RCA Cartridges 1958 – 1964
The RCA tape cartridge aka Magazine Loading Cartridge, was designed to offer 2 sided stereo 1/4″, 3 3/4 ips reel-to-reel in a convenient format for the consumer market.
Brought to market in 1958, after four years of development, the timing coincided with the launch of the stereo LP. The stereophonic tapes had a surprising resemblance to modern cassettes and were three times larger. The general trend in reel-to-reel recorders, especially portable units, was toward lower tape speeds than the original 15 ips adopted widely in the late 1940s. By the late 1950s it was possible to get great sound quality at 7.5 ips and good sound even at 3.75 ips. Running at 3 3/4 ips, they could squeeze 60 minutes out of a relatively short length of tape. This made the cartridge compact and kept costs down. RCA also offered an adapter for Cartridge machines to enable them to play back and record existing 5″ reels.
Tape cartridges cost $4.50 in 1960 compared to a 1,200 foot reel of tape @ $3.50.
In the summer of 1958, the company sent representatives to the electronics trade shows to publicize a new tape recorder/player and by August 1959, small quantities of player/recorder units were finally being shipped to distributors.
Press releases claimed that the machines were in production and that part of the massive RCA-Victor catalog of music would appear on stereo or mono cartridges. Cartridges were priced on the length of the recorded program, ranging from $4.95 for a 20 minute tape to $9.95 for an hour. The news releases claimed 2 manufacturers were ready to manufacture blank cartridges, 3M and Orradio Industries of Alabama. Bell Sound, a respected audio manufacturer, was planning to manufacture the cartridge recorder as well.
For for reasons unknown, RCA never got this product moving efficiently. By August 1959, dozens of recordings were advertised in the catalog, but only 16 were actually available.
RCA introduced portable versions of this cartridge recorder at $169.95 and a playback-only unit at $99.95, however audio enthusiasts remained unconvinced. Sales continued to be slow and while RCA did not release any information about numbers sold, Bell sound reported approximately 400 sales, a very poor start.
Many dealers were reluctant to stock these tapes so RCA established tape club where members could purchase directly. Bel Canto, a competitor of RCA’s who had been making reel-reel tapes for a number of years, was convinced to bring this format into their fold.
RCA Had failed to convince dealers or the public that this format was really leading edge. Convenience was great but too many mixed messages kept the hard-core consumers away.
Considering the time and the technology, it made a lot of sense, but it was not a success at all.
The format disappeared from retail stores by 1964, just after Philips released the compact cassette as a dictation medium , which would be the first real cassette success story, once they found out that it had greater possibilities.