If you’re nostalgic for Walkmans and boom boxes, or dream about the good old days of making mix tapes, now is your time. Cassette tapes are back, baby.
Sales of the retro recordings have skyrocketed over the past few years. Since 2017, the number of cassette tapes sold in the U.S. has been increasing by double-digit percentages every year.
In the UK, sales increased 103 percent in just the first half of 2020, according to the Official Charts Company, which called the cassette “the unlikely comeback kid of music formats.”
Well before music cassettes peaked in the 1990s, though, a new technology was brewing: compact discs. CDs launched in Japan in 1982, released by Sony, who then brought the discs to the United States the following year. As they gained in popularity, companies gradually began to stop manufacturing the magnetic tape needed for cassettes, as music fans flocked to the new digital format.
But not Steve and his father Warren Stepps, and their company National Audio, based in Missouri. They had seen music fads come and go, and then come back again. So, they continued making blank cassette tapes, maintaining steady annual sales, as every other company gradually abandoned the format, leaving National Audio 'the last man standing'.
Today, the Stepps' company is making 25 to 30 million cassettes for record labels annually -making them the largest manufacturer in the world, and the only manufacturer of magnetic audio tape in the United States.