Monday, August 03, 2009

From Gramophone to Earphone

As a follow up to my recent post about the Walkman and its thirtieth anniversary, I would like to ask if anyone remembers gramophone players like those pictured to the left and down on the right. I do but not all that well, only vaguely. A gramophone something like that on the left stood in my grandfather's house, where I lived until I was about seven years old. As far as I know, it only played 78rpm records. I can only remember one particular song being played, a kid's song, Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines, but I'm sure that there were more. I can remember that the good captain liked to feed his horse corn and beans and that he also liked the ladies in their teens for that was the style in the army. So maybe it wasn't actually a kids song after all. Who knows? I can also recall the story of Peter Rabbit being played for me. It bothered me to think of Mean Old Farmer McGregor chasing poor Peter, causing him to hide in a watering can and, consequently, also to catch a nasty cold. I didn't really like that story.

The cabinet would have been taller than little me, and as the photograph of the smaller player to the right shows (if you squint or better still click to view large), the head was a huge contraption that a kid couldn't work very well. What I forgot until now was that it was run mechanically by the crank handle that you can see on the side.

It must have remained at Grampa's house after we moved to our own flat until he passed away a few years later. I know it didn't come with us, and we had no record player at all for a few years. What I do remember is my parents eventually surprising me with the purchase of a portable player that would play 33's and 45's as well as the older 78's. It would have been something along the lines of the one pictured below. Believe it or not, my memory says that Cuppa brought a similar type of player into our marriage. However, Cuppa's memory does not necessarily coincide with mine other than the fact that there was some sort of record player that the kids used to play their Disney stories when they were quite young.

The era of the record player as a piece of furniture hadn't ended with the advent of the portable player, however. I guess it was a matter of form over function, but if a family had the funds and space, they would quite likely have opted for a large piece of furniture something like the cabinet pictured below. When I say form over function, it's because Cuppa's family had one of these furniture pieces, but she can't remember it being used to play music very often.

The next phase seemed to shift to function trumping form as people began buying component systems, the idea being that listeners should put their money into sound and not furniture. Eventually, Cuppa and I purchased a very decent component set. The following photo depicts that kind of component stereo system although ours was not as nearly as elaborate and grand. We still have it, but it now sits unused and derelict and gathering mold in our basement. We moved it with us across province with us four years ago, but when I began to re-attach the thing in our new digs, I discovered that the speakers had begun to disintegrate. So it shall remain in the nether regions of our domicile while we use our newer, multipurpose and much more inexpensive DVD/CD home entertainment system.

Onto the next phase: about four years ago, I found myself dithering and dithering over purchasing an iPod. I think my experience with the mini disc player that I mentioned in the previous post had whet my appetite, but it did seem like an extravagant outlay, so I dithered some more. I finally found one on sale and latched onto it, and I have found it useful. For example: sometimes, one wants to listen to music and does not want to inflict it upon others. Also, while I can appreciate that many don't share the same opinion, I sometimes find the in-my-ears experience to be more immediate and personal than a general broadcast. Under the right circumstances I tend to feel more connected to the music when it's right in my ears like that.

Cuppa and I find our iPods useful in a number of ways. After purchasing the pod, I also invested in a pair of small portable speakers, so if there's a reason to share our music, it's easily done. For example, when we go to the cottage, it's a snap to port our music with us. It was also easy to download a new fiddle tune and take it and my tiny speakers to a jam to let the rest of the group hear how it should sound. In addition, it's convenient for me to download a tune upstairs on my computer, put it on my iPod, shove the pod in my pocket, and take it downstairs where I can attempt to fiddle along with it. From the library, Cuppa borrows books on CD's that she rips and listens to in bed or elsewhere without keeping me distracted or awake.

The point of these ruminations, however, is not to extol the virtues of the iPod, for that's a matter of personal preference, but to stand back and observe the huge technological leap that I have witnessed: the contrast between the first gramophone that I recall and the modern, portable digital music player. It's a reflection of my personal experience and not meant to be the definitive history. If it were, I'd have to include ghetto blasters and who knows what all: perhaps even the short-lived, quadraphonic system that my friend purchased.

What a contrast! Within six decades we have moved from large pieces of furniture or at least cumbersome devices that operated mechanically and could play only one tune before someone had to change the record, to tiny portable devices. These little digital players could approximately fit on the label of an old 78 or 33 (see below), can store many hundreds of songs and can also play them back in any number of ways. They're very adaptable.

I wonder what can possibly be next.


Kathy said...

This post takes me down memory lane..i remember my grandparents with the stereo furniture player (long cabinet) and my Aunt Mary singing and dancing in front of it. My Mom & Dad still have theirs...but the sound system has been broken for years, but the cherry wood cabinet is so beautiful they wont part with it and I don't blame them.
My husband has tons of old vinyl 12-inch (30-cm) records from Captain & Tennille...The Eagles...Aretha Franklin...Jimi Hendrix, the list goes on and on...brings back lots of memories. In my opinion the sound was beautiful on the vinyl...nothin like it.

Barry said...

Wow, what a great post. I brought back so many memories for me!

I was reading a thoughtful piece recently about how the portable record player, almost exclusively brought for the teenager in the family, led to teens purchasing records that appealed to them, which led to teenage tastes dominating of the music industry.

Anonymous said...

Well A/C you know this old lady has seen 'em all. Great essay and pics.

Lorna said...

what I want next, what I've wanted for years, is a sound implant that I can have wired to my head somewhere and control it with my brain. I also want one for Dave so he can listen tot he radio while I listen to music in the same room, or occasionally, vice-versa

Mary said...


Yeap, Grandma had a gramaphone...the kind that played 78s only. We never had a record player at home until Santa brought me on at Christmas the year I was ten. It looked like the one above, except it was metal. Wonder what ever happened to it. I can see it still in my mind's eye. It played all three speeds as well.

When my first husband and I got married, we bought a cabinet record play that had an 8-track player and an AM/FM radio. The FM was always full of static and we couldn't get anything on it. The AM worked great and we had a great collection of 33s. Wish I had them now, but they were stolen.

Enjoyed walking down Memory Lane with you. Have a great week.

Mara said...

The only thing I can remember from my young youth is a radio/record-player in a huge cabinet. My brother and I always wanted to listen to it and I remember having a 101 Dalmatians record. However, we didn't know how to get sound to come out, so we huddled very close together!
The only book I ever listen to is 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' read by the author Douglas Adams himself. However, it's not to be found on cd, so I am stuck with my cassette player (thanks to my sister for a decent one) and my tapes!

Donna said...

My Grandmother had one in her "parlor" for Ever...The one on the top the post Ac...hughugs

Bernie said...

i have noticed your comments on other blogs I visit so thought I would pop in for a visit, so glad I did as you have taken me down memory lane and its been a wonderful journey as well as an informative one. Thank you for sharing....:-) Bernie

Ruth said...

I still have my childhood 45s and a big box of LPs but have no record player at this time. I remember the "suitcase" record player which went back and forth across the ocean with our family 3 times. I just disposed of our component set with the giant speakers. I am still not very attached to my iPod and prefer an external speaker attached to my computer.

Anonymous said...

The leaps in technology never cease to amaze. I can't help but ponder the wonders that my kids and grandkids will come to know.

Mary G said...

Just found this and have to send kudos. Great post!
And, yes, I remember the gramaphone clearly. We had one at our cottage.
What's next? Probably something under the skin with controls you manage by clicking your teeth.

jinksy said...

Hopefully, somebody will invent bigger and better ear plugs!

alex xander said...
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