In the olden days gone by, it used to be that the only way you heard music was if someone played it live in front of you on an instrument, they sang to you or you sang or played an instrument yourself. With the invention of the first phonograph in 1877 and then the radio in 1901, it changed the entire way people could have access to music.
Eventually, almost every home had either a phonograph, a radio, or both. In 1930, radios were also being added to automobiles. This was a real treat because you could actually hear recorded or live music while you were driving down the road. What a novelty it was!
Where Were 8-Track Players Used?
The radio and phonograph remained the only ways you had to enjoy music at home and in the car until September of 1965 when the Ford Motor Company came out with their factory-installed and dealer-installed 8-track tape players. It was offered as an option in three of their most popular 1966 car models, the Mustang, the Thunderbird, and the Lincoln.
Also in 1966, the 8-track home players were introduced. They were really loved for their portability as opposed to the phonograph and they were an alternative to the radio because you could play the specific music you wanted to listen to.
How Does an 8-Track Work?
The tape inside the rectangle-shaped plastic box is divided along its length into 8 channels. This is why its called an 8-track. The tape heads will play two tracks at a time, 4 in stereo. A metal sensing strip connects the ends of the strip of ¼ inch tape thus forming the loop. The tape is wound around a spool or central hub.
Tape pulls out from the center of the central hub. It then moves to the top of the cartridge and connects with the playback head of the player through the opening at the top of the cartridge. The pressure pad inside the cartridge presses the tape against the playback head. A part of the player called the capstan is spun by the player’s motor.
When the capstan spins, it will roll the tape against the pinch roller inside the cartridge. The capstan and pinch roller work together to move the tape along the path at 3 and ¾ inches per second.
Then the tape will finally loop back to the spool or central hub, where it then re-wraps around the outside of the spool. When the whole length of tape has gone through the loop, a metal foil splice in the tape passes by a solenoid sensing coil that is stationed right beside the playback head in the player.
This will move the playback head along the width of the tape and it begins to play a new program. It’s really hard to visualize the process unless you open up a cassette and look at the inside.
All of this turning and wrapping of the tape inside the cartridge is a good indication as to why the 8-track could be prone to malfunction. Once an 8-track was damaged inside, it was difficult to repair it. They can be repaired, but it is something you would have to have the patience to do. Perhaps just getting inside the plastic casing might be the hardest part!
Why Did They Stop Putting 8 Tracks in Cars
During the mid-1960s until the very early 1980s, the 8-track player and 8-track cassettes held the largest market in electronics. They were pretty popular for about 20 years overall, but with most things electronic, when something new and better comes along, they go by the wayside fairly quickly. The 8-track actually began its decline in the late 1970s.
Once the smaller cassette tapes and players became popular, this also signaled the player’s demise in automobiles. The 8-track was last put in a vehicle in 1983. Some automakers like Cadillac had already been offering the smaller cassette players in cars as early as 1974 even before they were very popular. People like the smaller size of the cassette tape and it worked better, too.
The 8-track player was also phased out of retail stores along about the same time. You could still purchase the 8-track tapes at some stores and through record clubs like RCA and Columbia House up until 1988.
Are 8-Tracks Worth Anything
As with most older things, sometimes how valuable they will depend on what it’s worth to someone else. Even though you might not think the complex 8-track tapes are worth very much, it all depends on which ones you own and how rare or popular they might be. It is much the same as how vinyl records are valued.
Many 8-tracks can sell from $50 dollars on up into the hundreds of dollars. Some of the 8-tracks that have sold for several hundred dollars are Pink Floyd’s, Dark Side of the Moon, AC/DC’s, Fly on the Wall, and Kansas’, The Best of Kansas. Even though occasionally you can still find some old 8-track tapes in thrift stores and flea markets for a steal, they are getting harder to find, especially the ones that might be worth anything.
Are 8 Tracks Ever Coming Back?
While there are plenty of people out there that still have an 8-track player and some tapes and they may even collect them as they find them, the 8-track craze has probably not yet reached the comeback that vinyl records have. It may never get any bigger for 8-track than it is right now, but many people thought that vinyl records and cassette tapes would never make a comeback either, but they have.
Only a handful of artists, mostly not well known, have released any music on an 8-track tape. It could be that if and when there is a market for them again, more popular artists might give it a try or at least re-release some of their older stuff on 8-track. It will have to be a wait and see to tell whether they do ever make a real comeback or not.