Lou Ottens, Creator of the Cassette Tape, Dies at 94

Robyn Mowatt Robyn Mowatt is a staff writer at Okayplayer where she…
Lou Ottens
Photo Credit: Jerry Lampen/AFP for Getty Images

Ottens, a former Philips engineer initially began working on the cassette tape in the early ’60s. Years later it became a global phenomenon. During his career, he also played a significant role in the infamous compact disc.

Lou Ottens, a Dutch inventor who created the world’s first cassette tape has died at the age of 94. He also played a major role in the creation of the first CD.

Ottens, a former Philips engineer began working on the compact cassette tape in the early ‘60s. NPR reports the cassette tape was his answer to large reel-to-reel tapes. The creation would provide top-tier sound and would be small enough to fit in the inside pocket of a jacket. In 1963 the first tape was presented to the world at an electronics fair in Berlin. The tagline read, “Smaller than a pack of cigarettes!”

Photographs of the product landed in Japan, then quickly copies of the invention began to emerge. Following this Ottens made agreements with Sony for the patented Philips creation to be the standard. Next, mixtapes became loved by teens throughout the globe. 

By 1972 Ottens became director of audio at Philips’ NatLab. He dove in and was involved heavily in the development of music’s next shining star, the CD. In 1980, the 12cm Philips-Sony CD standard was released. 

“Lou wanted music to be portable and accessible,” says filmmaker Zack Taylor, who directed his film Cassette: A Documentary Mixtape. He spent days with Ottens to get an understanding of the mind behind the invention that shifted the entire music industry. Taylor added, “Cassettes taught us how to use our voice, even when the message came from someone else’s songs, compiled painstakingly on a mixtape.” 

Born in 1926, Ottens started off building a radio for his family during World War II. This reportedly included a directional antenna created to focus on radio signals amid the violent conflict taking place in Germany. His creations have forever left an impact on music lovers across the entire world. 

“Next time you make that perfect playlist on Spotify or send a link to share a song, you can thank Lou Ottens,” Taylor said.

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