The 8-track is a now archaic music format that was wildly popular in America in the 1970's. Similar to the cassette in the sense that it uses tape as its recording medium, an 8-track tape is approximately the size of an 8-bit Nintendo cartridge.

An 8-track cartridge consists of eight tracks (obviously) recorded on a 1/4 inch piece of tape, two of which (normally left and right channels of stereo sound) are played simultaneously. The tape is an endless loop (as opposed to the cassette) with a piece of metal foil splicing the ends together. The player senses this piece of metal and slides the playback head to the next two tracks. The complexity of the device and the large number of moving parts makes the 8-track conducive to tangling and mechanical failure.

The 8-track failed because industry improvements put the sound quality of the cassette format on a par with 8-track and manufacturers conquently shifted their R&D efforts towards the cassette. The lack of Dolby noise reduction was another reason for the 8-track's failure, as was the frequent breakdown of the tapes themselves, which could have been avoided by more stringent manufacturing practices. The last known American 8-track was the Columbia House-manufactured version of Chicago's XIX. Today, 8-tracks can be only be purchased at yard sales, thrift stores, and the like, but they have a large enough following to support a trade magazine, "8-Track Mind", and a newsgroup, alt.collecting.8-track-tapes.

The 8-track didn't fail as much as it was superseded by better technology. The plethora of old 8-track players and tapes at almost every flea market and yard sale and the large cult following it has demonstrates that in its heyday, it had significant market penetration.

The 8-track was invented by Bill Lear, the developer of the automatic pilot, the Lear Jet, the Lear Fan, a bunch of other cool stuff, and an incredibly smart guy in general. A friend of the inventor of the car stereo, Earl "Madman" Munz, Bill took a ride in a car with a Muntz stereo in 1963 and was so impressed that he installed Muntz players in several Lear Jets. Ever the tinkerer and inventor, Lear began taking the players apart, and developed the 8-track.

As far as the format's success, over 65,000 Motorola 8-track players were installed in Ford dashboards in 1966 alone. Manufacturing continued through the 70's and the devices were eventually pushed out of the market by the cassette by the end of that decade.

Thanks to
http://www.8trackheaven.com/history.html
http://www.rci.rutgers.edu/~dmorton/8_track_history.htm
http://www.techtv.com/audiofile/print/0,23102,3304393,00.html
for the statistics and sales information.

Speaking of Ford dashboards, back in the mid 60's my father owned a Chevron station in NJ where he sold and installed Lear 8-track decks. He was quite the entrepreneur and I recall a display in the office that sat on the counter, playing music all the time. It was a cardboard tri-fold with an 8-track and speakers (and a power supply behind it I suppose) to demo the Lear 8-track system. He sold alot of the darn things as I recall. Fast-forward a few years (my father had passed away and the business was sold) I installed a "Mini-8" tape deck, that I purchased from Route Electronics on Rt. 22 in NJ, in my '68 Camaro. Made my own tapes too on my friend Charley's 8-track recorder.

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