The obsolete audio disk

November 14, 2021

A few months ago, I found my eyes transfixed upon well over 100 square cases which contained items I believe we call (or called) audio diskettes. As I recall, when they are placed in another device called a player, beautiful music comes forth from several speakers. Yes, I still have my player and speakers, and other ancient pieces of equipment which produce amazing sounds. Much to my chagrin, I have learned that the audio diskette is a thing of the past, a relic. What is also intriguing for those of us in the over-50 set is the fact that diskette is spelled with a “k,” but disc uses a “c.” I never realized the difference during the years when I placed these objects in the appropriate receptacles to enjoy all forms of great music.

To further date myself, allow me to reminisce about an object called a cassette tape, which also produced unbelievable sounds when inserted into its object which had been manufactured to reproduce the music or the prose which had been recorded unto the tape. As I recall, we could even transport the tape and player with a headset of sorts and walk with our music. Even the name of that device is obsolete now, given its gender reference as a “Walkman.” Lest we forget, the diskette also could be played on a device which could be attached to one’s belt. Let us push this musical envelope even further for those of you blessed with life and memory of a thing called the eight-track cassette. I recall I owned an aquamarine 1972 Dodge Charger which came with an eight-track cassette player installed on the dashboard. Dare I mention some of the recording artists whose works oozed forth from those ancient products – Kool and the Gang, Average White Band, Commodores. The eight-track technology is worthy of mention. The owner merely inserted the item into a slot, and voila, there was music. This was a relatively short-lived item, and for good reason as I recall, replaced by the aforementioned cassette tape. I remember the tape material being caught in the mechanism of the eight-track player, never to be found or retrieved. Yes, my readers, honesty forces me to admit that I am still in possession of some eight-track cassettes; the aquamarine vehicle is gone, though, sold to an extremely happy teenager at the time.

We have put to bed all the listening music reproduction units of the prior century, with one noticeably big exception. The vinyl disc was not actually called that; it was called a record. We all (well, most) remember that round flat black thing with a hole in the middle which could be run at three different speeds – 33-1/3, 45, 78 rpm. The numbers referred to the revolutions the disc made around a turntable in a minute in order to produce the desired sounds. The 45s even contained larger holes, and the rich kids could purchase a separate turntable. To extract music from this large, space saucer-like object, one needed a turntable and an arm which contained a needle. This could be a reason why we old folks are not that afraid of vaccines; there were needles of all types around us in the 1950s and ‘60s. The records which revolved at 78 rpm were the first in the original disc family, when Tony Bennett sang without Lady Gaga.

Let us return to our main source of music with which we entertained ourselves as individuals and in groups at parties. Most of us could not afford to purchase that many records, so we brought the ones we had to each party. In that way, there was a variety of music for listening and dancing, and thus an unknowing and beautiful exchange of cultures. All the music was public – there were no earpieces, no headsets, no secrets. We had heard the songs played on the radio with Cousin Brucie or Frankie Crocker, bought the few we could afford, and shared the records (called albums) with one another. Let us keep in mind, too, that there were at least 10-12 songs to an album, four of which may have been hits, as the large black disc turned at 33-1/3 rpm. There are many positive things which can be written about the way we ingested our music 50 years ago, and there are a few merchants who are currently making a go of the vinyl record business. I hope you still have your Beatles and Stones, Streisands and Warwicks, and maybe even try to enjoy those artists in their original formats!

  • Peter E. Carter is a former public school administrator who has served communities in three states as a principal, and district and county superintendent, for 35-plus years. He is a board member for Delaware Botanic Gardens and Cape Henlopen Educational Foundation, and the author of a dual autobiography, “A Black First…the Blackness Continues.”

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