Car Cassette Decks: the End of an Era

Ransom Riggs

2011 marks the first year -- since I've been alive, at least -- that you can't buy a new car with a factory-installed cassette tape player. The last model to be sold with one was a 2010 Lexus. That they are something of an anachronism was brought into stark relief for me when I posted this video of a road trip I took with friends in 1998, and many of the tween-aged commenters remarked upon the sheer novelty that, as we drove across Texas and New Mexico, our tunes came from my cassette deck. It's the end of an era, folks. (Actually, it's a little surprising to me that they survived as long as they did, considering that CD players seem about ready to become an endangered species in cars.)

I have a lot of nostalgic affection for my old cassette mixes, and I miss being able to play them in my car. They were so much more handmade and personal than CD mixes: I worked for hours getting the song order right, fading out of songs at just the right time; they were something you could, in some small way, be proud of. I hope to one day rescue my old mixes and convert them into long-playing MP3s, but I don't think listening to them digitally will be the same. I'll miss having to flip them over, and how the sound would wobble a little if I'd parked the car in the hot sun for too long, and even worrying about whether the tape was getting wound around the deck heads during long periods of suspicious silence.

Anyone else gonna miss their cassette players?

As a postscript: I did find one new car stereo people are excited about. Except it's fake, a front designed to make your expensive newfangled stereo look like an old tape deck, to deter thieves. Sigh.