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Record Players of the 1950s and 1960s

Fig. 19. RCA Victor'sVA-45 (730321) played the new vinyl "45s," ca 1949. (Peter Lindell/CSTM)

After the Second World War, the record and phonograph industry was revived by renewed prosperity. Vinyl disks were introduced to replace fragile shellac records and new cutting techniques made it possible to squeeze more grooves onto a record. As a result, consumers had to contend with two new speeds besides the old 78 rpm: 33 1/3 for Columbia's long-playing (LP) records and 45 for RCA's small singles. Singles became the preferred record for jukeboxes and for sales to teenagers, who, during the 1950s, emerged as an influential market for popular music. Top 40 radio emerged as the primary means of promoting this music. Until the advent of "album oriented rock" on FM radio in the late 1960s, the LP was aimed at older listeners of classical music, jazz and Broadway show tunes. Although the Museum has several 45 rpm players made by RCA Victor, most record players available after 1950 were equipped for three or even four speeds.

Fig. 20. The Symphonic 556 (730199) and its ilk ruled the rumpus room in the 1960s. (Peter Lindell / CSTM)

The demographic division in record formats before 1970 was mirrored in the different markets for record players. At the low-priced end were small, monophonic players like the Symphonic 556. The other two market segments were influenced by the emergence of "high fidelity" as a status symbol after the Second World War. Since the mid 1920s audio engineers had gradually been increasing the frequency range and reducing the noise and distortion of recordings. In the 1950s stereophonic techniques were introduced to add the illusion of depth and directionality to the sounds. The first stereo recordings were on tape, but, in 1958, record companies began to issue stereo LPs. As the sonic information on records increased, the small but growing band of audiophiles became impatient with the much more limited capabilities of most record players. Many assembled their first hi-fi systems from components purchased through mail order or specialized electronics stores. Some were installed in custom-built wooden cabinets. For the large middle market of the 1950s and 1960s, Canadian manufacturers like Electrohome and Clairtone (800436) built large console models in a variety of styles, in which they installed less expensive stereo components.

Fig. 21. Electrohome Cascade 1 M console stereo (830346), what Mom and Dad listened to in the 1960s.(CSTM)

Fig. 22. Cool component stereo system, ca 1962: electronics by Leak (840799), speakers by Wharfedale (840800).(CSTM)