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How My Train Jumped All 8 Tracks or Elvis Cool To Truck Stop Cruel
Program 1

Intro

Early Muntz 4 Track "Stereo Pak" car player—almost the first widely successful consumer tape format.

I am what I research, but I can change……. if I have to…….I guess. Unfortunately, I can’t really use that take on ‘The Man’s Prayer’. I really WANT to change—but can’t. Take 8-tracks…please. [insert rim shot] They really have become an ‘ugly puppy’ of recording history. So much so that I feel absolutely compelled to admit to you that…I doubt I ever touched a single cart until 1998. That was when I took one on extended loan as an example of the technology for a demo. That cart (slang for an 8- track cartridge, for you fortunate to be ignorant of that fact) belonged to my mother-in-law. [insert your joke here] As usual, not content with being able to just wave one and not to play one, I did some research. Then I wanted to make sure I got an ‘interesting player’ to demo. That led me on a

Bing Crosby with an Ampex version of Mullin's modified German Magnetphon.

merry chase through the lives of two…um…very interesting men, into hardware solidly ‘of their time’ while ‘just slightly ahead of their time’, and to a cabal that have taken up the ‘infinite loop’ as a symbol for anti-commercialism. Just like an 8-track tape, pull on it and this story unravels forever. And after having sneered at 8- tracks during their heyday (and my youth) I now find their players cluttering up some shelves right under my…Edison Home. Yowzah.

Cousino's endless loop "Audiovendor" for use on a standard tape machine (the tireless salesperson).

Much of the material I present here was collected as part of a presentation I did for CAPS, under a similar title, back in 2002. I guess Mike (APN Editor) thought the statute of limitations had expired. Here to honour the infinite loop I structure my offering to you in 4 programs—and continue to use the conceit of the double-title.

Note that the CAPS constitution says: "An antique will be defined as having an age of at least 40 years." Since the start of the 8-track era is generally defined as the time Ford offered factory-installed players in its vehicles from the 1966 model year…

Now, I know you have that peculiar sound buried in your head. Don’t fight it. Pretend we have just pushed the cart gently into the player and it has already reached the sensing-foil to change programs. Here we go to program 1. Go ahead. Listen to your mind…

Program 1 Program 2
Primal Ooze
or
Madman and Jet #1
Big Bang
or
Madman and Jet #2
Program 3 Program 4
Rise and Fall
or
Welcome To 8 Track Heaven
Noble Truths Of The Afterlife
or
‘Collecting’ Is A Dirty Word

[**Ka-chunk**]

Program 1—Primal Ooze or Madman and Jet #1

[sound of program fading in]… The story of the 8 track’s development is really that of the development of continuous, or infinite-loop, magnetic tape. It surprised me to learn that magnetic recording was right there at the birth of the phonograph itself. This material can be found in greater detail elsewhere, but for our purposes, here are some quick highlights:

Ad courtesy of 8trackheaven.com

• 1878 (circa) mechanical engineer, Oberlin Smith, develops a theory of magnetic recording after a visit to Edison’s lab.

• 1888 The Electrical World publishes Smith’s "Some Possible Forms of Phonograph" September 8. In it, he describes a machine using an electromagnet and a string covered with iron filings.

• 1898 Danish telephone engineer Valdemar Poulsen patents the Telegraphone—the ‘first working magnetic recorder’. Demonstrated in Paris in 1900, it looks like a tinfoil machine with wire wrapped around the mandrel and a magnetic head instead of a reproducer/recorder. Poulsen has possibly used Smith’s work.

• 1928 a patent is granted to Fritz Pfleumer for applying magnetic powder to film or paper strips. (In 1936 the German National Court declares that Pfleumer’s patent was covered in Poulsen’s original patents of 1898 and 1899.)

Cousino enclosed his endless loop in the "Echomatic" and the two-track cart is born. It was used in the head of a cow to sell dairy products. No bull.

• 1935 AEG unveils the Magnetophon K1 using tape made by what later becomes BASF, under Pfleumer’s patent. This is the ‘first modern tape machine’.

• 1936 Sir Thomas Beecham conducts the London Philharmonic in the first public recording using a Magnetophon.

• 1945 The Armour Research Foundation of the Armour Institute of Technology invents an improved wire recorder. (David Morton’s 1998 paper is subtitled, "How Academic Entrepreneurs Fail".) William Powell Lear is a later Armour licensee (watch this space).

B>• 1945 U.S. serviceman Jack Mullin ‘liberates’ Magnetphon technology—and 50 reels of BASF tape.

• 1947 Bing Crosby asks Mullin to test record his Philco Radio Time broadcast. The result is a $50,000 investment in (A)lexander (M). (P)oniatoff (Ex)cellence to commercialize Mullin’s highly-modified Magnetophons. 3M earlier starts replacing Mullin’s dwindling supply of BASF tape. (In 1946 the Ampex boss had heard of a demonstration of Mullin’s machines and began developing a U.S.-made magnetic tape recorder.)

• 1952 Bernard Cousino markets a point-of-sale audio device (non-tiring salesperson?) using an endless loop tape system, the "Audiovendor". Cousino includes double-coated tape to reduce static build-up in a ‘cart’ used on an ordinary open-reel machine. Later he creates an enclosed cartridge called the "Echomatic". The two-track cart is born. (One source says the point-of-sale device was put inside a cow’s head for a dairy company promotion.)

Eash's "Fidelipac" was used on radio into the 1990s. The Muntz "Stereo Pak" would find another use for it. Courtesy of wgeneration.com

• 1959 after sharing space with Cousino, George Eash produces what becomes the ‘broadcast industry standard’ endless-loop audio tape cartridge, the "Fidelipac". Eash cannily licenses his design—it will be used until the late 1990s and is on the direct path to the first popular consumer tape format. It is standard 2-track tape run at standard speed in an endless loop cartridge that is ‘shoved’ into place when needed.

The other main application of Eash’s work was done by a Madman.

Earl W. Muntz is one of the main reasons why this subject is so much fun. He was a high school drop-out, a self-taught electrical engineer, and has been called "the master used car salesman of all time." He is ‘credited’ (ahem) with starting the "I’m so insane, come take advantage of my crazy prices" school of advertising that continues to this very day. We need to have fun with Earl here, but we also need to track three things: his salesmanship, his interest in cars and his interest in electronics.

As for salesmanship, the Department of Advertising, The University of Texas at Austin has the following slogans listed as ‘interesting’:

"I can’t believe I ate the whole thing!" - Alka-Seltzer
"The Greatest Show on Earth." - Barnum & Bailey Circus
"I wanna give ‘em away but Mrs. Muntz won’t let me. She’s crazy." - Madman Muntz, used-car dealer (1946)

"I dreamed I stopped traffic in my Maidenform bra." - Maidenform

Part of a photograph showing Muntz' marketing skills in action-a tow-plane selling cars.

"Muntz, born in Elgin, Ill., was 20 when he started his used-car business there. Seven years later he opened a lot in Los Angeles. As a speculation, he bought 13 new, war-stranded, right-hand-drive cars which had been built for the Orient, including a custom-built Lincoln intended for Chiang Kaishek. When Los Angeles papers ran stories about the cars, Muntz sold the entire lot in two weeks without even unpacking all the crates, making a tidy profit.

"He decided to stake his whole profit on promotion, turned himself into the Madman. His billboards, with their mad legends and his singing commercials made his name a California gag. Red Skelton, Bing Crosby and others kidded his commercials, the University of Southern California rooting section spelled out his name at halftime, and soldiers at Santa Ana Camp marched into chow singing "MUNTZ, that’s Muntz." And his gross jumped from $150,000 to $1,000,000 a month.

"… "Madman" Muntz’s zany advertising, depicting himself as a lunatic in a Napoleon hat ("I buy ‘em retail, sell ‘em wholesale. More fun that way!") … made him the used-car king of Los Angeles." (‘Dig That Crazy Man’, Time, July 13 1953)

So, we can see his Salesmanship. Now we turn to electronics.

Madman Muntz in full form.

In 1946 Muntz turned to the idea of selling televisions. A self-taught radio engineer (one story has him building a radio at age 8), he came up with the idea of creating receivers that would be very inexpensive, very simple, and would still work satisfactory in urban areas. Additionally, low costs equate to low prices and high sales volume which leads to still further economy of scale in manufacturing—and to another fortune for the "Madman".

"…Earl ("Madman") Muntz, onetime used-car magnate turned television tycoon, showed further evidence of his advertising talent by announcing that he would christen his baby daughter Tee Vee Muntz." - Time Feb. 18, 1952 [she would later go by ‘Tina’]

"In Chicago, a center of the U.S. television industry, old hands catalogued brash, upstart young Earl W. (for William) Muntz as merely another California screwball when he invaded their city and their business four years ago…they assumed that the tough TV business would soon drive him really crazy.

"The industry is not yet willing to grant that the Madman, or his Muntz TV Inc., is here to stay, but it has long since concluded that he is just as mad a success in TV as he was in used cars. Last year his TV company grossed $49.9 million…" – Time, July 13, 1953

Muntz "Stereo Pak" cart-a "Fidelipac" preloaded with music. Clear plastic allows us to see the continuous loop of tape being pulled out of the centre and wrapping back around the outside.

"I remember Muntz TVs very well. I worked at a TV shop in the 60s, when they were ‘popular’. When I’d open the back of a Muntz TV, I’d be amazed at how few components were inside. "I also remember how unreliable they were and how poorly they worked. ... "Mr. Muntz left out all the shielding and bypass capacitors that weren’t needed." - Tom, a TV repairman:

"His recognition that a crumby TV with only 2 IF stages instead of the typical 4 was good enough for the 90% of the market that didn’t live in fringe areas was pure genius. Let RCA and Magnavox fight over the other 10%. We had a Muntz TV that cost half what competition charged, and it worked great in our area. But Muntz was primarily a salesman. It doesn’t matter how good a product is, if no one is buying then it’s futile to design and build it. It doesn’t matter how good Beta is when VHS has better marketing. Too many of us take the Dilbert attitude toward marketing and think that it is somehow beneath us. But we have to sell our products in the marketplace and our next project idea to management. Remember Madman Muntz, he’ll help you keep your feet on the ground and make your career more rewarding." - Engineer and past owner of a Muntz TV

Muntz also practiced a particular form of design engineering called "Muntzing". Supposedly, Muntz would review an engineer’s electronic circuit design and suggest: "But, you seem to be overengineering this - I don’t think you need this capacitor." Muntz would then cut out the capacitor with his wire cutters. If the picture was still there, he would study the schematics more and continue to cut out components. Eventually, he would cut out one component too many and the picture or the sound would stop working. Then he would concede to the design engineer, "Well, I guess you have to put that last part back in."

For a great article on "Muntzing", read ‘What’s All This Muntzing Stuff, Anyhow?’ by engineer Bob Pease in Electronic Design, July 23, 1992.

"Stereo Pak" rear to point out the large hole (top left). This is where the pinch roller from the player enters the cart to move the tape. It will be a key difference from the later 8-track-where it helped with the patents, but not with the longevity.

The huckster continued to work as Muntz pioneered several modern conveniences. His TVs had "Automatic Fine Tuning" - Muntz left out the fine tuning knobs. This worked well until the tuning drifted on a hot day. His TVs had "Automatic Horizontal Hold" - Muntz left out the hold circuits which weren’t necessary for strong signals. His TVs were "Factory Tuned" – Muntz’s production technicians would tune the receiver to the local stations using "clip pots", and then remove the pots and solder in a fixed resistor. This very inexpensive manufacturing method was great, but as the carbon resistors and circuits aged, the TV would "go on the fritz." Finally, Muntz’s TVs had larger screens - as measured diagonally.

Muntz allegedly paid 400 disk jockeys to plug Muntz TV on radio, printed slogans such as "Stop Staring at Your Radio" on the backs of Chicago streetcar transfers, and sold as many as 4,500 sets in a single weekend. All were destined to become repairperson heaven and scarce collectors’ items.

"By 1949, Muntz was producing 5,000 TV sets a month to keep up with sales. By 1950, he sold $20 million in 72 stores nationwide. Muntz TV, Inc., grew into a $55 million-a-year business.

"While repair men were happy to get all of the repeat business tuning receivers on the fritz, eventually Muntz’s customers figured out that a low initial price was not necessarily the best buy in the market." - Course ME491 Design Methods, Portland State University, Portland, Oregon, USA

You get the idea. So we now see the Madman’s sales skills, his interest in cars and his interest in electronics. We’ll put them all together after a short diversion.

Disassociating from Muntz TV is a telling feature.

I haven’t been able to confirm, but it has been suggested that Muntz was forced to sell his TV business when a plan to sell a new performance car failed in 1953-54. The "Muntz Jet" was considered "…the first serious attempt in nearly a generation to manufacture an American sport car capable of measuring up to the top-flight European jobs." Apparently building cars was much different than selling them and, by his own admission, Muntz lost about $1,000 a car. Fortunately, he didn’t sell very many…no, wait. By the way, Jets are also collectors’ items now.

According to ‘Troubled Times’ from Time, March 15, 1954: "EARL ("Madman") Muntz, who as late as January was talking about further expansion of his TV-set business, has been blacked out by creditors, who threw his company into bankruptcy. Muntz admits that he is losing money ($1,457,000 from April to August 1953), but still thinks he can reorganize and stay in the TV business." Earl, of course, recovered (he was to make 3 separate fortunes and once remarked that he never minded losing a fortune because "it was so damn much fun making another one") and somehow got further interested in consumer electronics and the "Fidelipac" (remember that?) in particular.

1969 "Stereo Pak" advert.

Sources say Muntz sold the TV business in 1962 (Pease suggests Muntz "realized he had sold all of the cheap sets he could") to market "Fidelipacs" under the label "Muntz Stereo Pak". Inexpensive players were manufactured in Japan and music was licensed from several record companies for duplication on carts. But the novelty here is that they were put into…cars. Imagine, Earl and electronics and cars!

According to Bill Golden, an ex-employee, "Muntz was able to license so many duplication deals from record companies during the early sixties at unbelievable prices because they (the record companies) said that consumer tapes were a passing fancy and that NOTHING would ever replace vinyl records. So much for corporate forecasters." Golden also mentions that he worked with George Eash at Muntz. (from Abigail Levine at 8trackheaven.com) One story has it that Muntz put five "Stereo Pak" units into his home—including one with speakers in his swimming pool. He said, "It’s amazing how well you can hear down there." (Writer John Lahr earlier recounted a visit to the Muntz mansion where there was a television at the bottom of the pool…)

"The Madman also sent a buxom model, renamed for the occasion- Brenda Muntz, to Viet Nam to pass out "Stereo-Paks" to the GIs. The Pentagon turned down his offer to put "Stereo- Paks" in Jeeps."

From ‘A Tape for the Road’ in Time August 9, 1963: "The latest thing for your car is a built-in tape recorder. The Beverly Hills are already full of them—transistorized, chrome, four-speaker, stereophonic cartridge models, activated by the car battery. Frank Sinatra’s Riviera has one. So have such clan wagons as Dean Martin’s Corvette and Peter Lawford’s Ghia. Tape recorders also make a sound like Muzak in James Garner’s Jaguar, Red Skelton’s Rolls and Lawrence Welk’s Dodge convertible.

Tee Vee Muntz shilling for Dad's portable player.

"All are 12-volt Autostereo models, priced from $129 up, made and distributed in 14 states by former Used-Car Tycoon Earl "Mad Man" Muntz of Los Angeles. Designed only for playback with special tape cartridges, they take any prerecorded material from the Muntz Music Library. Senator Barry Goldwater bought one from his son Mike, who holds the Phoenix franchise. Comedian Jerry Lewis has cartridge copies made of scripts, learns his lines by Autostereo on the way to work. Sales have reached epidemic proportions, claims a Muntz spokesman."

From the ad copy for a 1968 Muntz home player (below the picture of Tee Vee Muntz labeled "today’s lively set") they claimed they had "over 100,000 titles featuring the greatest stars in music. Today’s greatest sounding cars have been stereoized [sic] by Muntz." Muntz must have put "Muntzing" aside as in the noisy environment of Sinatra’s car he moved into ‘hi fi’ by being an early adopter of stereo standards. The stereo tape heads he used put two stereo programs, a total of 4 tracks, on a standard ¼ inch tape. There are three US patents assigned to "Muntz Stereo-Pak" from September, 1965 to June, 1966.

You’d think Muntz would be the salesman to push this phenom across the US and eventually around the world making the "Stereo Pak" the world’s first popular consumer tape format. He didn’t, and the 4-track was overtaken by another format. Apropos of nothing at all, David Morton claims that William Powell Lear became a distributor for Muntz—mainly to install 4-track units on his jets. One jet eventually shoots down the other? But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Yes, you read correctly-the Beatles exclusively on 4-track.

In 2001, Earl was voted into the Consumer Electronics Association Hall Of Fame along with Emile Berliner! Edison had been voted in the year before, with Eldridge Johnson, Vlademar Poulsen, David Sarnoff and others.

"...speak of another time when the road and life itself seemed more carefree—when Madman Muntz in a crazy Napoleon’s hat smiled and joked his way into our hearts and right on through to our pocketbooks. Who cared if the gutlesswonder TVs he sold weren’t the best? It was the grin and the ad-man moxie we were really buying."

Did I mention Earl Muntz was the developer of the "Muntz Motor Mansion"? Or that he was famous for having a TV in the dashboard of his car to ‘help him concentrate’? Or that at the time of his death in 1987 he was the top retailer in L.A. for cellular phones? Or that someone just made a movie about him? Or that he tried to make air conditioners with glass-fiber cabinets? Or his seven wives?…[sound fades out]

To be continued

Keith ("Crazy") Wright is CAPS Vice President.