Retro gadgets better seen than heard

By John Toth / Editor and Publisher

A few columns ago, I mentioned that I bought an 8-track player and some tapes for nostalgia’s sake. I never had one growing up, so I thought I would reward myself as a grown-up.

The verdict is in. These machines died out for a reason.

To follow up, I find myself playing digital music on my smartphone rather than using the 8-track. It is a great conversation piece, but the sound is pretty mediocre -- a lot mediocre.

The first thing the player did was eat one of my tapes. Granted, the cartridge did make some weird sounds after being inserted in the player, but there was no way to stop the feasting.

I pulled it out as quickly as I could. There was tape everywhere, and some remained stuck inside.
“I finally got rid of mine after it ate my whole collection,” joked one of my friends.

That’s not the point. I have most of the music already in my phone and backed up on the cloud. That’s the way I listen to music. But I wanted to experience that 1970s mood when we listened to records, 8-tracks and cassettes and wore bell-bottom jeans.

It was fun to explain to the kids how the 8-track works, and how the record needle picks up the vibrations from the plastic grooves, and sound comes out of the speakers. I have achieved at least that much, although I think they just pretended to care.

Go ahead and talk, old man, about your transistors, resistors and vibrations, they probably thought. Whatever.

Only one of the cartridges I just bought has been “eaten” so far. But there are many more. I bought a lot of them.

The point of buying the old 8-track was not the message (music), but the messenger (the player). After the original fascination wore off, the 8-track has gone mostly unnoticed, along with my turntables and USB cassette player.

Yes, somewhere in China, a company is manufacturing a USB cassette player for about $30. It allows for the transfer of cassettes to a computer file and digitizes the magnetic coding on the tape.

The company probably sold a lot of these to geeks like me, who use it once or twice and then put it away.

I also bought a USB turntable, which is actually pretty groovy (record has grooves). I also could have used the words cool, neat or krunk.

“Why would you get a USB compatible cassette player?” my brother-in-law asked when we were browsing through all my gadgets.

“It seemed like a good idea at the time,” I replied. “ I think I used it once.”

I tried to give it to him, but he would not accept it. He made up some excuse that he doesn’t have any use for it, but I know that he just felt guilty about taking this soon-to-be very rare gadget from me. He probably didn’t feel right about doing it, and I understand.

Dear reader, perhaps you can’t go home again, but you can recreate the way home used to be, with gadgets. But, it may not be all that exciting after the newness of that 40-year-old 8-track player wears off.

But, when the grandkids will be old enough to comprehend geek language, they will learn the way we used to play music and why it worked -- not so well as let’s say a music file inside their smartphone, but well enough to get us through the 1970s.