Blog Post #4

Posted in Uncategorized on November 6th, 2010 by brian morrissey

Hard to believe how an invention that Thomas Edison developed 100 years prior still existed in the 1970s, having changed little over the decades and having seemingly an endless potential longevity attached to it. The invention of which I speak is that of the recording disc -“records” or “vinyls” as they’re commonly known. Having been the original audio recording format, physically etching a sound to a disc which would play on a phonograph and later a record player, it was still the dominant method of listening to music right up to the 1970s. Where certain advancements were made in terms of compositions of the discs, recording techniques, and even the advent of stereo recording in the 1960s, not all that much had happened to evolve the design of the rotating disc median; seemingly an example of intelligent design. I found it particularly interesting that by the 1930s, there was a huge desire to listen to music in cars. The demand lead to radios becoming standard on most automobiles from that point forward. What is interesting here was that the desire for the owner to pick and choose the music they would like to listen to lead to an attempt to integrate a record player in an automobile? I can’t fathom the believe how they planned on stabilizing during movement, anyone who recalls running or jogging with a CD player can attest to this.

However, in the 70’s was when the analog recorded disc started to see its initial demise in the form of recording tape. Tape had several advantages in terms of quality to traditional disc media, but it would be it cumbersomeness as Millard indicates that would hold it back in terms of taking over the market. Once this lack of practicality issue concerning reel-to-reel tape media was solved in the form of 8-track cassettes; recorded tape could now dominant the commercial market. By eliminating the need to load tape directly into, or between in this case, a recording tab – people fell in love with the new format and quickly gravitated to its smaller form factor, superb audio quality, and song locating abilities that it seemed to outshine recorded discs in every instance. The amount of research and development that went into developing this cassette with 4 pairs of tracks (4 sets X 2 track per set = 8-track) was quite the under taking. The Lear Company originally produced the idea of the form to the Ford motor company as a possible portable listening add-on to the car stereo. Manufacturing of the actual cassette players was outsourced to the Motorola Company (still a major cell phone manufacturer), and finally further software and product development was given to RCA to manage.

8-track cassettes would soon pave the way for what would become the more recent plastic cassettes cartridges that would dominate until the advent of CDs in the 1980. These newer cassettes were smaller cartridges than their 8-track predecessors, and instead of being recorded in pairs were recorded consecutively and could hold 45 minutes of music on each side of a dual sided magnetic tape strip. The most innovative features of these newer cassettes originally made by the Philips Company and later adopted by Sony, TDK, and other companies. Their new smaller form factor, high fidelity, and portability would later lead to the invention of the portable cassette player (Walkman) in the 1980’s as the ratio of cassette tapes over vinyl LPs began to grow more and more.

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