Radio Edit: The history of the vinyl record

Ahead of the 10th annual CFBX record fair, station programming co-ordinator Steve Marlow is looking at the history of the vinyl record.

The history of recorded sound dates back to the 1850s with the phonautograph, a device that could play sound designs traced on paper.

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The modern vinyl record was the result of two inventors, Thomas Edison and his phonograph and Emile Berliner and his gramophone.

Edison’s phonograph was designed to both record and play sound on a cylinder.

At first, the cylinders were made of tin foil, but they eventually changed to wax. Commercial phonographs became popular in the 1880s and continued into the early 1900s.

Berliner’s gramophone, which played what were the earliest forms of vinyl records, was invented in 1889, and the device was hand-driven with a crank.

The gramophone suffered from inferior sound compared to the phonograph, but the two inventions were rivals throughout the early part of the 20th century.

The first records were made of hard rubber. Shellac became standard in 1985, made up of limestone or slate and strengthened by cotton fibres. Shellac shattered easily, and was replaced by celluloid around 1910, then polyvinyl chloride, or “vinyl,” which became common by the 1950s.

In the early 1900s, records were mostly recorded at 78 revolutions per minute (RPM), and only about four minutes of audio could be recorded per side. The first long-playing record was released in the 1930s, a recording of Felix Mendelssohn’s Concerto in E Minor.

In 1948, CBS produced the microgroove format, allowing for about 20 minutes of music per record side at 33-1/3 RPM and 12 inches in size.

RCA Victor produced the first 45-RPM record shortly thereafter, which were seven inches in size.

These became the standards for full-length albums and single songs, respectively.

Vinyl records were the medium of choice for listeners up until the late ‘70s, when cassettes took over in popularity.

In the late ‘80s, CDs became more popular than cassettes.

The vinyl revival began in the early 2010s, with vinyl records selling more than two million units in the U.K. by 2012.

Today, vinyl records now sit around 16 million units in U.S. sales, comprising about 14 per cent of all music sales.

The retail event, Record Store Day, which takes place in April, has also boosted the popularity of vinyl records.

New vinyl pressing plants have opened up in the past few years, including several within Canada.

But standard records aren’t much different than they were in the 1950s.

Records remain popular with collectors, but some electronic and hip-hop DJs still produce and play vinyl almost exclusively, while punk and indie rock bands still prefer to produce seven-inch records.

Steve Marlow is the program co-ordinator at CFBX, an independent radio station in Kamloops. Tune in at 92.5 FM on the dial or go online to

© Kamloops This Week


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