Stolen Cassette Deck Karma Goes Around, Comes Around

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
stolen cassette deck karma goes around comes around

One thing that really sucked about the pre-MP3 era was that it was a huge hassle to get your car a cheap source of music that didn’t sound terrible. As I gather components to set up my Dodge A100 Hell Project with an ironic 8-track setup, I’m forced to recall the hot cassette deck that was more or less forced into my not-so-willing hands back in 1982.

My first car was a 50-buck 1969 Toyota Corona sedan. It came with a factory AM radio (with the CONELRAD stations indicated by Civil-Defense symbols) in the dash, which meant I could listen to scratchy, mono-dash-speaker stuff like Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock-N-Roll” on KFRC.

It also came with an underdash Kraco 8-track player. By the early 1980s, 8-tracks had become laughably obsolete (but not yet ironic-hipster cool), and no 16-year-old wanted to be seen with an 8-track tape in his or her possession. That would be as humiliating a 16-year-old having a Zune now. Being broke, I picked up a genuinely lo-fi piece of audio hardware for $1.50 from the U-Pull yard on 85th Avenue in east Oakland: a cassette-to-8-track adapter. Yes, such devices actually existed, and they almost worked! Well, no, they didn’t.

Cassettes sucked, too, but they sucked less than 8-tracks (this Non/Boyd Rice tape is the only store-bought cassette I can dig up at this hour; I’ve given up finding an image of the X cassette I really wanted for this rant). What I needed was a proper cassette deck for my Corona, so I could crank the Dead Kennedys and Motörhead as I cruised Park Street with a mighty 1900 cubic centimeters of Toyota R power at my command. Back then, however, you couldn’t even get an off-brand Taiwanese Staticblaster cassette player for the kind of money I was able to scrape up from my after-school job stocking the beer fridge at the Herpes Central Beach And Tennis Club Bar, not if you were trying to save up the cash to buy a ’71 Satellite with header-equipped 318. Junkyard decks weren’t much cheaper, not if they worked. What to do?

I figured something would come up, but my friend “Sick Dog” (second from left in the yearbook photo of my crypto-Baja-ized ’58 Beetle, above) couldn’t stand riding in my car and being forced to listen to “Kill The Poor” through a warbly-ass 8-track adapter and decided to take decisive action. This decisive action consisted of Sick Dog ripping off the cassette deck from a Capri II owned by a young woman who lived next door; he believed that she had once called the cops on him for doing bleach burnouts in his (six-cylinder) ’68 Mustang and thus deserved to get her Capri de-stereo-ized. Dressed all in black, including ski mask— he was on a mission, you see— he coat-hangered his way into the car and spent hours silently dismantling the dash and removing the Realistic cassette deck. Next day at school, filled with pride, he handed me a paper bag containing the stereo. “Let’s install it tonight!” I was horrified, but what could I do? Rat off my best friend to The Man? I told him he was an asshole. “What’s done is done,” he replied, “Now you’ve got tunes, dude!”

So, we rigged up the cassette deck in place of the AM radio in the Corona, using some junkyard speakers sitting in holes crudely hacked into the rear package shelf with a jigsaw. Powering it up, we discovered that it had a cassette inside. Not just any cassette, in fact— this was one of the greatest albums ever recorded: X’s 1980 masterpiece, Los Angeles. I’d heard of X— they were starting to get medium-big in Northern California with Under The Big Black Sun around that time— but I had never listened to Los Angeles all the way through. It immediately became my favorite tape and went on many road trips over the next 20 years (it was finally eaten by a tape-hungry boombox in my ’76 Nova)… but I always felt a twinge of guilt, thinking about the poor Capri-driving woman losing both her stereo and (what I’ve always assumed was) her favorite cassette. Actually, more than a twinge of guilt; there have been times that I’ve felt like the protagonist of an Edgar Allen Poe story, being stalked by a ghost who hums “Johnny Hit And Run Pauline” while dragging chains over an endless expanse of busted tape decks.

I’ve often wondered if Sick Dog, who grew up into a reasonably law-abiding guy, feels bad about his youthful stereo theft, or if he even remembers it. For my part, I can tell you that there is such a thing as Hot Cassette Deck Karma; I’ve had plenty of cassette players ripped off from my vehicles over the years. Sure, living in urban-entrepreneur-heavy San Francisco and Oakland had something to do with it, but the real reason was the straight-outta-Poe ghost leading miscreants to my parked car. It’s been at least 10 years since I’ve had a car stereo theft, so the Tape Deck Ghost appears to believe that my half-dozen disappeared cassette players was a sufficient price to pay for the tainted deck in my Corona.

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  • Ciddyguy Ciddyguy on Dec 31, 2010

    Ah, the venerable cassette, I was lucky in the sense that good friends went w/ the 8-track back in the 70's with the Zenith System 3 all in one stereo system that they bought in I think 1974 and by the standards of those systems, it was HUGE in size, anyway, I managed to skip the 8-track and went straight for the cassette format, thanks to my Dad who that Christmas I think gave me a small portable cassette deck for Christmas, yep, a K-Mart special w/ built in condenser mic even and I've had several cassette decks ever since, still have one as part of my computer audio setup. That said, back in HS, I had for a brief while an AM/8-track deck in my 68 Chrysler Newport 4 door sedan, not even a hardtop at that and would later replace it with the factory radio which I put back in, it was AM and had thumbwheels, a very cool item back in the day and fitted underneath it an underdash cassette player from Radio Shack that had auto music search AND auto reverse, yup, a rarity in the lower models and I think it went for some $70 or so back in the early 80's, true it had an itty, bitty amp, but it did alright, even with the cheap Rad Shack 4" surface mounted speakers jury rigged into the rear 6x9 speaker holes. When I bought my oldest sister and her first hubby's 74 Chevy Nova, it came with a basic Sears AM/FM cassette deck and 2 way 6x9 speakers in the parcel shelf, that was my first indash cassette deck and I've had them ever since, even went through 2 Realistic powered graphic EQ's, blew out both of their power sections before replacing the whole thing with a cheap off brand deck from our local flea market. It did alright for what it was back in the mid 80's and eventually grew out of the cheap decks into a decent Kenwood 2 shaft model to fit in the space of the original AM/FM radio in my 83 Civic in 1992, had auto reverse, music search, soft eject, high powered amp (50W with 2 speakers, 25W each w/ 4) and put in a pair of 6.5" Kenwood 2 ways in the doors, later adding surface mounted mini 3 way speakers in the back cargo cover area that I built for the back cargo area and it was a fantastic deck for the day. The '88 Honda Accord, the LX-I grade four door had the top factory deck and it was fantastic as factory decks go, excellent base from the full range 6x9's in the rear but had to replace the front speakers as the passenger side driver crapped out, installed some Boston Accoustic 2 way drivers in the doors to replace them, yes, the original factory speakers were 2 ways as well. I would later get tired of dealing with the portable CD player via cassette adapter and replaced it a crappy in dash CD head unit that skipped all over the place but ended up replacing the car several months later in 2006 with the Ford Ranger. That truck had the basic, but solid factory cassette deck, sound was OK, bass was truncated greatly, even with the stock 6x8's in the rear and I would later replace it with a decent, but basic Panasonic in dash CD head unit w/ removable faceplate and replaced the rear speakers with Infinity Kappa 6x8 speakers and wow, what a difference it makes in the sound in the truck, however, still have the front stock speakers, the driver's side driver is no longer working however. To me, music while driving is essential and I always made mix tapes, never used Dolby, used quality tapes from Maxell, TDK or Fuji, most all Chrome and drove the levels just a tad over 0 on the vue meters to ensure good, clean, but full bodied sound from the cassette and when done well, the tapes sounded fantastic, now I do the same with the CD format, making mix CD's, even redoing a several of my better mixes from scratch to CD. While I didn't listen to punk much, I DID and still do listen to a wide variety of rock music from classic rock to some hard rock to disco to New Wave to name a few, mixing newer stuff with vintage material for mix CD's in a "freeform" style became a 6 CD series and are some of the best road music out there IMO.

  • Ironyouth77 Ironyouth77 on Mar 13, 2011

    do you still have the boyd rice tape? and if so, are you willing to part with it?

  • 28-Cars-Later I'm actually surprised at this and not sure what to make of it. In recent memory Senator Biden has completely ignored an ecological disaster in Ohio, and then ignored a tragic fire in Hawaii until his handlers were goaded in sending him and his visit turned into it's own disaster, but we skipped nap time for this sh!t show? Seriously? We really are through the looking glass now, "votes" no longer matter (Hillary almost won being the worst presidential candidate since 1984 before he claimed the crown) and outside of Corvette nostalgia Joe doesn't care let alone know what day it happens to be. Could they really be afraid of Trump, who AFAIK has planned no appearance or run his mouth on this issue? Just doesn't make sense, granted this is Clown World so maybe its my fault for trying to find sense in a senseless act.
  • Tassos If you only changed your series to the CORRECT "Possibly Collectible, NOT Daily Driver, NOT Used car of the day", it would sound much more accurate AND TRUTHFUL.Now who would collect THIS heap of trash for whatever misguided reason, nostalgia for a much worse automotive era or whatever, is another question.
  • ToolGuy Price dropped $500 overnight. (Wait 10 more days and you might get it for free?)
  • Slavuta Must be all planned. Increase price of cars, urbanize, 15 minutes cities. Be poor, eat bugs
  • Sid SB Not seen a Core without the performance pack yet. Prefer the more understated look of the Core vs the Circuit, but both are great fun to drive.