Have You Ever Heard Of The 8 Track Tape?


Peter Leeson discusses the development of music and how the eight track tape functioned in the 1960s.

In this modern age, the possibilities of what one can find at the press of a button seem near infinite. The different media options, articles and utilities have made life much easier for people. One does not have to go to a rental shop to watch the latest blockbuster, or have to walk down the street to buy the latest hit album. Unlike a few years ago when these formats were used widely, if one showed a VHS to a child of the younger generation, you would probably get the wide eyed response, ‘You watched movies on these!?’

The 8-Track Tape was a magnetic, sound-recording format, used from the mid 60’s to late 70’s

The selection of physical media options has been slowly reducing over the years, and more and more people have switched to using online streaming and such. There are people who dislike these changes, and there are many who have returned to the old-fashioned formats. Record collecting has become a popular hobby in the past years, with new albums appearing on the shelves of our stores every now and then, and the numbers of people who still use CD’s are still at large. Of course there are many more formats that were were once used but have been forgotten in the recent years.

The 8-Track Tape was a magnetic, sound-recording format, used from the mid 60’s to late 70’s, similar to the well known compact audio cassette. The 8-track tape, unlike the audio cassette, only had one reel, and one of the disadvantages of it was that it could not rewind. However, due to the way the tape was looped around the reel, it could be fast forwarded in a continuous loop. To explain how the 8-track got its name, you need to understand how the tape works. Firstly, the magnetic tape is split up into four, vertical, separate tracks, when the tape finishes the three or four songs which are held on one of these tracks, it hits a small metal strip which is embedded on the tape, when the player head makes contact with the metal, it switches to the next track. It is called the 8-track because each of the separate tracks hold the left and right stereo format, for more enjoyable listening. Ingenious as this system is, there does tend to be a bit of leakage with the audio tracks when the tape does not align with the tape head properly. This means that audio from the other tracks can sometimes be heard in the background. Another consumer problem was that it had a rather thick design, however it was still popular enough to make it into some car audio systems. For people interested in old audio formats, they would be recommended to be supplied with a simple repair kit for the refurbishment of these tapes. The sponge, which is found behind the tape, has been known to have disintegrated over the years of storage, so it is advisable to have a few spare, just in case.

Now, one question one might ask would be, what types of albums can I buy? And, what genres are available? Well, since the 8-Track Tape was mostly used from 1965 to 1985, one can expect lots of the main albums that appeared at that time to be available. These genres span from the famous pop groups of the times, to more relaxed classical music. The tape also held the soundtracks from famous movies and children’s selections as well. It was in the beginning of the 80’s that the 8-Track made its last stand and the albums were only available through mail order. It was around 1988 that the last tape was made and though there were some blank tapes still sold, those soon faded out too.