Profile on the 1970s: 8-track tapes

My comic Mayfield Eight is set in a weekend in August 1974.

Lots of stuff I've covered in previous posts was over subjects prevalent to that era like waterbeds, shag carpeting or Patty Hearst. It's time once again to talk about a new innovation for the 1970s, which might sound strange today.

What's an 8-track?

Imagine you're in your car in 1974. You got an awesome sound system, 6 speakers stereophonic the whole works. But all you can listen to is the radio. What if you want to hear your favorite song? Wouldn't it be cool if you could just play a record you own? Cars did actually offer a record player option in the 1950s but that was assuming you had the car parked, like at a picnic and wanted to play records.

What if you wanted to be driving AND listen to your tunes?


Enter 8-track technology.

8-tracks were an endless spool of magnetic tape tucked inside a plastic cartridge that slid into the slot of the player in your car. Ford Chrysler and GM adopted them as options or standard equipment by the mid-1970s. In the early days like 1966 and forward you had it bolted on, this huge box of plastic, either on the bottom of your dashboard or on the transmission tunnel, preventing you from sliding across the seat if you had bench seats.

How did it work?

A 1/4 inch wide strip of magnetic tape is spooled around an empty center that is continually being added to on the outside while its core is pulled out.

The endless loop of tape has eight strips along it that the tape heads read. It's split up into 4 sections, each section getting a left and right side for stereo sound. Midway through the endless loop is a metal tab that, once tripped over the splice made out of a strip of foil that causes the sensor to move the machine to play the next section. They'd try to avoid letting the 'splice' interrupt a song since it had an annoying 'CLIK CLIK' noise attached to it. Sometimes they'd merely 'fade in fade out' the part...


It had its drawbacks.

Let's say you were listening to Led Zeppelin II. Just as you're getting to the tail end of 'Whole Lotta Love' with John Bohnam's drum fill and Robert Plant's wailing you'd hear it fade out unexpectedly... and a CLICK CLICK ... then fade back in to finish the last 30 seconds of the song.

But hey! At least you got to hear your own tunes in your car!!

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