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Extinct audio format gets a museum

The 8-track cartridge will be honored with its own museum in Dallas on Monday.

The Eight Track Museum opens on Monday in the Deep Ellum arts district of Dallas. If you're under 40 you may have never seen or heard an 8-track audio tape. The 5.25x4x.8 inch plastic tape cartridge was big and bulky, but it became wildly popular in cars in the 1960s. An 8-track cartridge contains a continuous loop of quarter-inch tape. The ends of the tape are linked by a metal foil splice, and the tape is divided along its length into 8 channels, or tracks (hence the name).

Bucks Burnett with a Lou Reed 8-track tape Peter Salisbury

Bucks Burnett, 52, is the force behind the creation of the Eight Track Museum. He didn't buy his first 8-track until 1988, when the format was already history, but that first tape, the Beatles' "White Album," led to collecting all the Beatles albums on 8-track. In the days before eBay, that wasn't easy, and it took five years to complete the set. He now has around 3,000 tapes.

The Museum also features a nice selection of car and home 8-track players, and the opening exhibit, "Conceived in Cars," is a tribute to the first two years (1965-66) of the 8-track, when it was a car-only format. Ford was the original and biggest booster of the format. The format was a really big deal at the time because 8-track was the only alternative to radio.

Burnett told me that the record labels didn't initially make their own tapes; they licensed tape companies like Ampex to make and sell the music. It took Warner Brothers a full five years to start making its own tapes.

Eight-track was a refinement of the similar-looking 4-track cartridge that dates back to the 1950s. A quadraphonic surround-sound version of 8-track debuted in April 1970 and was first known as Quad-8, then later changed to just Q8. Burnett told me that Quadraphonic 8-tracks are now highly collectable, and are usually worth more than Quad LP versions of the same title.

The more reliable analog cassette tape eventually killed off the 8-track format; though there was some record label support through the 1980s. Radio Shack sold 8-track players and recorders up to the mid-1990s.

Burnett expects to finish his 8-track documentary film, "Spinal Tape," sometime this year. He has over 40 interviews with rock stars, including Jimmy Page and members of Black Oak Arkansas. Burnett is about to launch a new 8-track label, starting with a Tom Tom Club release. Tom Tom's Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth will be signing copies of the tape at the Eight Track Museum's opening celebration on Monday.

Want more 8 Track info? Check out the 8 Track Heaven Web site.