Triggered By The Carts

Thursday, I wrote about losing sleep due to memories about my last broadcasting job. I attribute the rediscovery of a stack of five carts to what amounts as an extended flashback.

As mentioned in Thursday’s post, “cart” is the industry term for audio tape cartridge. Carts were manufactured in three standard sizes. The largest of them were “A carts”; the intermediate size were “B carts”; and the vastly more common were “C carts”. The C carts were the same size as the outmoded 8-Track tape cartridges sold to the public. A closer description would be to compare C carts to the previous consumer cartridges called 4-Track tapes–a format that did poorly in the market. In fact, 4-Track tapes were derived from C carts. 8-Track tapes were simply (poorly) modified C carts.

C carts were referred to as just “carts” in daily work lingo. They contained various lengths of standard audio tape according to needs. They were often loaded with enough tape to play 40-seconds at 7.5 inches per second. Other C carts (in minutes) were 70, 100, 2:30, 5-minutes, 10-minutes, and shorter custom lengths. A carts were usually hidden in automation machines and were loaded with 30 minutes or when used for live on-air phone-delay, were loaded with 10-seconds worth of tape. The B carts were generally 15 minute tapes.

The tape lengths were selected by the producers depending upon how much time was needed for the spots (commercials). Ie. a 40-second cart was most often used to contain a 30-second spot, sometimes two 15-second spots. A 70-second cart was used for a 60-second spot or two 30-second spots. The extra few seconds were safety gaps. It was best to use the shortest necessary tape so as to avoid long cue-up times when used on the air.

The things were as common as dirt in broadcast studios. I estimate that there were at least a thousand of them at my old workplace before the stations trasitioned to digital audio. This commonality meant that I used them every time I needed to produce commercials, promos, public service announcements, and “actualities” (audio snippets) for news stories. Everyone who worked on-air, handled carts constantly throughout our shifts.

carts ready to play in an automation playback machine

The five carts I rediscovered earlier this week contain introductions and closings to some of my regular shows, music beds to play leading into and out of commercial breaks, and one commercial for one of the sponsors. I cannot play them anymore because I don’t own a cart machine (cart playback deck). They don’t play on my vintage 4-Track deck because the tape speeds are incompatible also, that machine is broken.

Anyhow, after rediscovering these old carts the other day, I examined them and enjoyed the tactile pleasure of handling them again. Nostalgic memories flooded my mind for perhaps an hour or so that afternoon. At bedtime that evening, the carts were not in my thoughts at all. That is, until I awakened in the wee hours of Thursday morning.

The reverie was unstoppable. I saw myself stacking carts in various piles to use on a show. A tall stack of carts containing spots, another stack with weather and news opening and closing jingles, and a short stack with short elements and actualities to use during the show. The memories were exciting and pleasing because the work was genuinely fun and challenging in positive ways. The memories were so stimulating that I simply had to crawl out of bed and begin the day much earlier than usual.

I used to shave off my beard each summer.

The take away was to admit that I deeply miss daily shifts at the radio station. The fond memories of spinning 45-rpm vinyl records, playing carts, and ad-libbing stories for the audience are integral to who I currently am. The memories of the technical aspects had simply been suppressed. Handling the carts brought the pleasant memories back in spades.


The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes game show host and television personality, Alex Trebek. “Originally, I think, I wanted to be an actor. But I got into broadcasting by accident, if you will, because I needed money to pay for my college education. I applied for a summer announcing job at a couple of radio stations.”

About swabby429

An eclectic guy who likes to observe the world around him and comment about those observations.
This entry was posted in cultural highlights, Hometown, Meanderings, Vintage Collectables and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Triggered By The Carts

  1. Eva Hnizdo says:

    Sounds like a fun job

  2. Alien Resort says:

    Somehow I missed out completely on 4-track tapes. I did a pre-recorded high school sports show in radio club and it looked like the instructor was producing it on a reel to reel. The next I remember was being a senior and eight-tracks were showing up in friends’ cars.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.