Marc Sendik, a music store owner in Amityville, says he has sold thousands of 8-track tapes to a growing customer base. NewsdayTV's Steve Langford reports.  Credit: Newsday/Howard Schnapp; Morgan Campbell

Marc Sendik has seen many a music format rise and fall and rise again: the vinyl album, the compact disc, even the humble cassette. But the 8-track cartridge? When Sendik, who owns High Fidelity Records & CD’s in Amityville, heard that someone was selling 4,000 of the ancient tapes, he thought: You never know.

Sendik bought them all. And to his surprise, they’re selling.

“People don’t just buy one or two, they’re buying 15 or 20 at a time,” Sendik said, noting that he has sold more than half his original haul, which he purchased a few years ago. And he keeps buying more. Customers who sheepishly offer to sell their old 8-tracks are stunned when he accepts, Sendik said. “People laugh and say, ‘I just asked as a joke, I didn’t think you’d actually buy them.’”

High Fidelity Records and CDs owner Marc Sendik, left, and...

High Fidelity Records and CDs owner Marc Sendik, left, and employee Joe Gianetti with 8-track tapes in Amityville on March 28. Credit: Morgan Campbell

Boxy, clunky, prone to breakage and often maddening to operate, the 8-track tape nevertheless has a faithful following. Roughly 60 years after its birth, the unwieldy cartridge is the subject of several Reddit groups, a dedicated website, online museums and a small but active secondhand market. The tapes haven’t been widely manufactured since the 1980s, yet new replacement parts can be found on Amazon. And believe it or not, there is a National 8-Track Day, on April 11, though its origins are obscure (and observance seems spotty).

An outgrowth of America’s midcentury car culture, 8-track tapes were developed in the early 1960s by a consortium of automotive manufacturers, RCA Victor Records, the Ampex tape company and the Lear Jet Corporation (whose founder, Bill Lear, had a background in radio engineering). In 1966, Ford Motor Company began offering 8-track decks with some of its now-legendary models, including the Mustang. For the rest of that decade and into the next, the 8-track was the ultimate — and essentially the only — form of portable music available to most consumers.

(Watch this groovy commercial here for K-Tel's 8-track tape selector. Go cruising in style!)

“There was a gnawing desire to have a technology that allowed people to take their personal music from their home and play it in their car,” said Bob Anders, host of Bob’s 8-Track Garage Sale, an Iowa public radio show devoted to the format. “A number of different technologies were explored, and the only one that really had any promise was magnetic tape.”

"Good Times" star Jimmie Walker in an ad for portable 8-track...

"Good Times" star Jimmie Walker in an ad for portable 8-track players. Credit: Getty Images/Hulton Archive

(Dy-no-mite! Watch that Jimmie Walker commercial here)

The 8-track is named for its quarter-inch tape that holds eight parallel tracks of sound. Just like in a cassette, a felt pressure-pad pushes the tape against a playback head in the deck. But unlike in a cassette, 8-track tape is a continuous loop that has been spliced together and loaded onto a single reel. As it plays, the tape winds around the outside of the reel, but gets pulled — rather awkwardly — from the inside of the reel.

And consider this: The deck plays two tracks at a time to produce stereo sound. That means songs must be grouped into four different programs. When a little magnetic strip on the tape passes through the deck, the system shifts to the next program, resulting in the famous “thunk” sound that 8-track fans know so well.

For some listeners, the whole technology was a bust. “I remember thinking it was a cool idea to have an album in that small a size,” said Philip Lavrovsky, 62, of Lake Ronkonkoma. But after buying a player and inserting his very first tape — Al Stewart’s 1976 soft-rock classic “Year of the Cat” — Lavrovsky discovered a major drawback to the format: There often wasn’t enough room to fit the songs in their entirety.

(Watch the Radio Shack commercial here for its 8-track "car stereo player." On sale for just $29.95! Act now!)

“I was enjoying it, until the song ‘Broadway Hotel,’” Lavrovsky recalled. “It just faded out! And then it went to the next track, and it faded up again.” Unable to abide a song that had been chopped in two, Lavrovsky threw away the tape and purchased the album. “That was the last 8-track I ever bought,” he said.

Anders acknowledges the format’s shortcomings: “It’s a very peculiar and somewhat complex system inside that 8-track cassette,” he said, “that is somewhat vulnerable to dysfunction.”

Even more so if it has been sitting in storage for half a century. Brian Schaefer, a collector who keeps roughly 3,000 8-tracks at his home in Miller Place, said many old cartridges “require a bit of tinkering.” He keeps handy a set of tools, including a small screwdriver to unscrew the two halves of the plastic shell; spare pressure-pads to replace ones that might have fallen off; cuticle scissors for cutting away any damaged tape; and Scotch tape for splicing.

“You’ve got to be savvy about what it takes to fix them,” Schaefer said.

8-tracks from Brian Schaefer's collection in Miller Place on March...

8-tracks from Brian Schaefer's collection in Miller Place on March 29, 2024. Credit: Morgan Campbell

As rarefied as the 8-track market may be, most collections are unlikely to be a gold mine. Classic rock titles — such as “Frampton Comes Alive,” Aerosmith’s “Toys in the Attic" and that first Boston album — are so abundant that they might sell for $2 or $3 each, according to Sendik. On the other hand, Schaefer notes, on Long Island the rare finds are Motown and R&B titles, which weren’t as popular among the region’s mostly white demographic in the 1970s and ‘80s.

“It’s been this kind of culty thing, and we’ve been able to keep it as a cheap hobby,” Schaefer said of 8-track collecting, though he has noticed a recent uptick in prices. “You’ll see people with some outrageous prices,” especially for tapes from the 1980s when the format was dying and copies were getting scarce. “I think the last one made was supposedly Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Greatest Hits’ from 1988. But who’s seen one?”

Christopher Abell, a Queens native who recently retired to the Greek island of Crete and took his roughly 300 8-tracks with him, agrees that prices are rising. Online a few years ago, he said, “you could get 30 for $30, and that just doesn’t exist anymore. So there’s a resurgence in the interest.”

Eight-tracks reached their peak of popularity in 1978, when they sold 133.6 million units according to the Recording Industry Association of America. But the very next year saw the debut of Sony’s Walkman, which used the much slimmer and simpler cassette tape. As cassette sales soared, 8-track sales dwindled so rapidly that by 1983 the RIAA had stopped counting them.

“The 8-track technology dropped like a rock,” said Anders, “never to return.”

HJBXJF Eight track player with David Bowie 'Changes' cartridge in...

HJBXJF Eight track player with David Bowie 'Changes' cartridge in a classic car. Credit: Alamy Stock Photo/Matthew Richardson

That doesn’t matter to Joe Caradonna, who grew up on Long Island and remembers when dashboard-mounted 8-track decks were the hot thing, though too pricey for his teenage wallet. Now 75 and living in North Carolina, where he runs a screen printing business and restores old cars in his spare time, Caradonna said he recently bought about $20,000 worth of old car parts, including a hard-to-find 8-track deck.

Caradonna plans to install it in his souped-up 1968 Pontiac GTO, stick in a tape — he still has about 100 or so — and enjoy the kind of hard-rocking experience he never had as a kid. “I’m going to be really excited to put it in and hook it up,” he said. “We’re gonna need that 8-track blasting over the noise of the motor.”


So you found a bunch of your old 8-tracks: the Stones, some Eagles, maybe K-Tel’s mellow “Reflections” compilation. Sorry, but they’re probably worth only a few dollars each. You might be sitting on real money, however, if you’ve got one of the doozies listed below. These are some of the rarest and most expensive 8-tracks around, according to various sources:

“The Joshua Tree,” U2. Collectors say that 8-tracks from the 1980s are rare because so few were being made. Along with other iconic titles from that era — including Iron Maiden’s “Killers” and Talking Heads’ “Stop Making Sense” — this turning-point album from U2 tends to sell for a pretty penny. Copies run anywhere from $90 to several hundred dollars.

20 Greatest Hits,” The Beatles. Legend has it that Capitol Records scheduled this 8-track for release in 1982 but yanked it at the last minute and ordered all copies destroyed. Sources on the internet claim that perhaps only a handful of copies remain. If you happen to be holding one, it could be worth upward of $700.

“Dark Side of the Moon,” Pink Floyd. Look carefully at the label: Does it bear the word “Quadraphonic?” If so, you’ve got a rare edition of the band’s 1973 masterpiece the way engineer Alan Parsons intended it to be heard. As of this writing, there’s an unsealed copy selling on eBay for $995.

“What’s Going On,” Marvin Gaye. According to 8-track collector Brian Schaefer, Motown and R&B titles tend to be a little rarer and pricier than classic rock titles. One good example is this 1971 album, a landmark of the post-Civil Rights Era from a legendary singer. Factory-sealed copies might fetch $1000 or more.

“Anthem of the Sun,” The Grateful Dead. The band’s second album, from 1968 — and the first to feature drummer Mickey Hart — is a spliced-together mix of studio and live performances. Its rerelease history is complicated, but the original 8-track can fetch as much as $1,500.

“Sinatra-Jobim,” Frank Sinatra and Antônio Carlos Jobim. The American jazz icon and the Brazilian bossa nova pioneer worked together several times, but this particular collaboration barely made it into stores. What’s more, the 8-track featured three exclusive tracks — including “Off Key (Desafinado)” — making it a legendarily rare item. A copy could be worth as much as $4,000.


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