Lou Ottens, Creator of the Audio Cassette Tape, Has Died at 94
Lou Ottens, who brought joy to many music lovers with his invention of the audio cassette tape, has died at the age of 94.
Ottens started working for the Phillips electronic manufacturing company in 1952, but his big moment came in the 1960s when he was the head of product development at the Belgian Hasselt branch of the Eindhoven company Phillips. It was there that he created the audio cassette tape, which officially launched in 1963 at the Berlin Radio Show Electronics Fair.
The cassette tape was meant to be a more user-friendly product than the reel-to-reel systems that were primarily used at the time. Their more concise packaging led the company to trademark the name "compact cassette" in 1964.
Ottens would later reveal to Eindhovens Dagblad that at the time of the invention, he was unaware of its future significance. "We were little boys who had fun playing. We didn’t feel like we were doing anything big. It was a kind of sport,” he stated [as relayed by Netherlands News Live].
The Ottens design became the standard for audio cassettes around the world, with over 100 billion being sold since its introduction.
Ottens also had a hand in the technology that would eventually start to phase out the cassette as the popular mode for audio consumption. He worked with Phillips and Sony on the joint development of the compact disc in 1979.
Cassette tapes grew in popularity in the '70s and early '80s prior to the introduction of the CD, but started to decline in popularity and were largely diminished for store sales by the late '90s and early 2000s. However, much like vinyl, the cassette tape has seen a recent resurgence in popularity as the CD has faded as a popular technology.
The audio cassette was not only great for the release of full albums, but it also was a recordable technology where many music lovers would compile mixtapes of favorite songs or pressed play to record tracks off the radio.
Ottens was a true pioneer for the spread of modern music and part of his story was told in the 2016 documentary, Cassette: A Documentary Mixtape.