Mixed Tapes

When I mention mixed tapes, any readers over thirty know what I’m talking about. Those of you 29 and younger, besides being chronologically blessed, are wondering what the heck a mixed tape is. For those, like me, less chronologically blessed, allow me to take you on a journey down memory lane.

My father had has a reel-to-reel in his stereo system dating back to the 70’s. Believe it or not, the thing still works. Back before dual tape decks, which were before CD players, which were before MP3 players, which were before iTunes, a reel-to-reel was the only way to make your own mix of music. If you know what a cassette tape looks like, where the spool of tape feeds from one of the little rotating wheels to the other, you know what a reel-to-reel looks like, except the reel-to-reel is much larger.You literally thread the tape from one reel to the other, and two enormous wheels rotate, so that the tape unloads from one reel and loads onto the other. Between the two reels is the magic mechanism that reads the tape as it threads past, turning whatever data can be found on that thin film stuff into an audio signal, which comes out of your speakers as music.

Dual tape decks were eventually invented, and you could make your own mixed tape by playing one song at a time on the “play” deck, while recording it onto a new cassette on the “record” deck. But my father’s stereo only has a single tape deck. So in order to make his own custom music mix, he had to record from the tape deck to the reel-to-reel, then play the whole recording back from the the reel-to-reel to the same tape deck, which was at that point loaded with a blank cassette tape.

Remember those Maxell ads with the dude in the chair, the wind from his speakers blowing past him and his dog, so that they had to hold on for dear life?

These days, making your own custom mix of music is as easy as clicking “Add to Playlist” in YouTube or clicking-and-dragging songs into your iTunes playlist folders. But back in the day, geeks who ended up engineers in their grown-up lives had music mixing down to a science. I used to plan out my entire 60-, 90-, or 100-minute tape, back and front, to the SECOND, before I hit “record”. Because once a cassette tape reached the end, it flipped automatically and played the other side. If you didn’t plan it right, your last song would end right smack in the middle, or else you would have 60+ seconds of blank space at the end before your tape flipped over. Who wants to listen to silence for 60+ seconds?

In this age of instant gratification, nobody can imagine 60+ seconds of silence on his iPod. But back when I made mixed tapes, most people were lazy about it. Try inflicting half of a Bieber tune on your teenager now. Times have changed.

One thought on “Mixed Tapes”

  1. From “the Father” – FYI, the reel-to-reel could play three hours of music in each direction. It was the real party-pleaser with six hours of music variety. Cheers!

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