Moving on from the phonographs were the gramophones which were electrically powered and very often paired with a radio contained in a large piece of furniture called a radiogram. Most stylish homes owned a radiogram in the 1950’s and 1960’s, or at least aspired to owning one. When not in use they looked like a sideboard, they got rid of the need to have a great big old fashioned wireless and whenever the need arose they also had a built in record player.
Having a radiogram at home was all well and good but most teenagers wanted to get out and about with their music and play their records where Mum and Dad were out of the way, so the ‘portable’ record player was invented. ‘Portable’ meant about fifteen kilos in weight, made of a heavy wooden frame and covered with leatherette with a carrying handle on the side. Most people couldn’t lift it up without having to balance it on their thigh.
Until the start of the 1950’s records were still produced in the large 78rpm style which were very large, very brittle and weighed a ton. If you took your record collection and ‘portable’ Dansette record player over to someone’s house in those days it was a major load to carry, but to us it was ‘portable’ and freedom. The large 78rpm records were produced right up until the mid 1950’s. Most of Elvis’s first hits were on 78’s and even Cliff Richard’s first hit Living Doll was produced on a large 78rpm disc.
From about 1958 onwards the more modern vinyl records began to be produced. These played at 45rpm and were much smaller and lighter. They were also more flexible and less prone to breakage than the big 78’s which would usually snap in half or break into three pieces if they were knocked or stood on. And they were easy to stack under the arm at the top of the centre post on the turntable which could stack at least ten records and release them down to the turntable below one at a time after each previous record had finished.
Vinyl’s were a new era altogether. You could get hundreds of vinyl records into a plastic file and carry them anywhere you wanted to without much effort. The big hulking ‘portable’ was still going strong throughout the sixties but smaller and lighter portables came along which were easier to transport.
Of course, since those days we have gone through the Cassette experience during the seventies, then the CD experience during the eighties and nineties and ultimately the computer downloads and all the ipod stuff.
All these new things are great and very convenient but having records and a record player was a whole experience that was part and parcel of the teenage years for many Baby Boomers. There were the record shops where you could request to listen to a record, go into a booth and put on headphones to listen to it. This was meant to encourage you to buy the single but a lot of the time people just listened to it and left. The record shop was a major venue to congregate on a Saturday and very often during the week, after school had finished. Any girls and boys who were lucky enough to get a job in the local record shop were the envy of the whole town. Very often the girl working behind the counter in the record shop would be dating someone in a local band which all added to the glamour of the experience especially if the band had a single out and that boy was visiting his girlfriend at the record shop on a Saturday morning.
Eventually local record shops with headphone booths either closed down or were taken over by the multiples. New technology kicked in and the rest is history. Thanks to DJ’s who have continued to use turntables and turned them into an art form of mixing techniques, the vinyl has stayed alive and more recently has started to make a comeback in the mainstream.
As great as the old record players and the memories they hold were, new record players are now being manufactured, a great many of them are still in the old retro style but this time around they are fitted with better speakers and USB ports so that music can be transferred from the old vinyl discs to ipods and computers so that we may never lose our music again, simply because the record broke.