My family were packrats. For the longest time, we’d just hoard things that we might need someday. But as time goes on, we’re slowly culling away those things we held onto, often times just books and old toys we no longer need. Often times it’s just stuff we didn’t need to hold onto, but some of it was fairly sentimental.
During this process of unearthing storage, we discovered a bunch of old things I honestly thought we tossed away, like the Sega Dreamcast keyboard, various board games and electronic toys. But there was one thing that we found that suddenly caused a wave of nostalgic feelings: A kid’s cassette boombox.
This is the “My First Sony” CFS-2050 cassette boombox, released around 1992-93. My First Sony was basically Sony trying to make music players that were more child-friendly, with a red-yellow-blue color scheme. This one also came with a microphone that could be used for recording onto the tape, or just doing amateur karaoke. It could also double as an AM/FM radio if that’s more your thing.
Much like a lot of old hardware, the system came with problems when it was unearthed out of the storage tub it was in: The tape mechanism didn’t work at all. One of the most common problems with cassette players of this vintage is that the belts that handle playback have disintegrated, turning into rubber goop upon use. Indeed, after trying to use it once, one of the belts broke off and just wrapped itself around the motor. The other belt was still on the cassette deck, but I figure it wasn’t gonna be long before that too would end up breaking.
I am not really much of a repair person, but this thing’s held a bunch of memories to me that I couldn’t toss it away. A brief web search made me find the service manual, which had the part names for the two belts, which I was able to find thanks to a website that sells replacement parts for old music players. (I’ve linked the site in question at the bottom of this post.)
After removing the old belts and using rubbing alcohol to clean off any residue that might be still be on the wheels, I replaced the belts. After testing it opened up with a tape I had, it sprung to life and started playing music again.
Normally that would be the end of the tale, but I was struggling afterwards with putting the device back together. In my frustration I accidentally broke one of the small wires off the soldering point where the tape machine’s motor was, breaking tape playback again. The next day I got some help to repair my mistake, stripping the broken cable and soldering it onto the solder joint. I’d seen so many videos of people using soldering irons to replace things, but I’d never done it myself; so I had a bit of help from my dad, who had a soldering iron and the other items needed to fix the problem.
After that, I got it to work again, but the way I had arranged one of the wires made it impossible to play a tape, which was a fairly easy fix. Then it sprung to life, playing music for good this time, probably for another 30 years. Now that I got my cassette boombox working again, it was time to dig through my cassette tape collection and give them a listen for the first time in about 20 years.
Most of the albums I have on cassette I also have since acquired on other formats: Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever, Huey Lewis and the News’ Sports and Fore!, the Fine Young Cannibals The Raw & The Cooked, to name a few. But I also own albums I currently only have on cassette, like Tears for Fears’ Songs from the Big Chair and The Cars’ Heartbreak City. I even have a few cassette singles, like The B-52’s “Love Shack,” Young MC’s “Bust a Move” and the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Under the Bridge.” Hell, I even have some things I didn’t expect to see on cassette, like the soundtracks for Oliver & Company and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves; or an audiobook of Ian Fleming’s short story The Living Daylights narrated by actor Anthony Valentine! I should’ve realized audiobooks didn’t just come up out of nowhere, they were on cassettes too!
Of course, anyone who’s paid attention to a lot of movies and TV shows that reference nostalgia like Guardians of the Galaxy and The Goldbergs might have heard about mixtapes, and of course we had those too. Though, my parents and I had different ideas on how to do a mixtape.
One of them was MC Hammer’s “You Can’t Touch This” which also recorded some personal audio of my parents clapping and talking while friends came over, but then cut through the back half of Ringo Starr’s Ringo. Another mixtape made by my mom was nothing but Barenaked Ladies, consisting of the entirety of Rock Spectacle along with some notable cuts from Born on a Pirate Ship and Maroon.
Even I somehow made one of these “road trip tapes,” having basically a who’s-who of late-90s hits: Sugar Ray, Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, Lou Bega, sandwiched between Fine Young Cannibals and a Devo greatest hits compilation that took from the back half of their ‘80s discography – less the notable hits and more like the stuff from Total Devo and Smooth Noodle Maps. In a sense, my road trip tape is more what I thought a mixtape was.
Over the years I’ve taken a liking to obsolete and old media formats. Watching some YouTube personalities like Techmoan and Oddity Archive had rekindled my interest on these formats, and for a while I was listening to my family’s old vinyl collection, listening to stuff like John Mellencamp’s American Fool and Men At Work’s Business as Usual. But since this vinyl had been sitting in boxes for years, acclimating dust and other… substances, playback would skip if the record was especially dirty, which definitely sours the listening experience a little.
On the other hand, the My First Sony cassette deck works without having to do much besides occasionally fiddling with the cassette door. It gives me an easier, more compact way to listen to music that’s a bit more sturdy to handle. (Apologies to any vinyl enthusiasts! I appreciate the vinyl medium, just not the process of having to handle them like they’re fine china.)
In a sense, this brought a sense of nostalgia I fondly remember. Of finding cassettes at thrift stores and secondhand shops, giving them a listen on a freakin’ child’s cassette player, and finding some cool music in the process. Looks like I have to keep an eye out for cassettes the next time I’m in a thrift store again. Who knows what I might find.
For those who lived through the 80s and 90s, I recommend finding a working cassette player and start building up a collection. Is it the most ideal way to listen to music? No, but I figure most old media formats – with the exception of compact disc – are more for the nostalgia value than for their audio quality.
I have to give shoutouts to Peter Vis for having a comprehensive breakdown and documentation on the CFS-2050, and Turntableneedles.com based out of Corvallis, OR, for having the replacement belts I needed, which saved a good nostalgic memory from being dumpster material.
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