Lear Jets and "kerchunk"

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Maybe you knew this, but it was news to me: The 8-track tape was developed by the Lear Jet Company. The website 8-Track Heaven has an interview with Frank Schmidt, a member of the design team at Lear that developed the 8-track. Schmidt talks about the technical challenges -- the head mechanism, the rollers, the motor, the cartridges -- and what it was like to work for Bill Lear:

He was a weird character. One of the first things we had to do when we set up our plant in Detroit was remove all the clocks out of the building. The Lear factory, office, plant, whatever, never had a clock in it. It was like a gambling casino… he didn’t want you to know what time it was....

We had a weird place in Wichita, too. It was the only aircraft plant I ever worked in that had a barbershop. Bill felt that your hair grew on company time, so it should be cut on company time! (laughs) You could call down there, get an appointment, and get a hell of a nice haircut. The other thing we had was a kitchen. It was a walled-in area right in the middle of the building. You could go in there 24 hours a day and you’d find a nice big kitchen with 4-5 tables, and everything you’d find in a kitchen: stove, sink, refrigerator, freezer, oven, the whole works. Completely stocked. Dishes, food, anything you’d want. It was all free.


W. said:

I once loved 8-tracks. But eventually the limitations of the medium had me searching for something else.

The record companies often changed the sequence of songs to make them fit properly on the four channels, so that tended to wreck the continuity of concept albums. If one song melded into another (Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" is an example), they had to fade out a song in the middle, click to the next channel and fade it back in.

The worst was that the tape in the 8-tracks was fragile and prone to getting chewed up by the player. Seeing my player destroy an Eric Clapton album less than two weeks after I bought it was the last straw.

Strangely enough, my favorite 8-track from that era was "Music from Marlboro Country." No kidding. I think my dad got it as a freebie when he had a pack-a-day habit. Ownership of such an album would be politically incorrect today. But it was a cool 8-track that had a couple of original songs and choice tracks from cowboy movies, and it helped fire my imagination about the West -- which helped lead me to Tulsa.

I switched over to cassettes for a while, although the tape hiss was bad -- worse than 8-tracks, even. After a flirtation with vinyl (it didn't last because of the pops and clicks), I fell head over feet for compact discs -- a love affair that lasted for more than 20 years.

Now I have a new musical love in my life -- my iTunes jukebox and iPod. Firing up the shuffle mode brings up strange and wonderful combinations (old-timey gospel followed by JET, for instance) that have made me gain a new appreciation for my music collection.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on April 29, 2005 8:58 AM.

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