You’re sent a magazine in the post.
Inside, it contains listings of many different audio programmes. The first few pages of the magazine are taken up with a ‘Highlights’ section - a few dozen favourites chosen by the magazine’s small editorial staff - while the remainder is ordered by genre: sports, comedy, science, music, news, etc. Each entry contains a small picture and a few sentences explaining what the show is about, and why you might like to listen.
There are a great variety of shows, because the company which compiles the listings allows anyone who is capable of recording audio programmes - anyone with a microphone and a cassette-recorder, essentially - to put themselves forward for inclusion. Series which violate copyright or obscenity laws are usually excluded; otherwise, almost everyone who applies is eventually listed.
At the very back of the magazine is a form. You are invited to fill it in, listing the names of the programmes that you’d like to hear, and send it off in a prepaid envelope that came with the magazine. There is no limit to the number of programmes you can request. The information from this form is then processed by the magazine company and passed on to the makers of the programmes that you have listed.
And then, each time these programme-makers record a new episode of their series, they copy it onto a cassette tape and send it to you in the post, free of charge. Once received, these cassettes are yours to keep; you can listen to them whenever you wish and on any device that will play them.
In the decade or so since its launch, many thousands of programmes have been added to the listings and the magazine itself has grown from a small pamphlet into something the size of a telephone directory. The community of makers is rich and diverse: there are series made by lone amateurs, working out of their bedrooms; and made by teams of professionals, working within the world’s great broadcast corporations. Listeners have taken enthusiastically to the medium, attracted by its eccentricity, variety, and the fact that it costs nothing to access. There are complaints that the magazine’s bulk makes it increasingly hard to navigate or effectively browse — but, given the physical limitations of print, no one is entirely sure of what to do about this.
The company which makes the magazine does not directly make money from the service. There is, however, an indirect benefit, as their core business is the design and manufacture of portable cassette players.