June 25, 2017

Birth of the 45 rpm record ~ March 31, 1949

I must have been 12 or 13 when I bought my first record. It was a 45 RPM; which one I have no recollection. I do remember my first LP (link below).   

Since I had been a kid I had listened to the 78 RPM records my mom and dad had in their collection, classical and big band from mom and Latin music from dad. I had discovered a new kind of record, the 45. The 45s were really cheap, less than a dollar each; that fit my allowance perfectly and I could buy the music I liked. It was my first taste of buying power.  

When I was in Junior High I would go to parties and the kids would play their records which were horribly scratched and sounded terrible. I would never let mine get that way; and I still have them in almost mint condition.    

Dawn of the 45 RPM

The 45 or 7-inch is the most common form of the vinyl single. The names are derived from its play speed, 45 RPM, and the standard diameter, 7 inches (18 cm). 

Recording technology had changed radically since Emile Berliner invented the gramophone record in the 1890s. It had gone from unresponsive acoustic recording horns and direct to disc master recording to full electrical recording and tape masters. But little had changed with the records themselves. They still rotated at 78 RPM, still made of noisy shellac and extremely fragile.   
That all changed when the 7-inch 45 RPM record was released on March 31, 1949 by RCA Victor as a smaller, more durable and higher fidelity replacement for the 78 rpm shellac discs. The first 45 RPM records were monaural, with recordings on both sides of the disc. As stereo recordings became popular in the 1960s, almost all 45 RPM records were produced in stereo by the early 1970s.   

Columbia, which had released the 33 ⅓ rpm 12-inch vinyl LP in June 1948 (link below), also released 33 ⅓ rpm 7-inch vinyl singles in March 1949, but they were soon eclipsed by the RCA Victor 45. The first 45 RPM record created was "PeeWee the Piccolo" RCA Victor 47-0146 pressed 7 December 1948 at the Sherman Avenue plant in Indianapolis, Indiana.     

The RCA 7" inch 45 RPM record was cute, VERY small, and RCA's very colorful vinyl (each genre of music had it's own colour of vinyl!) made it an instant hit with young people. Popular releases were on standard black vinyl. Country releases were on green vinyl, Children's records were on yellow vinyl, Classical releases were on red vinyl, "Race" (or R&B and Gospel) records were on orange vinyl, Blue vinyl/blue label was used for semi-classical instrumental music and blue vinyl/black label for international recordings.   

The 45 RPM record and RCA 45 players (link below) had a few problems. First, the players could only play 45 RPM records. Nothing else. Second, classical music fans still had to put up with the same mid-movement breaks that plagued symphonic fans since the dawn of classical recording. Something the 33 1/3 RPM record rarely had.       

This era at the beginning of the '50s was called "The Battle of The Speeds" Some people preferred the 33 1/3 RPM LP, others the new 45 RPM players and old timers who insisted on the 78 RPM speed. The other major labels mostly aligned with the 33 1/3 RPM LP for albums (Capitol however released albums in all three speeds) and 45 and 78 RPM for singles. The 45s were super cheap, less than a dollar each.

The 78 RPM single began disappearing in the early '50s and the 78 RPM speed regulated to children's records through hand-me-down phonographs from their parents. The last American commercially released 78 RPM singles appeared in 1959, however they were still made for children's records and older jukeboxes until 1964.   

And thus began the era of the 45s. An era that lasted 40 wonderful years. Before the cassette tape, CD and MP3 player, 45s were the perfect portable personal music medium. 

Viewfinder links:  
My first LP     
Birth of the 33 1/3 RPM LP          
The RCA Victor 45-EY-2 45 RPM record player         
Styrous® ~ Sunday, June 25, 2017 


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