood studios. But no one could foresee the video wars that would pit the Sony Beta format against JVC’s VHS system. By time the dust cleared in the 1980s, Beta was the runner-up and VHS entered households in the form of pre-recorded videos and recordable cassettes.

But in 1971, the promise of such variety had been previously unimaginable. “The cassette, in conjunction with the multi-channel capacity of cable television, threatens to usurp the power of programming, and hence, control of the medium from the networks,” one of the articles declares. Streaming aside, it’s not a bad five-decades-old prediction.

Cassettes were one of two new formats at the time, the other being cartridges, and both entered the world originally carrying music. The 8-track cartridge and their players were initially designed for cars, freeing travelers from the playlists of radio stations. Music cassettes followed and advanced the portability of the cartridge with the introduction of Sony’s battery-powered Cassette-Corders.

Ads contained in the Inquirer supplement reveal that TDK blank cassette tapes could be purchased from $2.19 to $3.99 depending on how many minutes you desired. Meanwhile, pre-recorded tapes were priced higher than vinyl albums. One ad states that any album by the band Mountain could be purchased that month for $2.99 while the 8-track and cassette versions were each priced at $4.49.

An ad for the long-defunct Korvettes discount department-store chain offered cassette and cartridge sale prices at $4.88 and $5.78, while LPs like John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band was discounted to $3.38 and George Harrison’s triple-disc All Things Must Pass was selling for $6.76. Today, new vinyl editions of these albums released over the past six months carry a list price of $24 and $65, respectively.

On the subject of vinyl, the supplement offers an article about RCA’s newly introduced Dynaflex album, a bendable entity described as “lighter by one-third than most LP discs.” It’s doubtful many people remember this design, but with sturdier 180-gram vinyl now the norm, it’s not surprising Dynaflex quickly went the way of obsolescence.

Of particular interest is an interview with a virtually unknown David Bowie conducted at an undisclosed New Jersey motel where he was forced to lodge because Philadelphia hotels were completely booked with conventions. Bowie was promoting his album The Man Who Sold the World. In three years, he would be much better known and guaranteed a place to stay in Philadelphia while recording David Live at the Tower Theater and Young Americans at Sigma Sound Studios.

And an ad for Almo Electronics Corporation, celebrating its stores’ new tape department with discounts on 8-tracks and cassettes, mentions locations in Mt. Ephraim and Norristown as well as its Vineland store at 219 Landis Avenue.

Jersey Reflections