If you know anything about me, you know that I absolutely love music, radio and pop culture. You may also know that I wrote a book on all of those things called, ”No Static at All – a behind the scenes journey through radio and pop music.” As such, I have tremendous respect for authors and also count among my great passions writing and reading.
That’s why R.J. King’s new book, “8 Track – The First Mobile App” holds such great appeal for me. Released in recent days by the longtime, award-winning journalist and dbusiness magazine founder and editor, “8 Track” takes readers through a multi-year journey of invention, innovation and consumer applications, much of which I had never heard of before.
In the mid-to-late 70s, I recall the 8-track player as being as much a temporary media fad as anything else. Growing up with vinyl – first 45s and then 33 1/3s – the 8-track was an oddity that clicked between cuts and, at one point on each 8 Track cassette, faded out in the middle of a song only to fade back in for its completion, post-click. My purchases of this medium were few with the Steve Miller Band’s “Book of Dreams” and Kiss’ “Kiss Alive II” being the only ones I can recall. The smaller, more portable cassette tape (on which we taped music off the radio or record album) would soon catch on to a greater degree with my generation, in particular for mix tapes and car radios.
Ahh, cars. King’s book recounts with detail how, in the 1960s, the 8-track player was originally perfected and utilized by and for the auto industry in conjunction with competing inventors Earl Muntz and Bill Lear; the latter of Lear jet fame. Lear, in fact, had originally dabbled in the technology for potential use in his corporate jets where radio signals were unusable. Muntz pushed a 4 Track option (again, I had never heard of), Lear the 8. The technology would soon “wow” everyone from radio stations and record companies to manufacturers, distributors and, of course, the public. First in automobiles where it outperformed air conditioning as an option then on to the consumer market where it caught on like hot cakes.
The book is obviously a labor of love for King whose dad, John P. King, was hired by Ford Motor Company in 1965 as the project engineer who would see the 8 Track project to fruition, including through collaborations with Motorola’s radio production facility and RCA’s record factory. The story of the 8 Track is tumultuous and ingenuous, cut throat and cutting edge. It was a technology whose time had come and would eventually pass but not before leaving an indelible mark on the history of music and engineering. King captures it well, like sound on magnetic tape, to be consumed and enjoyed.