In 1950, Sony launched Japan's first G-type tape recorder and "Soni-Tape" magnetic tape. Shortly after, the use of reel-to-reel tape recorders proliferated from government offices to schools, broadcast stations and private homes. In the 1950s, stereophonic sound and transistor technology were developed and commercialized.
Norio Ohga, section manager of the Tape Recorder Division, began the push to make reel-to-reel tape recorders easier to use in the 1960s. In 1964, the TC-357, known as the "SONY-O-MATIC Seven," was fitted with a fully automatic recording level control function. The TC-357 afforded simple and automatic operation thanks to its escalate drive mechanism. At the same time, however, Ohga began to think that the reel-to-reel system had limitations.
Looking further ahead, the 1958 launch of tape cartridges by RCA spurred companies worldwide into developing tape cartridges, cassettes and "magazine tapes" under various names and based on different standards. The common feature of these products was, unlike manually threaded reel-to-reel systems, simply inserting the encased tape into a tape player and pressing a button could operate the new systems. People without technical backgrounds could operate it very easily. Naturally, the machine itself could also be miniaturized.
While Sony had launched the "Baby-corder," a reel-to-reel "magazine-type" machine in 1957, and had taken the initiative in developing cassette tapes as well as other smaller, lighter products, these items had not achieved wide market penetration. Sony tape products at this time were called "magazine-type tapes."
Ohga declared, "We want to create a worldwide standard for encased magnetic tape products and make easy to use tape recorders available to everyone." This became the increasing focus of his day-to-day activities. Although Sony was in the advantageous position of being Japan's leading tape recorder manufacturer, independently developing a worldwide standard was a difficult prospect. Ohga felt that cooperation with partners was necessary.
One day in September 1963, at the opening of the Berlin IFA Exhibition, Fredrich Lachner of the German company Grundig proposed to Ohga that the two companies cooperate in developing a DC International Standard for cassette tapes, a standard conceived by three German manufacturers. While Ohga considered this possibility, another proposal came from Wisse Dekker, manager of the Philips Electronics Far East Division and later president, and L.F. Ottens, a technical expert also from Philips. They came to Japan and proposed the co-development of the compact cassette to Ohga. Philips had already developed a compact cassette in 1963. The advantages of both the Grundig and Philips formats were weighed and considered. In the end, Ohga chose the Philips compact cassette because of its smaller size.
However, a problem over royalties arose during the contract stage. Philips initially suggested that it receive a payment of 25 yen for each unit sold by companies in Japan. Ohga thought this was excessive and did not agree to it. A few days later, Philips showed some flexibility and asked for 6 yen per unit, a figure it said other companies had agreed to. Masanobu Tada, Operations Division manager, recommended that Sony accept the offer, but Ohga still refused, insisting that unless Philips waived royalties altogether, Sony would collaborate with Grundig. Finally, Philips agreed to waive royalties, but did not give Sony exclusive rights to the technology. In 1965, based on a patent that guaranteed compatibility, Philips made the technology available free of charge to manufacturers all over the world. One year earlier, the start of Shinkansen services between Tokyo and Osaka and the Tokyo Olympics had demonstrated the extent of Japan's postwar recovery to a surprised world.
Thereafter, the newly standardized compact cassette format gained popularity. From 1966, Sony and other Japanese manufacturers began mass production of cassette tapes and tape recorders in response to growing demand. In 1966, Sony launched the TC-100 "Magazine-matic" cassette tape recorder, based on the compact cassette standard. Weighing only 1.75 kilograms, the cassette recorder was less than half the weight of the lightest reel-to-reel tape recorder, while taking up less than half the space.
At first, cassette tape recorders could not match the sound quality of reel-to-reel recorders and were mainly used as study aids and for general-purpose recording. However, technology was soon developed that allowed high quality recording and playback of music. Radio cassette tape recorders and other such products were launched, and the compact cassette tape became a widely used medium for the listening of music.
In 1965, when reel-to-reel systems still dominated the market, Japan's magnetic tape manufacturing industry was worth around 3.5 billion yen a year and exports were minimal. By 1969, with the introduction of the compact cassette and its establishment as a music medium, the magnetic tape market was worth more than 10 billion yen. By 1981, the combined annual production value of Japanese audio tape manufacturers was 130 billion yen, just over half of which was exported to markets abroad.
The compact cassette developed into a successful worldwide standard, living up to the expectations of Philips and Ohga. However, while regarding Ohga as a crucial partner in the success, Philips viewed him as someone who had caused them to lose a potential fortune in royalties.
As the 1970s drew to a close, a new development emerged that was to further boost the success of the audio cassette.