Saturday, July 28, 2007


Ok, it's a valid word I have used for a long time, but I used it to some young college student workers this week and they had not a clue as to what a stereo was or what it meant.

So I began searching my mind for the word and when it became popular. My limited research reminded me that I have live through quite a bit of audio change in my 58 years.

Before we had a TV my mother and dad would listen to the radio at night. It was a huge post war plastic thing, that was on the kitchen buffet. (a piece of furniture no longer made or used in American homes, it was blonde wood and was supposed to house the linens for the kitchen, because only rich people had houses with dining rooms.)

When I was very young, pre- grade school, I had a phonograph that played 78's or 45's and it had a needle arm that you had to manually put on the edge of the record yourself to listen to the music. I used to listen to nursery rhymes like "Hickory Dickory Dock"and tunes like "She'll be coming around the Mountain when she comes."

The in grade school we had very limited AV equipment, and the 1st "record player" we had was an honest to God hand cranked Victrola. The catholic school nuns had us listen to folk songs, especially ones by Stephen Colin Foster and some classical music, which left a lot to be desired when it was so scratchy...

By the time I was in 4th grade we had portable radios, that actually weighed a ton and took about 8 batteries if you wanted to take them on a picnic or something and the power only lasted a few hours. Then in the early 1960's we got AM transistor radios. They were about twice the size of today's standard cell phone, only needed one 9 volt battery and came with a set of earphones for private listening. If you were lucky enough to own one you had it "made in the shade" because walking around with an earplug was VERY cool.

By the late 1960's we had Hi Fi music, that's short for high fidelity,the new record players had automatic systems so you could stack several records so that when one stopped playing the needle arm would disengage, move to the resting spot and the next record (a 45 or an album that was 33 1/3 rpm) would drop into place and the needle arm would then move automatically to the begining of the vinal record and start to play. I had a hi fi portable record player that weigher about 25 lbs. The top of the case was actually a speaker and it could be dislodged from the bottom and moved to as far away from the base as the wires would allow, so you could get the effect of having music from two directions. It wasn't quite stereo though.

Then came "stereo" with multiple speakers and individualized speakers for the kind of sound you heard. There were woffers, for bass tones, and tweeters, for treble tones. So they started selling albums with labels to tell you wether they had been recorded in monoral (mono) or stereo sound. You could play a mono record on a stereo but it didnt' sound as good.

After than came casette taped "records". No vinal discs, it was tapes and people needed tape decks to hear their favorite "albums". That was when individual 45's began to lose favor with the record buying public because a "single" could cost you as much as 99 cents for one record (and the flip side which was usually not a good song) OR you could spend $4.99 for an album, that usually had 10 to 12 songs on it. It was a bargain, and we started memorizing whole albums worth of songs (especially when the British Invasion hit.)

After casette tapes came the 8 trac players (we still have one that works and it actually plays two 8 trac tapes we managed to salvage after all these years. We played the ABBA tape on our 25th anniversary.)

Then came the CD. Same concept as records, but you had to have a different system to play them, and came surround sound, which has stereo stereos, then MP3's, and now you buy the right to download music onto your iPod.

By the time I am ready to die I assume there will be several other changes to the way we acquire and listen to music. But by then will I even want to listen to it? Or will I long for the little child's phonograph and "She'll be Coming Around the Mountain When She Comes"?

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