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This entry is why I decided to do this crazy gallery in the first place. Apparently, <a href="http://klout.com/#/jperlow/
topics">Klout believes</a> I am an authority on VCRs.
Ah, the Video Cassette Recorder (VCR). How quaint. Today, we have Digital Video Recorders such as the TiVO and streaming media services like Hulu or Netflix, or even pay-per-view on-demand content like iTunes or Amazon Video if we want to time-shift our TV viewing.
But back in the day (that being the late 1970's when VCRs first came to market and up until the late 90s when the very first DVRs were introduced) if you wanted to watch a TV program when it wasn't showing live when it was on the air, you had to use one of these clunky things, which used large magnetic-based tape cassettes.
There were originally two VCR standards, VHS and Beta. Due to a number
of factors, the primary one being cost, the VHS standard that was developed by JVC won the consumer war. The higher-quality and arguably superior Beta, which was developed by Sony, was relegated to use in professional/broadcast quality video cameras.
Most people used 120 minute cassettes, so in their native recording capacity they were good for maybe one feature length movie or perhaps two 1-hour TV shows, since you had to record the commercials as well. However, VCRs had the ability to double the recording time at the expense of video quality using what was referred to as EP/SLP mode.
Unlike modern digital storage, over the years and successive viewings the tapes themselves would deteriorate and so would the video quality.
Unlike DVRs which allow the user to quickly fast forward through a recorded program, and allow random access to any number of recorded programs on the system, VCRs were sequential storage devices so if you had a program towards the end of the tape, it could take a couple of minutes before you get to view what you wanted.
So if you liked to collect movies and TV programs, you had to be well-organized and write down on the cassette box what you were recording and at what time index on the tape they were recording at. VCRs were also incredibly difficult to program compared to today's DVRs, and frustrated enough people that they never even set the clocks on them properly, so that they would perpetually blink "12:00".
Many people didn't actually use their VCRs for recording movies -- they simply went to the video store such as Blockbuster (yet another cultural anachronism) and rented a tape, which you had to return within a certain specified period (usually 24 or 48 hours) or face fines.
Many independently-owned video stores even had special back rooms for
Adult/Porn titles, which inevitably resulted in a certain skeeve factor and a certain level of embarrassment if someone you knew saw you walking in to browse the porn section. You could also buy movies on VHS tape, but in the early years before mass adoption, they were crazy expensive, in the $40-$50 range.
For the movie rental industry, VHS tapes were eventually replaced by DVDs. However video rental stores went the way of the dodo bird due to an inability to compete with pay-per view subscriber TV services such as cable and satellite, and mail order rental services such as Netflix which are currently being challenged by broadband based on-demand content like iTunes, Amazon Video and Netflix's own Instant Play.
Today, if you enjoy collecting music, unless you are an esoteric connoisseur of eclectic vintage titles on vinyl (we'll get to that later) you're almost certainly using some type of digital storage device, like an MP3 player device like an iPod or a smartphone like an iPhone or even storing the files on a personal computer. You might even buy albums on Compact Disc.
But before MP3 and CDs, there was analog, magnetically recorded audio tape, which existed in several formats from the 1970s onward was the
predominant way of distributing (non-LP) music.
Reel to Reel, which was used by the professional recording industry since the 1940s remained popular for many years among audiophiles although it was not really a consumer music distribution medium.
The recording industry's most popular tape format was the Compact Cassette, which was introduced in 1964 by the Philips corporation.
The Compact Cassette was a double-sided storage medium which could record about 30 to 45 minutes of music per side. Early player devices required that the cassette be ejected and then flipped over to play the other half of an album.
Later on, "auto reverse" based systems were able to play without user
intervention. Like the VCR's VHS tapes, the cassette was a sequential storage technology, and songs played one after the other unless you fast forwarded to the song on the album you wanted.
The Compact Cassette was briefly challenged by 8-track (Stereo 8 format) cartridges which had the ability to have four stereo programs on them simultaneously, which the user could select on the player device using one of four buttons. Mechanically, 8-track players were also lot simpler.
Consequently, this made them popular for use in automobiles. However, the 8-track cartridges were considerably larger and were essentially limited to being play-only, and over time, the players had numerous reliability issues and were known to "eat" the tapes.
The Compact Cassette reached the pinnacle of its popularity in the 1970s and 1980s. Portable player devices like the Sony Walkman in the early to mid 1980s allowed an entire generation of people to become mobile and on the go with their favorite music.
Prior to that time period, private listening to recorded music was an activity that was essentially confined to the home, unless you were listening to broadcast music on a portable transistor radio (more on that later.)
In the 1980s, portable cassette players with integrated high-powered stereo speakers and AM/FM radios called "Boom Boxes" or "Ghetto Blasters" were the rage in inner cities and were frequently associated with rap and hip-hop music, which as a music genre developed at around the same time.
An entire multi-billion dollar industry of music stores that sold these (play-only) cassette tapes, such as Virgin Megastore, Tower Records and Sam Goody, could be found in just about every town and major shopping center.
Due to the rise of Internet-based music distribution like iTunes/Amazon MP3 and Internet-based mail-order commerce, these brick and mortar music stores, for the most part, no longer exist, with the exception of independently owned boutiques that serve the collector market for used CDs and vinyl.
Cassette tapes, like VHS on VCRs, had no form of copy protection or digital rights management -- anyone with a simple set of stereo RCA cables and a recording-capable cassette deck could dub or record an infinite number of copies. But this lack of copy protection didn't really do a tremendous amount of harm to either industry as a whole, despite considerable protest and efforts from the RIAA and MPAA at the time.
Sales of the cassette tape slumped in the mid-1990s when the Compact Disc eclipsed it, and eventually the music stores switched almost entirely to the new medium, before dying out in the late 2000's.