Retro Gadgets: Tired Of The Beatles On 8 Track? Try The Police

In the 1970s, 8-track audio players were very popular, especially in cars. For a couple of bucks, you could have the latest album, and you didn’t have to flip the tape in the middle of a drive like you did with a cassette. We’ve seen plenty of 8-tracks and most of us a certain age have even owned a few players. But we couldn’t find anyone who would admit to owning the Bearcat 8 Track Scanner, as seen in the 1979 Popular Electronics ad below.

The ad copy says you can turn your 8-Track player into a 4-channel, 2-band scanner for under $100. Most likely, you needed a crystal for each channel. We aren’t sure where the power came from either, but the bottom says, “no battery required.” We suspect the tape mechanism moving must have spun a generator to power the device, but that seems exotic. There’s bound to be a place to plug in an external antenna, too, so presumably, you don’t mind a few wires and we would have guessed there was an external cigarette lighter plug.

Honestly, we wondered if this was one of those things that never came to market, but you can occasionally find them on sale for about $100 or so. You can find a picture at RigPix, too.

Of course, cassette AUX adapters were quite common, which fed audio from a phone or MP3 player into your tape heads. Same idea. There were also cassettes that were Bluetooth adapters, but all of those we know of took a tiny battery. We’ve seen those converted to 8-track, also. Want to see inside an 8-track? Not a problem.

But have you seen one of these in the flesh? Let us know.

48 thoughts on “Retro Gadgets: Tired Of The Beatles On 8 Track? Try The Police

  1. The contacts that sensed the metal tape that joined the end of the audio tape together to trigger the head to move to the next pair of tracks provided enough watts to power the audio circuits in those cassette-to-8 track adapters. Techmoan did a video about those. Maybe it was enough to power these scanners…

      1. Yep, I had an FM Stereo tuner that plugged into the 8 track that was powered by the EOT sensor contacts. Had a small wire antenna that draped out – can’t remember how long the antenna was – maybe 2 feet?

    1. I had two of those adapters! I think from Radio Shack, but I might have got them at garage sale. One of them played cassette tapes too fast, one too slow. It was like I had Tik Tok remixes of each tape I had.

      Sigh, makes me miss my old car, and my Moog Orchestra version of Star Wars..

      1. The movie “I’m No Longer Here” is about a music style that came about from a DJ’s record player slowing down at the end of the night. People thought it was intentional, and started requesting the slowed down music. My favorite movie of 2021.

    2. 8-track had a way to get power on to the cartridge, I remember one weird cartridge like this that we had and it looked almost like two little pinball flippers in one of the spots where the tape would be that contacted SOMETHING inside the players to power it up. Memory is blurry however.

    1. At least the BEatles would work. Almost all Police scanners are now digital. Ham radio it’s self is almost dead and the channels on this thing were likely sold off long ago. *sighs*.. I really loved ham.. I can still pull in some eastern Europe convos now and then.

      1. Ham ain’t dead. Maybe you meant “the way you were enjoying ham”, because ham radio moved on. Maybe in your country / state, but not globally.

        SDR, Digital modes, WSPR, SOTA, POTA, Geostationary satellites (QO-100), EMCOM (in Austria even done as a part of national emergency drills) and lots of other stuff are the topics right now. The new members of my state are mostly below 40. In my state the below 40 hams are getting close to become the majority. And the sun is getting more active as well again, so the bands open up more and more.

        CW is also super popular in my region nowadays, the CW school closest to my QTH is not able to stem all those students who want to learn the “irrelevant and dead mode”. The switch to remote lessons made it accessible for non pensioners.

        SOTA alone had 55052 summit activations with 1108798 QSOs in 2022 worldwide. This means more than 150 summits/day were activated by hams.

        So please refer to ham not as dead, it might just have become a different thing that you don’t like, which is totally fine.

      2. I’m self teaching, uh, myself (Austin Powers accent) electronics and have built 20m and 40m QRP CW radios plus a 40W linear amplifier and an currently designing a scratch built radio. Actually talking to people is low/nonexistent on my priority list outside of testing equipment. I suspect there is a huge silent group of hams like me that could be responsible for not hearing much over the air.

  2. If it was designed as a crystal radio for old AM police bands, then no power is needed. The 8 track does the amplification, so it just needs a magnetic tape level signal, which is tiny and provided by the RF.
    I’m betting that is NOT the case based on the LEDs, though.

    1. It’s not. It’s for the 164-178 or so MHz police band. It’sfrom the seventies, long after the cops moved away from just above the AM broadcast band. There were lots of monitor receivers by then, and scanners were taking over. Around that time you could buy a 4channel pocket scanner. So it could fit into an 8track cassette case.

      And yes, one crystal needed per channel.

        1. I think that symbol is supposed to be contacts, but it’s taking 12v into the rectifier (D11-D14). Using a little 12v dc motor as a generator is most likely, but I don’t know why they wouldn’t just put that on the schematic.

          If I’m remembering right, 8 tracks marked the loop end with a conducting foil on the tape, and there would have to be some kind of voltage to close that connection and signal the track end. It would be crazy for that to be 12v, but then again, I don’t see a reason to regulate it down if you are making cheap 8 tracks and running everything at 12v anyway. Maybe that voltage is being siphoned, and as long as you don’t let the resistance drop to near a short, the player doesn’t read it as a track change.

          1. The 8-Track player’s track-switching function invariably involved a small solenoid to move the playback head vertically in 4 steps (the 4th being a return to top jump)… I assume that firing that solenoid might eat a fair amount of that 12v DC supply…

      1. The format was most popular in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Mexico, Spain, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden and Japan.

        The Stereo 8 Cartridge was created in 1964 by a consortium led by Bill Lear, of Lear Jet Corporation, along with Ampex, Ford Motor Company, General Motors, Motorola, and RCA Victor Records (RCA – Radio Corporation of America).

        The Lear Jet Stereo 8 cartridge was designed by Richard Kraus while working for the Lear Jet Corporation, under Bill Lear, in 1963.

  3. “…you didn’t have to flip the tape in the middle of a drive like you did with a cassette”

    Us cool kids had auto-reverse tape decks that would flip the tape heads and run the tape in the opposite direction in order to continuously play the tape one side after the other. :)

    8-track tapes had a limited play lifetime, as it seems the lube on the tape would wear off and they would start binding. In operation the layers of tape on the very long spool needed to be able to slide over each other pretty freely.

    1. I always hated how songs would fade out, then you’d get the kachunk-kachunk, then the song would fade back in. When I was older I insisted on auto reverse not only for the convenience, but because my theory was that having two spindles (auto stop players often only had one) could keep the back reel from freewheeling and wrecking the tape.

  4. > you didn’t have to flip the tape in the middle of a drive like you did with a cassette

    No, but you did get a horrible buzz and a loud “ka-CHUNK” when it switched tracks. Invariably, this occurred right in the middle of your favorite song.

    There are songs that, to this day, where my brain expects that sound in the middle.

    1. Once upon a time I had an 8-track player with the loud ka-CHUNK. When changing from track 1->2 and track 3->4 on a Cream “White Room” tape, the player ka-CHUNK in the room was loud like the other transitions, but on the audio output for the songs playing during these track changes, the track change was not noticeable — the music was continuous. After damaging the tape, I purchased a newer one. But now there was a long pause in the middle of the songs that were split across tracks.
      It was obvious that the first tape had been recorded in four stereo (or possibly two quad-track) passes of the tape. If you weren’t in the room, you wouldn’t know when the changes occurred. The second tape on the other hand had been recorded in one eight-track pass. Since it would not be possible to make the tape exactly the correct length, there was about a minute of extra tape, leaving a gap at the end of each of the four stereo tracks, including in the middle of the songs that were split across tracks.
      That ruined 8-track tapes for me.

  5. They would have to use a bridge rectifier on the power pickup as I doubt there was any polarity standard between players.
    I never respected 8 tracks my older brother got into 4 tracks which were more stable but quickly went out of fashion. Always put off by what they did to the Moody Blues “Days of Future Passed” which depicts a day (Tuesday) from Daybreak to Nights In White Satin. On 8 track the order was all messed up for the sake of 4 equal time passages with minimal dead end of tape. Many albums were rearranged for this end of tape problem.

  6. My 1979 Ford Granada had an 8 track player. I owned the car in the early 90,s as a teen ager. It was equipped with an 8 track player. My mom had a zenith console stereo with 8 track and it could record. I took my Metallica “And justice for all” and recorded it on 8 track tape with the help of the zenith. All my friends wanted to know where I got Metallica on 8 track!

    1. Don’t even mention the name of those miscreants !!! (craptallica).
      Those of us from the old Napster days will recall them suing their own fans for downloading their music. lars d-bag extraordinaire ! …. much like howard stern, they became what they once stood against in their early days… now, utter hypocrites..

      If craptallica had found out you recorded their music for your 8 track, pretty good bet, they’d have hauled your butt into court. eff ’em…..i remember cd burning parties… where we’d burn their cd’s…

      besides, newer and better artists out there…. ARCH ENEMY for one… and of course *the* premiere metal gods.. Priest !

      1. Don’t interpret this as a defense of what Metallica did – I remember the early war days of downloadable music clearly. But if you’re going to dog them, you should dog the entire RIAA, who pursued way more music “pirates” than any other entity. And just about every label that Judas Priest has been on – as well as nearly any label that has ever made substantial profits from music (and many who honestly probably don’t) – have been a member of said organization.

        Irony of this? Studies have shown that these media “pirates” happen to be media’s greatest champions – audiophiles, cinephiles, what have you. They also happen to be the people that keep those old now-out-of-print indie one-shots or concerts hoarded away in some hard drive somewhere. You can bet that they had to salvage a few episodes of the second season of (Classic) Doctor Who from pirated versions.

        And the whole “it steals” concept? Neil Gaiman actually got INCREASED sales from American Gods after a free version circulated online – and it was when the book was already over a decade old.

        Of course, there are studies that dispute the above findings. Though I am quite curious about who funded them.

    1. It is sad that most of the comments are nostalgia for 8track, rather than police band or technical matters relating to this adapter.

      Police band radios were big. Radio Shack and the other chains sold all kinds. About ten years ago, I found a Panasonic portable that looked like hifi equipment, bit when I realized it was multiband, I saw it had shortwave and the police band. You could even get pocket police band radios that were tuneable. Likely not very good, but before the pocket scanners.

      There was a progression. Tuneable radios. Then a single crystal controlled channel added. I can’t remember if there were crystal controlled only radios before Regency offered a scanner. Crystals meant about five dollars more per channel, to buy the crystal, and you had to know what frequencies were used locally. That seemed to be an issue originally, but eventually there wre boojs that were databases.

      The big break was when synthesized radios came along. Was that Regency too? All the channels, no need for additional crystals.

  7. My 72 Ford F-100 PU only had a AM radio with a single speaker in the dash.
    Life sucked for a teen wanting music. Later I did have a 8-track AND a scanner.
    (I was high tech then… :) ) haha

  8. What is the appeal of a police scanner anyway? Simple curiosity? I feel like that would get old really quick. I have gone through that twice already with a shortwave radio (fun for 15 minutes then gave it away) and hand held air band radio that got use twice to listen to tower at air shows. The very few times there was police activity in my area it was super super obvious with the lights, sound and once or twice a helicopter overhead. I also kinda feel like it is the equivalent of neighborhood Facebook groups where it could maybe be useful but instead several insane neighbors use it to get way, way too up in other people’s business or report suspicious activity that is very thinly veiled racism. Hopefully just my experience though I fear it’s near universal.

    1. Sitting around all day listening the scanner? In a small town, very interesting. Big town, not so much. Even then, it is situational. During the riots in 2020, it was very useful to be able to listen to the police special events channel. Ditto for things like the state fair.
      It’s sort of the way I treat TV news. I turn it on when something is happening right now, but 99% of the time it’s ignored.

    2. The only time I gave it a listen was fifty years ago. I had a shortwave receiver and a 2M converter, so I could tune the police band, though loss of sensitivity. I heard pagers, but not much voice. But Iwas spinning the band. Might have missed things.

      I never found the appeal, though nowadays I enjoy listening to the weather channel, also in that range. But from reading, people got deep into it.

      I used to joke with the volunteers at the Fringe Festival that people were lurking in the bushes with scanners, listening to the walkie talkies.

      But I suspect much has moved higher in frequency, and more complicated systems. When there were tuneable radios, it was a limited thing, but with scanners, it was open to everyone.

    3. “report suspicious activity that is very thinly veiled racism”

      Only “racism” that exists is what folks like you see everywhere.
      Math is racist, suburban green lawns are racist, heck Ulysses S. Grant was racist (if you listen to the loony fringe crowd wanting to tear down his statues – when the man was leading the cause to combat racism after reconstruction – sending in the US Army to suppress the klan is a pretty strong statement that he was not “racist”.

      If I see some *human* breaking into my neighbors car, I will (as a good citizen) call the poe-leece…but oh wait, those communties, they want to de-fund the poe-leece, so therefore criminal will break into car and commit crime with impunity. Now try that scenario in my home state of Texas – I guarantee you said criminal will seriously regret their actions. Race of the perp is completely irrelevant to the crime they choose to commit – it just so happens a certain group in our culture commits the majority of crimes, therefore they are likely to be under suspicion.

  9. Damn, i wish i had an 8-track player for both of my cars and this module for both of them. Unfortunately they have newer, not even close to period looking, radios and that ain’t right. Too bad i don’t live in the states.

    “Never get outta the car”

  10. So the tape was made into a loop by bonding the ends with something metallic, there are “end of tape” contacts to sense that, and there was the old kerchunk sound when that happened.

    Seems like maybe they just used that EOT as a momentary switch to route the 12VDC directly to a solenoid to kick the mechanical pieces that positioned the head. Plain old relays can pull a couple hundred mA just to move a relatively light armature. It’s easy to imagine a solenoid in an 8track needing considerably more juice. If you only pulled say 50% of that, it’d never budge but you could power quite a bit of stuff.

  11. Oddly enough, I saw a predecessor to the 8-track at a local thrift store the other day — a home Muntz Stereo-Pak player. The Stereo-Pak was a four-track cartridge introduced in 1962 and mostly intended for car stereo use; this beastie was in a wooden case and had a metal plate with brass segments to slide the cart along. Not a proper slot, just a fence to line up against, and you’d presumably then shove the cart in against the read head and flip the lever that brought up the rubber capstan. The front had volume, tone, and balance knobs, and the back had the AC power — and there was a slotted grill for cooling in the top of the wooden case just above what I’m pretty sure was the transformer — and screw terminals for stereo speakers.

    (Yes, that’s Muntz as in “Madman” Muntz, the namesake of muntzing. Apparently Stereo-Pak was his big venture after he lost control of Muntz T.V. in its bankruptcy, and he even ran the tape duplication/publishing service, which is part of what killed it. The story goes that dealers would over-order each new hit album, then return the large excesses after each music group’s fame had waned. Then it got clobbered by Stereo 8 because the carts were cheaper.)

    I kinda wish I’d grabbed it, but I already have enough weird audio equipment that I actually can use; I just don’t have the room for a completely useless device half the size of a breadbox.

    1. This is sort of funny.

      All through the comments on this article, people have been referring to 8-track tapes as “cartridges” or “carts.”

      Back when home video games first came out with cartridges, all the kids called them “tapes” despite there not being any tape in the cartridges. It used to drive me nuts.

      Now we’ve come full circle. People who grew up with cartridges for various video games are now calling tapes cartridges.

      1. Pedantically, they were called tape cartridges. I never called them that, they were tapes. So were Compact Cassettes, either tapes or if needed to differentiate from some other sort, cassette tapes. As 8 Track died off, cassette tape became just tape. If someone had a reel to reel machine they specified that’s what it was, AFAIK they always did and still do.

        What I dislike these days is people call digitally recording audio “taping” and digitally recording video “filming”. Just say recording, recorded, etc. It works no matter what the media is.

        Since home micro computers launched in the late 1970’s using Compact Cassettes for data storage, it became common among the clueless to call any data storage that plugged into a computer or game console a “tape”.

        “Gimmie that 2600 tape.” “There is no such thing. This (holds up Yar’s Revenge) is a CARTRIDGE! There is no tape in it, magnetic, paper, or adhesive.”

        The 1984 Dabney Coleman movie “Cloak and Dagger” was one *grrrr* after another every time anyone called the stolen cartridge a “tape”.

        It’s like not knowing the difference between a clip and a magazine.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.