Cassette player, VHS
The unforgettable memories of using a cassette player that came all the way from the US to India and movie days on Betamax and VHS in the Philippines. Image Credit: Seyyed de Llata/Gulf News

Handwritten letters, fountain pens, rotary phones, typewriters, Walkman, film cameras, VHS tapes -- are these the stuff of the yesteryears? An essential yesterday, forgotten today. Have they lost their charm and utility with the passage of time, leaving just lingering memories?

A cassette player that came all from the US to a Grade 3 student in India and movie days on Betamax and VHS in the Philippines - obsolete gadgets and their impact in bygone eras make for a fascinating recall. Check them out – with a piece of history and some quirky facts.

Here is the third in a six-part series of stories. Part two: A letter to remember and a fountain pen that made all the difference…

When an entire wedding service was recorded on audio tape

Image Credit: Seyyed de Llata/Gulf News

By Alex Abraham, Senior Associate Editor

When I was in Grade 3, my aunt, then on a visit from the US, gave us our first cassette recorder/player. In the absence of a TV at home, for the next few years it would remain the primary source of entertainment for the family.

My earliest memories of the cassette recorder are of using it for my aunt’s wedding, a few days after we received it. There were no video cameras then, so the entire wedding service in church was recorded on audio tape (at least as much as a 60-minute tape could hold). When we got back home we gathered around the tape recorder and played it back. Those simple pleasures of life cannot be explained to a generation that has grown up on a diet of digital fare.

Over the years, I used the tape recorder to good effect. Anyone coming home would be given a chance to sing and have his/her voice recorded. It was a novelty, then.

Later, when we bought our first TV, I would stand next to it with the tape recorder to record songs, advertisements, news – whatever I felt was worth listening to again.

Over time my friends started lending me cassettes or even recording songs of my choice. For many people in India those days, ‘copyright’ meant the ‘right to copy’. So songs were recorded at will and passed around to friends and family. Kenny Rogers, John Denver, Elton John and Simon & Garfunkel sang to me every evening, even when I had exams the next day.

I owe my love for gospel music to the cassette player at home. Early on I was introduced to Sandy Patty, Amy Grant, Don Moen and Michael W. Smith. I would listen to them a hundred times and then hum them for another thousand.

When I came to Dubai I brought along many of these cassettes. Over time I bought CDs and kept the cassettes safely in the cupboard.

A few years ago, on a whim, I wanted to play a few of the old cassettes. I did not find them in the cupboard, so I looked around the house. When I did not find them anywhere, I asked my wife.

“Oh, those cassettes. You were not using them, so I gave them away,” my wife said.

I did not wait to argue and accepted reality.

Cassette info
Image Credit: Seyyed de Llata/Gulf News

Betamax and VHS, memories of a bygone era

VHS Betamax
Image Credit: Seyyed de Llata/Gulf News

By Jay Hilotin, Senior Assistant editor

A mechanical click is heard when you push the bulky tape box onto an open-close slot. It’s a signal. You wait for the screen to come to life with a shiver of interference. The word ‘Play’, or some blocky text appears on the edges. A curtain of white static is followed by a picture, first twitching and then kicking into motion. It’s a familiar sequence, and evocative of a bygone days — the era of Betamax and/or VHS. Back in the 1980s, my hometown had just one big movie screen: showing Jacky Chan and local flicks on celluloid. Entrance fee was 5 pesos. But recordings of the biggest live concerts and music video (MTVs) shows of the period — Queen, Pink Floyd, Michael Jackson, Journey, Styxx, Simon & Garfunkel, USA for Africa — were available only on Betamax.

Some enterprising people bought huge TV units and made us kids pay per view. Viewing fees doubled to 10 pesos. They had become de-facto movie houses. New titles shown each night.

The videos were grainy, alright. And screen size pretty cramped. But that was the best of the period. I only knew Betamax initially. Then came VHS. Because of their great ability to copy titles, video piracy became rampant.

I remember video shops would have a front display rack with legit titles, and then customers are led to a room with a much wider selection of pirated films (which were more interesting).

I realised Betamax had a relatively better sound and video quality than VHS, but the latter won, due to it being a more open format.

But even if VHS eventually won, of course, the video tape age came to a decisive end decades ago. With today’s over-the-top (OTT) generation — with content providers such as Netflix, Disney, Hulu, Amazon Prime, CuriosityStream, Pluto TV and the like dominating — we look back to this era of home entertainment with great nostalgia.

Image Credit: Seyyed de Llata/Gulf News

Tomorrow: Film cameras: When each frame was precious