The PlayTape was the creation of one Frank Stanton and was launched at an MGM Records distributors meeting in New York during 1966. Self-winding tapes of anything up to 24 minutes in length, selling for between $1 and $3 (battery-operated players cost between $20 and $30) were touted as the ultimate in portable music, a market which radio had hitherto had to itself.
With backing from a number of record companies, PlayTapes were launched in September 1967 in five formats, each distinguished by the color of the cartridge. PlayTapes in red packaging featured two songs, the equivalent of a 7-inch single. Black cartridges featured four songs; white cartridges featured eight. Full LP releases would thus be spread across two tapes; the Beatles White Album consumed five (0955-0959).
In addition, there were also collections of children’s songs (blue cartridges) and educational/spoken-word issues (gray cartridges). The tapes were packaged in bubble packs, which could be hung on special racks in retail outlets. All releases by individual artists were originally packaged with the same artwork.
There was no shortage of PlayTape releases. MGM artists dominated the field, with PlayTapes by The Animals, Herman’s Hermits, the Righteous Brothers and Steve and Eydie swiftly making themselves known. But Warners (Petula Clark, Connie Stevens, Grateful Dead and Mason Williams), Capitol (the Beach Boys, Nat King Cole, the Beatles and the Hollyridge Strings), ABC (Lovin’ Spoonful, the Mamas and The Papas and the Impressions), Reprise (Frank Sinatra, Nancy Sinatra, Dean Martin and Jimi Hendrix), A&M (Herb Alpert and Sergio Mendes) and Motown (the Temptations, the Four Tops, Smokey Robinson and Stevie Wonder) also signed on early on. All releases were in mono; plans to launch stereo PlayTapes never came to fruition.
By early 1968, more than 3,000 artists were featured in the PlayTape catalog. A marketing tie-in with Pepsi-Cola broadened PlayTape’s scope even further, while electronics firm Discarton Ltd. launched a combination portable record (45s only)/PlayTape player which stands as a direct forebear of the music centers of the 1970s.
However, despite having the portable market to itself for much of 1967-68, PlayTape’s days were limited. The nature of the system, while similar to 4- and 8-track technology, allowed for only 2-track tapes; it was that which limited the tape’s length, and that which gave the rival formats an edge.
By late 1968, their own first portable players were hitting the market and, while PlayTapes did continue (for reasons unknown) to flourish in Germany, by 1969 their American lifespan was over.
The biggest market for PlayTapes today is limited to enthusiasts of individual artists, broadening collections which have already swept the vinyl, 8-track and similar common formats. The Beatles, of course, are the most popular act in this respect — most of their LP catalog appears to have been issued on PlayTape, although some releases have eluded discovery thus far. In addition, several Apple releases, including George Harrison’s Wonderwall Music (0989) and Mary Hopkin’s Post Card (1030), appeared.
The Mini Pac was an early predecessor of the PlayTape, designed by Earl Muntz (inventor of the 4-track cartridge) as an alternative to singles and EPs. Mini Pacs held up to four songs and were compatible with all 4-track existing players. However, the format seems to have existed for a matter of months only, and tapes today are exceedingly rare.
A little known variant on the 8-track, the Mini-8 was introduced in 1969 by Lear Jet a