When you think of 8track, visions of the internet radio streaming site might dance through your head, but don’t be fooled into thinking the inspiration behind the “8-track” name came from the digital era.
Younger generations may know of cassettes and CDs, but what the heck are 8-tracks? These magnetic tape sound recording devices predated cassette tapes, but not for very long.The first use of magnetic tape technology was with the reel-to-reel tape recorder from the 1940s. By the 1950s, endless loop single reel carriers were invented, but didn’t receive media hype until the mid-1960s. By then, cassettes were already developed, but were marketed as recording devices whereas 8-tracks were promoted as music players.
From Bentley to Rolls-Royce, nearly every car on the market had an 8-track recorder. This popularity grew after Ford Motor Company decided to add 8-track players into factory models in 1965. Before Ford installed 8-track, consumers would have to either buy a very expensive car to enjoy music tapes, or stick with the radio. A few years later, 8-track players were available as a separate purchase to be installed into cars that didn’t have a unit. The players were synced with AM and FM radio.
8-track home players were introduced in 1966 and praised for their portability and affordability compared to vinyl. Between car and home systems, 8-track had the largest market in consumer electronics.
But sure enough, just as 8-track reached its highpoint, the recording system faced a major downfall in the late 1970s. By 1982, music studios stopped shipping 8-tracks to retailers and cars removed the 8-track recorder from car models.
The compact cassette is the main reason why 8-tracks were faded out from the electronics industry. 8-tracks had major disadvantages such as the inability to rewind, and strong likelihood of jamming or getting dirty. Once consumers realized the benefits of cassettes for both recording and playing music, it was difficult for even the biggest 8-track fans to stay loyal to such a flawed device. In addition, even the “portability” perk of an 8-track was quickly undermined when cassettes were smaller and thinner in size.
Like most technology, the 8-track did have a longer life in the broadcast sphere. The tapes were used for radio jingles and station identifications up until the 1990s when digital recordings replaced even the most convenient 8-tracks.
Ever wonder what inspired the name 8-track? “Track” refers to multi-track recordings for music (isolating the singer, bassist, and pianist on single recordings). Even though 8-tracks aren’t separated by different instruments the way they are in music, the idea was still inspired by the music industry.
8-tracks have four “programs” on each tape. The programs include different songs or recordings that can be skipped or fast-forwarded by choosing the program you want to listen to. The programs have two tracks each for the left and right side, which means eight tracks in total.
Unlike vinyl or cassette, there is no such thing as “flipping over” the device to hear the other segments of music. All the tracks on an 8-track run the same way with independent signals divided into four strips on a single side.
Vinyl and cassettes still have significance in the music market, but 8-tracks remain completely obsolete ever since broadcast stations removed the tapes from their recordings. Nonetheless, they remain a relevant component to the history of music recording, as short-lived as it may have been!