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Lou Ottens, Inventor Of The Audio Cassette Tape, Has Died


The inventor of the audio cassette tape has died. Dutch engineer Lou Ottens was 94.


Let's rewind to the days before Ottens' creation. Audio tape was a beast to deal with. It was recorded and played on open reels of spinning quarter-inch tape, tape that would have to be threaded ever so carefully through an array of little cylinders. No wonder the average consumer never fancied it.

SHAPIRO: Well, in the early 1960s, Lou Ottens was head of product development for the electronics company Philips.

ZACK TAYLOR: He was a very tall guy.

SHAPIRO: Zack Taylor met Ottens while making his film, "Cassette: A Documentary Mixtape."

TAYLOR: I swear in his prime, he must have been 7 feet tall. He towered over me even when he was in his 90s. But he had big hands. He was kind of a klutz. The legend of the cassette is that the cassette was born from the clumsiness of a very clever man.

KELLY: And that very clever man led to a revolution in how we listen to music and share it.

TAYLOR: Lou's thing was he wanted it to be easy, and he wanted it to fit in his jacket pocket.

KELLY: The compact cassette was unveiled in Berlin in 1963. Ottens told Time magazine it was a sensation from the start, but he was humble about his contribution. Here's how he put it in the documentary.


LOU OTTENS: I can be credited for the idea and a number of ideas in it, but the draftsmen, the electrical designers and the industrial designer, they have done the work.

SHAPIRO: For a generation of people who grew up making their own mixtapes on cassettes, the invention was nothing short of genius. But Ottens himself was never satisfied with the low fidelity of audiocassettes. He described them as primitive and prone to noise and distortion. Later, he turned his attention to developing compact disc technology. Still, filmmaker Zack Taylor says Ottens did eventually see what the cassette had brought to others.

TAYLOR: Lou finally started to understand the emotional quotient, the sentimentality, the power that cassettes have to the individual. It took him 50 years, but when he left us, he finally understood.

KELLY: Zack Taylor talking about the man who dreamed up the audio cassette. Lou Ottens died over the weekend in his native country, the Netherlands.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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