Thursday, January 20, 2005

Ok, does anyone remember cart machines?

Cart machines. Ahh... those were the days.

For the uninitiated, the term "Cart" is short for "Broadcast Cartridge". Obviously, a "Cart Machine" is the piece of equipment that plays (and sometimes records) 'em.

A Cart is basically a length of tape (the same as you would use on reel-to-reel machines), wound inside a plastic case (CARTridge, if you will). The two ends of the tape are spliced together, forming a tape loop. As soon as the recording reaches the end, it is automatically cued and ready to air again! Carts are generally made with lengths of tape that correspond to a certain number of seconds: e.g. 20sec, 40sec, or 2:30.

Carts were (and still are) especially useful for recording any short item that needs to be played repeatedly, such as top-hour station ID's, jingles, community announcements, commercial spots, etc. Many stations had most, or all of their music recorded on carts as well. The songs were usually transferred to cart from vinyl records.

When you begin recording on a cart, the cart machine puts an electronic pulse onto the tape. When you playback the cart, the machine recognises the pulse and stops as soon as it comes around. It's now cued right at the beginning and ready to play again. It is also possible to put more than one cut on a cart, and then each time the cart is fired (played) it will play one of several recordings in succession each time the machine is fired.


Fire cart.

Cut #1 plays: "Graveyard 1270 WGRV! Your home for the Jim Bohannon Show. Weeknights at 10, Only on WGRV!"

Cart stops, Cut #2 cued.

Fire cart...

Cut #2 plays: "Graveyard 1270 WGRV! Your home for Graveyard Township Football!"

Cart stops. Cut #3 cued.

Fire cart.

Cut #3 plays: "The New York City Stations don't have Graveyard Traffic! That's why there's Graveyard 1270, WGRV!!"

Cart stops. Cut #1 cued.........

Neat!! (ok, maybe not, given the above examples... but if you're still reading this, you know EXACTLY what I'm talking about!)

Carts look very similar to the 8-track tapes you may remember from the 70's.

Cart machines came in many forms. They were all very heavy and built to extremely high quality standards. There are cart machines that can play one cart at a time, there are "triple deckers" and there are even cart machines that will rotate up to 64 carts on automation.

Most cart machines are electronically controlled, but some old ones require you to insert the cart and then pull a big lever in order to play. These days, dinosaurs like that can usually only be found in toilet radio stations (sorry LNG... We Do Love YA!!)

In fact, most radio stations do not use cart machines any longer. Some stations still have them as backup sources, but most of these high quality, reliable machines have gone to the breakers to be turned into insurance writeoffs. Digital editing has made leaps and bounds in broadcasting. Instead of an Otari MX5050 and a razor blade, you can now edit audio quickly and efficiently in the digital domain! In fact, if you win a radio contest, your call can and will be edited before it goes on the air, using one of these.

Oh, yes... the venerable cart machine has all but gone the way of the Dodo. Instead, the music, commercials, liners, sweepers, etc. that you hear on your favorite radio station almost exclusively come from a computer. In fact, on a lot of radio stations even your favorite DJ comes from a computer, or from a satellite. This is called voice-tracking. But that's another subject entirely.

More to follow...


Blogger Mark said...

Not sure what you mean by Toilet Radio Stations - is that because they are going down the toilet, their format stinks, or what?

So, what do you think about Satellite Radio?

April 13, 2005 at 9:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Mark.

Ok, by toilet radio stations, I mean stations that have an extremely hokey sounding format. Toilet Radio is actually a term of endearment.

Stations like the linked WLNG, in Sag Harbor, NY, are an example of this type of station. WLNG broadcasts in MONO, has a very pronounced REVERB on the audio chain, and does alot of remote broadcasts from small shops around the area. Also, most of the commercials you will hear on WLNG are produced by simply having the advertiser call in over the phone and record their own commercial. I actually like WLNG, because their sound is so ridiculously different than what you hear on a typical radio station.

As far as Satellite Radio is concerned, I'm still not convinced it's worth paying for. I borrowed my boss's car one time, and she had Sirius. It was interesting, but I am not prepared to put up the equipment cost plus monthly fee for it, at least, not yet anyway.


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