Before iTunes, CDs, 8-tracks, LPs, or even seven-inch EPs, 78s were the main medium for recorded music, so-called because they were played at 78 rotations per minute (rpm). Produced primarily by Victor, Columbia, Brunswick, and Capitol, 78s were first invented by Emile Berliner in the late 19th century.
At first, Berliner made the “plates,” as the records were called, out of celluloid and rubber-based materials, but in 1894 he switched to shellac, inspired by its transformative impact on the telephone industry. Early shellac 78s measured seven inches across, but by 1900 they were generally 10 or 12 inches in diameter.
For years, early radio stations in both the U.S. and Britain did everything they could to drive 78s out of the market. At the time, most radio stations provided listeners with live music—recorded music represented a threat to their business model. Thus, they discouraged their listeners from spending money on “canned” music. In England, the Musicians Union went so far as to require radio stations to pay the Union for every minute they played records instead of live music.
Thanks to these policies and the poor sound quality of 78s, records took a while to catch on. In the 1920s, Thomas Edison released a competitor to the 78, the Edison disc, which was much thicker (a full quarter-inch!) and featured better audio quality. But the Edison disc required its own expensive phonograph, and it was discontinued in 1929, the same year opera star Arturo Toscanini declared that he would never record anything because a record could not fully capture the beauty of his voice.
Even so, record companies released a wide variety of genres on 78s, from classical to pop to recorded animal noises. In fact, classical releases spawned the origin of the term “album”: because each side of a 78 could only hold about five minutes of music, hour-long symphonies had to be divided into six discs, which were bound together in something resembling a photo album. Seventy-eights were better suited to short pop songs, but this length limitation would prove to be the format’s biggest weakness in the decades to come.
Still, 78s gradually gained acceptance, helped along by the popularity of jukeboxes after the Depression. Then, in 1942, the American Federation of Musicians declared that it would not record anything that did not directly help the American war effort—shellac was scarce, and it was an important material during wartime. The moratorium on record manufacturing lasted until 1944. When production got back on track, though, much of the shellac used for new records was recycled, which resulted in lower-quality discs.
Even so, shellac was on its way out anyway. In 1948, Columbia released the 10-inch LP; when Victor responded with the 45 in 1949, the “War of the Speeds” was on, and the industry soon switched from shellac to vinyl, which was much more durable and allowed for thinner grooves and, thus, longer playing times per side...
In the mid-1950s, seven-inch vinyl singles began cutting into the popularity of 78s even more. Indeed, 1958 was the last year the 78 was the best-selling format in the United States; within five years, 78s were no longer produced in any Western countries, though foreign labels like EMI’s Indian division kept producing them for a bit longer.
Since then, the 78 rpm speed and format have been revived a few times as a promotional gimmick, but these records are generally pressed on vinyl rather than shellac. One example was the Sundown Playboys’ “Saturday Nite Special” in 1971.
The most collectible 78s today are those from the late ’50s, when 78s were less common and releases were often pressed on multiple formats. In the U.K., for example, Elvis Presley’s “A Mess of Blues” is highly collectible as a 78 because it is much easier to find as a seven-inch vinyl single.
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The expected slide in voice RPM is primarily due to last month's 30% cut in interconnect charges (to 14 paise a minute) by the sector regulator, a move slated to hurt incumbents who account for a bulk of the industry's revenue market share and have...Read more
Rhiannon Giddens Channels Diverse Musical Influences In New AlbumWUWM, April 25th
By Mitch Teich • 1 hour ago. ShareTwitter Facebook Google+ Email. Rhiannon Giddens facebook.com. Last year, we spoke with the author of a book about the search for the rarest 78RPM records. One of them is "Last Kind Word Blues," by Geeshie Wiley: ...Read more
Reversible prop approved for HuskyAOPA Pilot, April 24th
The propeller reversal is controlled by a switch on the throttle, which is activated within a specific manifold pressure/rpm range. The 78-inch-diameter propeller has a graphite spinner and sells for about $30,000, Horn said—a little less when...Read more
Pokey LaFarge: Something in the WaterPopMatters, April 24th
The music sounds old, as if it was meant to be played on a 78 rpm turntable, but without the scratchiness. The good news is that LaFarge isn't offering a retro-shtick, he's creating something enchanting that recalls an era when most of his listeners...Read more
La Musique Perdue: This Map Offers An Interactive History Of Record Stores In ...Co.Create, April 21st
An avid collector of 78rpm records and author of Ceints de Bakélite, a blog dedicated to the format, Henry (whose actual day job is working in web and social media at a French private company) says such visual evidence from long-gone record shops has ...Read more
World's most valuable recordsThis is Money, April 21st
It doesn't even have a title, but any copies of this incredibly rare 78rpm from 1965, by David A Stewart, are worth around £30,000. 1. That'll Be The Day/In Spite Of All The Danger. What is it with these scousers? As if we didn't know. Number 1 goes to...Read more
Elvis' First Recording Given New Life by Jack White's Record CompanyNBCNews.com, April 18th
The ten-inch, 78-rpm disc containing two songs, "My Happiness" on one side and "That's When Your Heartaches Begin" on the other, set White back $300,000. Now he'd like to share it with fans, in the most authentic form possible. The labels on the...Read more
Jack White's Third Man Records re-releases first Elvis recording on vinylWashington Times, April 18th
A 10-inch, 78-rpm copy of Elvis Presley's original recording of “My Happiness” and “That's When Your Heartaches Begin” is shown at Jack White's Third Man Records on Record Store Day Saturday, April 18, 2015, in Nashville, Tenn. The facsimile of ... more >...Read more