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Audio Cassette Tape Inventor, Lou Ottens Dies At 94

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Louis Ottens, a Dutch engineer credited with inventing audio cassette tape and helped develop the compact disc decades later, has died at 94.

The engineer died in his hometown of Duizel last weekend, his family announced on Tuesday but no cause of death was given.

An estimated 100 billion cassette tapes have been sold around the world since they were introduced in the 1960s.

Ottens started working for electronics manufacturer Phillips in 1952, and by 1960 had been promoted to head of product development. It was there, along with his team, that he developed the world’s first portable tape recorder.

He led the Belgian team charged with converting the bulky reel-to-reel tape recorders of the era into something more portable and consumer-friendly; Ottens’ goal was to make a cassette tape that could fit a jacket’s inside pocket.

After its development, Philips’ audio cassette made its debut at electronics fairs in August 1963. Soon after, Japanese electronics companies created their own iteration of the audio cassette of varying sizes, but Ottens struck a deal between Sony and Philips to ensure their model would become the patented cassette on the market.

Speaking of his invention, Ottens, according to NRC Handelsblad, said;

The cassette tape was invented out of irritation about the existing tape recorder, it’s that simple.

Ottens also spoke about the invention in the 2011 documentary Cassette: A Documentary Mixtape. “I expected it would be a success, not a revolution,” he said in the film.

His invention transformed the way people listened to music, and there has even been a resurgence of the cassette in recent years.

Later in his career, while technical director of Phillips Audio, Ottens played a key role in Phillips and Sony’s joint development of the compact disc in 1979. At least 200 billion CDs have been sold since they were made available to the public in 1982.

Cassette tapes have been experiencing an unlikely surge in popularity recently. At the end of last year, it was revealed that cassette sales more than doubled in the UK in 2020.

British Phonographic Industry estimated that 157,000 tapes were sold in the UK by the end of 2020, despite two national coronavirus lockdowns.

In 1982, when Philips showed off a production CD player, Ottens said: “From now on, the conventional record player is obsolete“.

He retired four years later. When asked about his career, he said his biggest regret was that Sony and not Philips had created the iconic cassette tape player, the Walkman.

May his soul rest in peace.

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