Resurgence of bulky, unwieldy cassettes | Daily News


Resurgence of bulky, unwieldy cassettes

In the good old days, during the 70’s transistor radios were popular in Sri Lanka, that is during the regime of Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike, which witnessed the famous Non-Alignment Movement’s fifth Summit at Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall, Colombo and also saw nationalizing the major sectors of the economy. Sirimavo Bandaranaike considered as the first woman prime minister of the world followed a policy of self sufficiency, priority to local production, austerity and as stated earlier stringently promoted whatever local that includes industries, fisheries, agriculture and much more.

Radios and Transistor Radios

Before the transistors radios era rediffusions and radios were in high demand. In the early 70’s we have seen various kinds of radios in different shapes, with diverse capacities and under many brand names such as Grundig, Philips, Rowestar, Zenith, Delvo, Panasonic, JVC, Nordmende/Galaxy M-28, Orbita2(USSR) and they were widely used by our fathers, grand fathers, great grand fathers etc., Mrs. Bandaranaike’s government encouraged local production to the hilt and restricted all kinds of foreign imports into the country.

Therefore, many local entrepreneurs ventured into so many industries. One of them is producing transistor radios. Transistor radios were produced under various brands such as Unic, Elite, Sirrul and so on and they sold like hot cakes. So many people got employment in this industry alone. Some to produce spare parts, some to assemble, some to sell, some to service and some to promote. Aiwa, Arvin, Panasonic, UK’s Red Robert, Soviet Russia’s VEF-202, are some transistor radios from prestigious international brands. Incidentally Guglielmo Marconi, Reginald Fessenden and Nikola Tesla were identified with the invention of radio.

Phonograph, Gramophone and Record Players

A device for recording and reproducing sound is first called as a phonograph and it was invented in 1877. After certain developments it was identified as a Gramophone, and after further improvements it was popularly known as a Record Player or Turntable. The inventors of these sound devices were Thomas Edison, Emile Berliner and Eldrige Johnson.

Radio Cassette Recorders

We can remember Laxapana, Berec, Eveready transistor batteries that were used to provide power to these sound devices. In those bygone days to keep the transistor radios alive one should buy at least four transistor batteries or sometimes six or eight cells per month. But after 1977 during the rule of President J.R. Jayewardene, who was a visionary, non-violent revolutionary, exceptional leader and strategist, Market Economic Reforms, television and electronic computers were introduced. After 1977 the country witnessed a glut of imports of various kinds. The country was flooded with all sorts of appliances, gadgets of every imaginable type, brands, models and makes. After the transistor radio era came the time of cassette recorders, radio cassette recorders and walkmans.

We saw mono/stereo single cassette recorder with radio, stereo/double cassette recorder with radio, single/double stereo cassette recorder with radio and turntable. After some time turntables went into oblivion and CD players and DVD players replaced them. Sanyo, Aiwa, Sony, Panasonic, Sharp, Kenwood, Pioneer, Philips, Unic, Denon, Sanwa, Akai and Technics are some of the popular brands that dominated radio cassette arena with different designs, outputs, features, facilities and prices. After the arrival of mobile phones and smart phones, walkmans too vanished into thin air as radio or selected songs could be heard by mobile phones. If I am not mistaken in the 70s, 80s and 90s those who use radios, transistor radios and radio cassette recorders were required to pay a Radio license fee per set annually. Initially, early in the 70s it was Rs. 5 and gradually it was increased up to Rs. 50.

Records and recording labels

From 1900’s to 1980’s most of the songs and music were recorded in vinyl records under various labels all over the world. The first vinyl record came in the 1900s.It was invented by Peter Carl Goldmark. Vinyl records mainly fall into 2 varieties and that is EP record and LP record. Polydor, Deca, Philips, Virigin, EMI, Atlantic, Warner Brothers, Capitol, Harvest, MCA records, Columbia , Parlophone, Paramount, HMV, RCA Victor, Universal, Sony BMG, MOTOWN and Walt Disney are some of the world renowned recording labels. In Sri Lanka Sooriya, Lotus, Saraswathie, Philips, Gemtone, Shans, SLBC, Guththila, Lewis Brown, Victory, Supertone, Sawana, New Sound, Tharanga, Singlanka, Silverline and Torana are themore outstanding labels in the swinging 60’s, sensational 70s, electrifying 80s.

One minus feature of vinyl record is after considerable usage, vinyl records of yesteryear developed cracks and also their surface lost their original tip-top condition. Because of this songs could not be played properly, they abruptly stopped at one place and repetition of the same words occurred again and again. This is popularly known as locked groove, repeating groove and there were even some extremely funny stories/jokes concerning this circulating among friends. The popular meaningful song “Buduthaththe bonne epa” by Nanda Malini, who incidentally is a much honored and award winning singer of Sri Lanka, is a classic example for this. This particular joke is much popular among the disciples of “God Bacchus”. Another negative point is a noise akin to frying something can be heard from old discs and this is known as record crackle or surface noise. These were definitely hindrances to one’s listening pleasure. After the invention of cassettes, the usage of vinyl records dropped sharply.

Audio Cassettes

Compact audio cassettes and cassette machines were first developed by Philips in Belgium. They were in two varieties and one is blank cassette and the other is pre-recorded music cassette. Tapes used in cassettes fall into four types. Original ferric-oxide tape, Standard ferric-oxide tape, Chrome tape and Metal tape. Time duration wise cassettes were made into four main categories namely C46, C60, C90 and C120, which denotes 46 minutes total playing time, 60 minutes tpt, 90 minutes tpt and 120 minutes tpt respectively. In the 80s varieties of pre-recorded music cassettes featuring ABBA to Ventures on top recording labels such as US, CS, GMI, Cosmos, RCA, Billboard were freely available here, which incidentally were imported from Singapore and as stated earlier contained mainly top English pop songs and instrumentals of 70s.

From the beginning of 80’s to 2010, cassettes were widely used to record songs and music all over the globe. Audio cassettes came into the market under various brands such as Philips, Sony, Kenwood, TDK, Maxell, Pioneer, BASF, AGFA, Denon, Technics and so on. But audio cassettes also had problems of their own way. After considerable usage or because of low quality, surface noise or tape hiss happens on audio cassettes. After much usage, cassette tapes used to entangle or break at one point or the other. On such occasions it is difficult to patch up and paste the two ends and make the audio tape listenable as before. Vinyl record, audio cassette users know the pure listening pleasure of heavily used records and audio tapes.

Only they know the sheer difficulties to repair the old /damaged records and cassettes and put them in a playable condition. On so many occasions I have used a pencil or ballpoint pen to wind up the cassette if the tape had got caught and entangled on the recorder. Sometimes I have succeeded in salvaging my precious cassettes. On some other times the cassette tape will tear apart to my utter misery.Because of vinyl records and audio cassettes there were lots of employment opportunities. Lots of people had employment opportunities because of the production, promotion, sales of records and cassettes. One classic example was William Trading Company, which was located at People’s Park Shopping Complex, Pettah, who were the importers and distributors of high quality, highly acclaimed Maxell brand audio cassettes.


Shopping or hunting for sound equipment and accessories like radio to audio cassettes is quite interesting. Checking out at all the radio and sound accessories dealers, duty free shops, seasonal sales, bargain sales, year-end sales, end of the season sales for the necessary stuff is quite cumbersome too. Oftentimes we request our relatives and friends, who are overseas to bring down the gadgets. If it is Christmas time small children expect the Santa Claus to do the needful. “Santa baby hurry down the chimney tonight”, a much popular Xmas song by Madonna comes to my mind at this juncture.


From the 70’s to 2000 there were so many record / cassette dealers, record / cassette bars from this end of the world to the other end. In Sri Lanka it was clearly visible from North to South and from West to East. For instance there were so many record bars and dealers in the City of Colombo, especially in Front Street also popularly known as Malwatte Road. Alas, but today except for a few shops all the others were converted into various other more profitable business activities. Anyway the re-emergence of vinyl records in LP format and turn tables are quite interesting and promising. On the same line the re-entry of audio cassette tapes and radio cassette players is very good news to all music lovers. 

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