The Manufacturer Keeping Cassette Tapes Alive


In manufacturing, it’s hard to know which industries or products will be left for dead, only to see a resurgence down the line. One interesting example of this is vinyl: once a relic for music collectors, this industry has been booming in the last few years, even reaching a record high – no pun intended – in 2017.

The Associated Press (AP) recently reported on a less-publicized format that we all thought was dead and gone: the audio cassette.

While vinyl has been flying high based on renewed interest in the medium, a plant in Missouri is investing in cassettes – not really because the industry is growing, but because everyone else has vacated it.

The last man standing is a manufacturer called National Audio Company, and they’re the soon-to-be final U.S. company to produce the tape that goes inside of a cassette. If you can believe it, there’s apparently been a global shortage of the silky recording material for years because nobody has been making it. In order to produce its cassettes, National Audio would buy legacy stock from other companies who had abandoned their cassette lines but finally reached the point where there was really nothing left out there. There were options coming from China, but the product was really low quality.

That’s why the company re-tooled its facility to produce the tape once again. This month, it will kick off using a 30(+)-year-old, 20-ton tape coating line it “rescued from obscurity” and will produce some 20,000 feet of tape per minute. The company’s co-owner Steve Stepp apparently had to pull three people out of retirement to upgrade the equipment, which had been converted into a line for producing tape strips for the backs of credit cards.

The company produces 10 million cassettes per year, and Stepp believes that the same nostalgia fueling the vinyl trend is slowly underway for cassette tapes, meaning the industry that once nested in a boombox, could soon be, quite literally, booming.

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