Remember carts? Yeah, those big blue (or brown, or gray) rectangles filled with that old-fashioned stuff called tape? Splice finders, bulk erasers – they are all a thing of the past, right?
|The Last Audi-Cords|
|In researching Scott Fybush’s story about the Cart Guys, we contacted the company that makes Audi-Cord cart machines to confirm that they were, in fact, still being manufactured. |
"We have enough (parts) to build five more," said Steve Sabran, vice president of sales and marketing for ACC Electronix in Normal, Ill. When those are built and sold, he said, the company will make no more, thus bringing to an end one of the few remaining cart machine assembly lines.
ACC Electronix is owned by Andy Rector. In the early 1990s, Sabran said, the company moved its business focus to electronic contract manufacturing – assembling printed circuit boards for industrial clients.
The firm still services the cart machines it sold. Reach ACC at (309) 888-9990.
After all, a PC that costs less than a single cart machine can store hundreds of hours of audio, all accessible instantly, with no waits to re-cue or worries about tape tangling.
You’d be forgiven, then, if you thought the humble cart was as dead as that electrical transcription lathe over in the corner.
You’d also be wrong. Meet Jim Martin and his son James, aka "The Cart Guys" of Tucson, Ariz. – among the last bastions of cart technology.
Ironically, Jim Martin doesn’t even remember the days of triple-play Spotcasters. He worked in the construction business before entering the cart business last year – yes, you read that right: 2000 – at the suggestion of his friend and RW contributor Barry Mishkind.
"It has been a huge undertaking," Martin said of the purchase, which closed last July. "Barry received an e-mail from a buddy of his at LPB, which had bought Fidelipac as a whole, and they wanted to spin off the cart business," he said. A trip to the LPB office in suburban Philadelphia followed.
"We ... took a look, and said, ‘It looks good to us,’" Martin recalled.
So, at the end of last June, everything that remained of Fidelipac’s cart business arrived in Tucson in the back of a big truck, leaving Martin as perhaps the only proprietor of America’s cart industry at the dawn of the 21st century. Martin believes his is the only company left making new cart machines.
Why would anyone buy into the technology now? For the business, Jim Martin said.
"We have orders for carts going all over the world. We have some going to Sri Lanka right now."
Martin said large national broadcasters in many countries are reluctant to abandon proven cart technology to make the changeover to computers throughout their operations. The result, he said with pride, is that they still need his services.
"They said we’d only sell three cart machines a month," Martin said. In fact, Cart Guys has sold dozens of Dynamax-brand machines since production began in Tucson, and that’s not even counting the carts themselves.
"We’ve sold several thousand carts, total; a few hundred a month," Martin said. Cart Guys’ product line includes Fidelipac standbys such as the Model 300, Master Cart and Cobalt cartridges, in lengths from 10 seconds up to 7.5 minutes.
Next up for the Cart Guys: using their newfound expertise to take on the backlog of old cart machines still sitting in storage at stations around the world.
"We’re starting a line of used cart machines which will be restored totally up to factory specs," Martin said. "We’re also going to start a cart-rewinding service. We can totally rebuild a cart so it’s good as new – new tape, new bearings."
The Martins also are taking cart machines for service, not to mention giving out plenty of advice to cart owners.
Jim Martin knows he stepped into a business that’s long past its heyday, but he believes there’s still plenty of business left for the Cart Guys.
"We’re expecting that things will continue (at this pace) for at least five years," he said. "The message we’re getting from some people is that they’ll never go to computers, their stations are so small and they have so many carts on hand."
He also expects at least some business from the big guys.
"A lot of large-market stations still keep carts around as backup," he said.
Even the newest players on the radio scene are turning to the Cart Guys: Martin says he recently took an order for 18 cart machines from satellite broadcaster XM Satellite Radio.
On the other end of the technology spectrum, Martin says he’s depending on international business to keep business going for years to come.
"The word that we’re getting back from the third world is that they’re never going to go to computers" for on-air audio, he said.
Call them an anachronism; but Martin believes the Cart Guys are here to stay.
"Our plan is to stick with this," he said, "and to build it to a point where our family is kept in bread and milk."
The Cart Guys can be reached at (520) 327-4466 or on the Web at www.cartguys.com