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When 8-Tracks Was More Than Enough

William Powell Lear, the man behind LearJet, was also the inventor of the 8-track cartridge tape system. During the early 1960s, a number of shell-encased continuous-loop audiotape systems coexisted. Lear’s 8-track was by no means the first such system, in fact, the Lear cartridge is in most respects identical to the 4-track tape which came before it. The main mechanical difference between the two systems is that in a 4-track, the pinch roller is part of the player, whereas in an 8-track, the pinch roller is part of the tape cartridge.

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When 8-Tracks Was More Than Enough

This refinement was probably intended to reduce tape tangling (and any tracker can tell you how well that works), as well as to help Lear secure a patent for his invention. Another difference between them is that 4-track divided the tape itself into four channels (tracks), comprising two stereo programs. This restricted the total playing time to something like 40 minutes, because of the limited length of tape which could be contained within a cartridge. Lear divided the tape into eight channels (tracks).

While this doubled the potential playing time of the cartridge, it also created a new problem. Both systems involve a tape head which repositions itself along the width of the tape in order to change programs. This means that the slightest misalignment of the tape head (or for that matter of the tape itself within the cartridge) in an 8-track system means that you hear shadows of other tracks bleeding into the program which is playing. A 4-track, with its wider channels, is more forgiving of misalignment.

While some of Lear’s improvements over 4-track are a bit dubious, his real refinements were in the area of marketing. All 1966 Fords offered a factory installed in-dash 8-track player. In the 1967 model year, Chrysler and GM offered the same. By the late 1960s, several companies were making players for the other tape loop systems, including 4-track, but the only serious competition came from cassette tapes (which appeared at around the same time as 8-tracks) and the almighty vinyl records.

Eight-track tapes were with us for quite a long time. 8-track was the preeminent portable and car audio format of the 1970s. Record clubs like Columbia House offered 8-track tapes well into the 1980s (Madonna’s early albums, for example, as well as Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” were offered to club members on 8-track). Although there are reports that brand-new tapes are still coming out of Nashville with truckers as the intended audience, these sightings have not been confirmed.

History

Disco Days

How It Started: Emerging from Harlem’s Latin poor via the gay subculture of Greenwich Village, disco was the musical style that became a dance craze and a fashion sensation. It went mainstream with “The Hustle” in 1975 and became a way of life with Saturday Night Fever in 1977.

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Disco John Travolta

Why It Mattered: Like the best fads, disco was huge, hot and inescapable. It became noun, verb and adjective: You discoed at the disco in disco clothes. And, oh, those clothes–glittery tube tops, skintight designer jeans, satin jackets, white leisure suits. The phenomenon had big names, including Donna Summer, K.C. and the Sunshine Band, the Bee Gees and John Travolta.

But the real stars were the clubs themselves, places like New York’s Studio 54, where the competition was fierce to join the likes of Andy Warhol, Bianca Jagger and Calvin Klein on the other side of the velvet rope. Mirror balls, cocaine and alcohol were commonplace, and discos could even be found in hotels and airports.

The Rolling Stones and Rod Stewart had huge dance-floor hits. There was “YMCA” and “Disco Duck,” and before the fad could fade, new-wave acts like Blondie absorbed its beat. Today, dance clubs have stripped the beat down, rebuilt the engine and continue to hustle it.

The Last Word: Disco died a fiery death in Chicago on July 12, 1979. A “disco sucks” rally between games of a White Sox doubleheader culminated with a centerfield bonfire. The fuel? Saturday Night Fever soundtracks, “Ring My Bell” singles and 20 pounds of TNT. The result: a large smoking crater in centerfield, flying vinyl and a full-scale riot.

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Richard Seaman And When The Nazis Went Mad For Grand Prix Racing

The 1930s saw the birth of modern Grand Prix motor racing. It was an era absolutely dominated by Germany, as Hitler used the sport as a powerful propaganda tool to demonstrate his country’s engineering superiority.

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Richard Seaman

It was no surprise when the Mercedes team won the 1938 Berlin Grand Prix: except for the fact that the winning driver, seen giving a Nazi salute as he received his wreath, was a young English aristocrat called Richard Seaman. Seaman was one of Britain’s greatest racing drivers, but his decision to race for the Germans in the ’30s has seen him written out of history and his remarkable tale remains largely unknown.

Seaman enjoyed a privileged upbringing and his father had high hopes for him – he was bitterly disappointed to learn that his son wanted to dedicate his life to a subject as trivial as mere sport. Motor racing was no more than an expensive hobby in England, but Seaman intended to make it his career.

He started off in unreliable British MGs and ERAs, racing for teams whose lack of professionalism drove him to distraction, particularly after he had experienced German excellence while visiting the 1935 Monte Carlo Grand Prix. Monte Carlo inspired him to set up his own workshop and he was consequently unstoppable in England in 1936, catching the attention of the Mercedes team manager.

When he signed for Mercedes, Seaman became the first ever top-class British racing driver. He was earning big money, but had to live in Germany and gradually became ensnared in the Nazi propaganda machine, meeting Hitler at the 1938 Berlin motor show.

Richard Seaman 2

It wasn’t just German engineering and professionalism that seduced Seaman – he also fell for beautiful young heiress Erica Popp. As war approached, they were married and Seaman’s mother wrote him out of the will – he was now reliant on Germany with Mercedes his only source of income. Europe lurched towards war, but motor racing tried to struggle on. Not for Seaman, however. His life ended with as much drama as he had lived it, chasing glory on a rain-soaked Belgian racetrack in 1939. His London funeral was graced by a six-foot lily wreath – from Adolf Hitler.

Mercedes engineers drilled any piece of metal they could to reduce the cars’ weight, Auto Union were the first team to race a mid-engined car – the norm for Grand Prix ever since – and both made use of special streamlined bodies for one race on Berlin’s fastest track – the Italians were so intimidated that they dropped out, leaving the Germans to battle it out between themselves.

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How Fares The Elephant Man now he is no longer a 9 days wonder

In 1889 a journalist payed a visit to the London Hospital that had become home to Joseph Merrick aka The Elephant Man…

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The Elephant Man

Wondering how the unfortunate so-called “Elephant Man” was faring now that be had ceased to be nine days’ wonder, a London journalist journeyed the other day on his way to the London Hospital. After a few minutes of lounging and parleying in the waiting-rooms, watching all sorts of cases being brought in, from compound fracture to a put-out thumb, the emissary gained his point and was escorted by attendant towards the secluded part of the institution where poor Joseph Merrick makes his home.

Some time back, when the latter was abiding in one of the wards, he used to receive numbers of visits from curious impertinents, to use Cervantes’ phrase; but now, though various ladies of rank, in particular, are still very kind and thoughtful in their attentions, the general public is fast forgetting the “Elephant Man”. Merrick was having a meal when the reporter entered bis little room, built out on the ground floor of the ward that bears the singular name of Blizard (with one z). He brightened up visibly seeing new face, and affably motioned his visitor to taka a chair, but than relapsed Into his favourite attitude of resting his head upon his strangely disproportion ed right hand. This he does, as he has no hesitation in telling you, to relieve the pain that he constantly feels in his head, which measures as many as 36 inches in circumference.

It would serve no good purpose to descant upon Merrick’s many malformations, though, to be sure, he is willing enough to talk about himself; but it may be noted that his left hand is quite normal, and gripped the newspaper man’s band in right hearty fashion, and that he walks very lame, using stick, and alleging that this lameness it the result of fall in boyhood, which his family carelessly treated of no account. He is decidedly short and rather slight, and speaks in a very intelligent manner. His accent shows plainly that be is not Cockney.

As matter of fact, Herrick was born in Leicester some 29 or 30 years back. The disease only began to manifest itself noticeably when was in his teens, while, unhappily, his mother, who might have looked after him, died when be was ten. There were two other children by this first marriage, but his father married again, has had large family by his second wife, and has not set eyes upon his hapless son for 14 ysars. Merrick speaks with considerable bitterness of the way in which he was swindled on his tour in Belgium by his Austrian entrepreneur.

In his own words he is pretty comfortable in the London Hospital, where he has been now for considerably over two years, but how can the man, whose terrible malady seems it anything to be growing worse, be cheerful as cricket or as blithe as a lark. His little room is hung round with pictures and decked out with knick-knacks. Joseph Merrick spends a good deal of his time in making card-board models, but his chief relaxation and solace is reading. He has some shelves filled with books of various kinds, and loves nothing better than to plunge into some exciting, sensational novel or book of travel. He says that he is apt to imagine himself actually in the position of the hero of these tales; and without this comfort, indeed, he might possibly turn melancholy.

Cornish Times – Saturday 18 May 1889

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