Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Goodbye to the Cart Machine

Chuck Lakaytis of CML Broadcasting in Anchorage claims that a 325 grain, .375 H&H Magnum will penetrate 73 carts. I don't contest it, but I would like to see pictures.

No it's not an 8-track tape. Cart Machines played endless-loop tape cartridges also called carts or Fidelipacs. These were historically used to hold commercials, jingles, announcements and promos of all sorts. Audio was recorded in mono usually and 1 KHz cue tones were recorded on a separate track. This second track indicated to the playback deck where to stop rewinding or playing.

The tape format was introduced to the (NAB)National Association of Broadcasters by Collins Radio in 1959 with it's first model, the Spotmaster. later versions of the Cart machine had stereo capability, additional cueing tones and even timers.

For the past twenty years, broadcasters have used cart machines as a standard playback device for in-house audio. Only the infiltration and growth of digital audio in radio studios really put an end to it. The cart machine was reliable and functional. Before cart machines, commercials were played back via reel to reel machines. The DJ had to thread the tape, then manually cue, and rewind the tape.

The cart machine solved these problems but brought along it’s own issues. No two brands of cart are made exactly the same. The small differences caused by the manufacturing processes prevented exact alignment of the cart machine to more than one cart! The irregularities of each cart usually cause phase problems between the left and right channels in stereo models, and in severe cases a miss-cue.. As the lifetime of the Cart wore on, it also became clear that we all were recycling our carts for far too long. Old carts sounded worse than a beat up 78 rpm platter. But at least I never had to reboot a cart machine during my show. More here and here.


  1. Anonymous6:04 PM

    Chuck is at Alaska Public Broadcasting these days actually.

  2. Anonymous11:12 AM

    I'd like to see pictures too!

  3. Most problems with cart playback, was & is the little foam pads inside the individual tape carts. When the tapes are OK, the sound is awsome. Much better than any MP3 file.

  4. Even when they were new, I never heard a cart that didn't have tape noise. In the studio they were useful, but mostly utilitarian.

  5. Anonymous10:18 AM

    I worked at a 100kw chr and we used carts for mx, spots, jingles, everything.

    We had 8 itc 99b's on air and 2 99b recorder/reproducer's; one in production and the other connected to a stereo that was used for carting music. Both had ELSA and we used audiopack sgs4 carts, max trax heads and no NR. They sounded great and were ultra reliable. Every other station in the same market was using denon cart cd players and they screwed up constantly.

    The computer bases systems are nice but from what I've heard only 1 allowed uncompressed digital audio playback.

  6. For all of their general clunkiness they pretty much just worked. I do miss them.