More Format Wars

May 10, 2010

Through the C20th sound was preserved via a bewildering array of formats. Wax cylinders, 78rpm shellac discs, singles, EPs, LPs, wire recorders, magnetic tapes of varying widths moving at varying speeds, compact Cassette tapes of varying shape and size from Elcasets to those tiny ones found in answer machines, Laserdiscs, Minidiscs, DAT, DCC and CD to name some of the most popular.

Somewhere in the middle was the 4 track and 8 track Cartridge format. More popular in the USA than here and more popular in cars than in the home it had a lifespan from roughly 1965 to the early 1980s.

I don’t know what I expected to find when I prised open an 8 track cartridge tape to see how it worked…..perhaps the tape performing some complicated figure of eight manoevre around numerous rollers…… Actually the interior is quite basic yet elegant in its simplicity. I was aware that the tape was divided into 8 tracks which could make 4 “programmes” creating the stereo by reading two tracks at the same time.

What I didn’t realise is that the continuous tape is pulled out from the centre of the single hub. Consequently the tape has to be very loosely wound and it is critical that the correct pressure is maintained against the tape between the capstan on the player and the pinch roller inside the cartridge to keep everything moving along and preventing the dreaded “concertina effect” where the tape bunches up with disasterous consequences.

The clever bits are evidentally within the 8 track player itself. A metal strip at the end of the tape “programme” activates a solenoid coil to move the playback head to the next “programme” on the tape loop. You often saw similar metal strips at the beginning and end of open reel tapes to switch those machines off when the tape came to an end.

PS: I note that currently on eBay someone has for sale a number of new/unused/shop-soiled/working (??) “Wein” taiwanese 8 track cartridge players (table-top not car dashboard type…..amp and speakers required) for the not unreasonable sum of £25 each !!! (They are also selling an AM Radio Broadcast Transmitter for £55,000 which I am sure must have an interesting story behind it……….)


Apr 26, 2010

ITEM:    Perhaps one day I’ll be “carbon neutral” by not purchasing too much more “stuff” that will ultimately need disposing of. However I recently added loads more collectables rubbish to the skip (and ultimately landfill I presume). One box was full of 8 track cartridge tapes. It’s not like I ever played them. Most had lost their outer sleeves and they all looked tatty and water-stained. I believe I found them in the back of a second-hand Triumph GT6 I once bought.

The 4 track cartridge first appeared in the early 1960s and soon found favour at radio stations. Jingles and adverts could be set up on the tape loops so once they had been played they were all ready to go the next time. Players were soon developed for cars to exploit this new format. At least they were an improvement over the car-dashboard-mounted 45rpm record players from a few years earlier.

4 track cartridges were rather clunky as they required you to push one of four buttons to move to the next part of the tape. So the format was soon improved and called “8 track” , but not made backwards compatible with the earlier system. Although called 8 tracks there were still only 4 “programmes” (presumably they now had the capacity to be in stereo) and at least they now played in sequence without too much button pressing. By splitting two-sided LPs into four you often found the ludicrous situation where a tune stopped halfway through as the tape moved over to the next track. Take this example here. “Nowhere Man” isn’t much more than 3 minutes long and yet they’ve chopped it in two !!  Surprisingly you (not me !!) could still buy these pre-recorded cartridge tapes until the early 1980s (often in racks at Car Accessory shops) despite the Philips cassette tape being most people’s preference at home and in the car.

PS: I actually still own a Lloytron Music Centre which plays 8 track cartridges as well as LPs. I believe it also RECORDS onto 8 track tape too which is rather unusual.  Another novelty I’ve still kept is a contraption that you push into the cartridge slot which enables you to play a cassette tape through your 8 track cartridge system…apparently often found in glove boxes in early 1970s Rolls Royces.

ITEM:   Stacks of  books went into the skip but as usual at the last minute I had second thoughts and rescued something. This time I decided to reprieve a dozen Broons Annuals.  D.C.Thompson’s Beano characters now inhabit the C21st and yet Oor Wullie still continues to sit on his metal bucket (??). Didn’t he ought to be sitting on a Wheelie-Bin by now ??

ITEM:    Feeling proud of myself that I’ve disposed of so much stuff I immediately order half a dozen new graphic novels. “Models Inc” looks interesting as it features Millie the Model, Chili, Patsy, Hedy and more !! All the Marvel Comic characters have gone through some massive changes over the years but they certainly haven’t aged. In normal time Millicent would be 80 years old by now. Patsy Walker looks good for her age too. From her romance comic origins Ms Walker is now a “Marvel Diva”. I really enjoyed this 4 part series with its tales of Patsy and her “gal pals” shopping, drinking coffee in hospital waiting rooms and visiting her ex-husband in Hell (??). Highly recommended.

PS: Did you know that Patsy Walker was first seen (along with her friend Hedy, but surprisingly not Millie the Model) in the official “Marvel Universe” in 1965 as a guest at Sue and Reed’s wedding in Fantastic Four Annual No 3.