Friday, February 06, 2009

78-rpm Records Were Prized, Delicate Possessions, Pt. 1

Originally published in the January, 2009, Old Radio Times.(

78-rpm Records Were Prized, Delicate Possessions
Bob Cox

Youngsters who find an old record player at an antique store, auction or flea market may be puzzled to discover four turntable speeds: 16, 33.3, 45 and 78 revolutions per minute (rpm). Older folks will recall the awful day their favorite 78-rpm record was broken. My much-played non-replaceable disc, a long forgotten cowboy singer on the Coral label, met its demise when a neighborhood friend accidentally sat on it. I was so distraught I couldn’t sleep that night, realizing that “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men” could not put that delicate 10-inch record together again.

These old records were made of shellac, a natural resin secreted by the lac insect and had the consistency of a fragile china plate - thick, heavy and highly breakable. These delicate discs cracked and chipped easily. Most folks continued playing a favorite damaged record, even with its annoying pop that occurred with each revolution. Some records were played so frequently that the center hole became enlarged, causing the record to rotate on the turntable in a distorted jerky motion.

Record needles, resembling slightly refined nails, usually sold 25 to a pack for a quarter. Manufacturers suggested replacing them after about 12 plays, warning consumers that failure to do so could result in damage to their prized discs. I ignored such admonitions, opting instead to plop one in only when I detected a drop in audio quality.

- This article was first published in the Johnson City (TN) Press on August 7, 2006 and is reprinted with their kind permission and that of its author.


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