Turntables and Audio

Yesterday we gave a little history on the amazing invention of the “talking machine” that, for the first time in the history of mankind, allowed millions of people to enjoy music in their homes. And not just any music, but the music of the masters of that day. Imagine having the great Caruso singing for you whenever and wherever you wanted. What an amazing invention.

Introduced in the latter part of the 1900′s, a decade later Gramophones and Victrolas were in over half of every home in the Western World so great was their popularity – but then the bottom starting falling out of the market as another invention came onto the scene – and this one was leaps and bounds cooler than the turntable: radio, introduced in the 1920′s.

Imagine for a moment growing up in this era where the primary mode of transportation was either riding animals or trains, indoor plumbing is a luxury, gas lamps and lanterns still provide much of the light in homes and all of a sudden there’s a machine that spews out music on command – followed in less than a decade by most cities getting electricity, telephones, electric lights, the introduction of the automobile coupled with the idea of mass production to build them and the end of the animal transportation era. On top of all this add yet another even more magical and mysterious machine that plays music out of thin air! What a wonderful time to experience such huge magical changes.

Between 1920 and 1924 radio usage in the United States, the UK and much of Europe went from zero to over 60% of every home having one. Block parties were regular events and neighbors gathered for evening radio broadcasts of their favorite shows. The bottom on turntable sales dropped from everything to nearly nothing in just 4 short years. Both the Victrola (Gramophone) turntable and the radio were complete players unto themselves – the Gramophone 100% mechanical, the radio 100% electronic.

The Victrola company, faced with warehouses filled with unsold Gramophones made a momentous decision: they would combine forces with the folks at RCA and build a combination Gramophone and radio into one box. Revolutionary in its scope, little attention by the public was paid to the fact that this radio/turntable combination of 1924 marked the first electronic turntable ever made – and from that point forward, all major turntables went from mechanical to amplified in the blink of an eye.

Turntables and radios

Separate radios and separate amplified turntables were still available but the biggest sellers of the day and, for the next several decades to come, remained the combo we now call a receiver which even today still consists of a radio, an amplifier, a preamplifier and a phono input. Unlike the receivers of today, however, these console models included the tone arm and platter (now powered with an electric motor) to make a complete system.

It would take something really interesting to change people’s purchasing habits from this all-in-one console to true separates as we know it.