top of page

Before the Internet: Cassette Tape Radio Stations

“On April 30, 1993, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) put the web into the public domain a decision that has fundamentally altered the past quarter-century.” --DAVID GROSSMAN
Although plenty of our pastime activities included electronic entertainment and movies, the 1980s offered kids a multitude of recreational distractions that may be less relatable to today’s youth. Whether timeless or lost to time, this ongoing series is dedicated to the many 1980s activities in which we engaged.


“From the top of the Empire State Building, WHTZ Z100 New York!”

Z100 was my favorite radio station in Brooklyn circa the 1980s and early ‘90s. Before the Internet, the radio was our primary mode of discovering popular music. Without streaming services, wifi, and cellular data, every kid’s arsenal in the 80s included a boom box (and eventually a Walkman) for portability. Whether it be on the stoop, at the park, at the beach, or just bumming around the house, my boom box was one of the go-to forms of entertainment media, right up there with the television, VCR, and NES.

At some point, it occurred to my brother Mike and me that we should start our own radio station, akin to our beloved Z100. While there were certainly ways of achieving the goal in a more realistic way, like using shortwave, we were neither tech-savvy enough to know how, nor wealthy enough to afford the required equipment. What we did have was a boom box and blank cassette tapes. Never mind no one outside our families would ever hear the tapes. Never mind we had no way of actually broadcasting the "station" [1]. None of this mattered because we had a magic box of technology and the unlimited imagination of children.

In this way, the lamest radio station to ever (not) exist was born: 195 Cool House Sony. I wish I could tell you what we were thinking when we named our collective. I guess we figured if we called it "cool," then it would be cool. The addition of “house” was because our friend Yury lived in the same apartment building as my brother mike and I, and our combined, otherworldly hipness made the entire building a “cool house.” I’m not entirely sure why we paired it with the number 195. It wasn’t our building, apartment, or street number. I can only assume it was a random choice. And finally, topping off one of the most unfortunate monikers ever conceived, we slapped the word “Sony” on there because we used a Sony boom box to record our tapes.

What was a radio station without disc jockeys? And what were radio personalities without trendy names? I’ve previously established how amazingly cool we were, so these uniquely fantastic names shouldn’t be surprising:

  • Tony as The Ice Master.

  • Mike as R.C. Rapper (later changed to R.C.“Rocker.”)

  • Yury as Cool L.J. (later changed to Cool O.D. when we moved and our new friend Kyle took over.)

Again, I have no clue what R.C., L.J., or O.D. stood for, if in fact they ever stood for anything.

So, we had a station name and DJ monikers, but what would we record? Again we drew on our collective, epic coolness and decided to, of course, write sidesplitting skits in a composition notebook. We penned such classics of the genre as “The Pom Pay [sic] Brothers,” “A Summer Tale Part II,” “Bum in the Army,” “All News,” “Halloween,” and “The Warewolf [sic]” with all requisite misspellings and grammatical errors. Every single one of these absolute gems still exists in their museum-worthy composition notebook, though I refuse to reproduce them here. They are simply too good (and not at all embarrassing) to give away for free on the Internet.

In all seriousness, those days of writing and recording on our Sony boom box are some of my favorite memories, even if the material was the most cringe-worthy stuff you’d ever hear. As kids we were simultaneously unaware of how bad the writing was and uncaring of anyone’s negativity toward it. The material wasn’t for anyone else, despite the outward appearance of some unseen audience that would somehow listen to the tapes. We were creating for the sake of creating. Audience be damned! Critics be damned! All that mattered was we were having fun.

I like to remind myself of this mindset as I navigate a digital world of monetized content. Jason (Agent Palmer) Stershic recently discussed this particular issue on episode 90 of his podcast, The Palmer Files, with guest Craig Burgess. Something important, something intrinsic, is lost from art when it becomes "content." Gone is the passion and love, the layers of meaning and analytic worth. With everything I create, I strive for something more than content. These articles aren’t cans of processed soup meant to give the illusion of a fully stocked shelf. These articles are simmered low and slow over weeks, extracting the life-giving nutrients from every ingredient before pouring into a preheated bowl to savor.

Overwrought metaphors aside, I ask myself one simple question whenever I create anything: is this of worth to me? Because if it’s worthless even to the creator, then it will be worthless to an audience if indeed there ever is an audience. And if no audience appears? If no one ever reads these articles? Well, at least the writing of these topics has fed my own mind and soul. A limited or even completely absent readership will never strip intrinsic value from creation.

Looking back at how often art and imagination played a major role in my pre-internet childhood, it’s no wonder I grew up to become a teacher, writer, and sculptor. I never stopped craving this nutritious soup of imagination, and it’s safe to say I never will.

[1] This, as it turns out, would be a blessing in disguise, as our cringe-worthy “skits” were far better left unheard.


Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page