30 Facts About the CD on the Occasion of Its 30th Birthday

On August 17, 1982, the first CDs rolled out of a factory in Hanover, West Germany.  In honour of that anniversary, here are some things about the CD that may have escaped your attention over the decades.

 1.  Philips of the Netherlands and Sony of Japan jointly developed the compact disc, an optical storage medium read with a laser.  It stored music by converting an analog signal into binary code which was store in a pattern of pits on the disc. The laser red the information stored in these pits and converted it back into an electrical signal.

2.  The original design of the compact disc called for a capacity of 60 minutes.  Legend has it that the capacity was increased to 74 minutes because Sony president Norio Ohga (a former opera singer) wanted it to hold his favourite version of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, a 1951 recording conducted by Wilhem Furtwängler.  The truth lies in a deal between Sony and Philips.  By agreeing to a disc diameter of 120mm (thereby determining a capacity of 74 minutes), then neither company had a competitive advantage when it came to setting up CD pressing plants

3.  The first discs off the line seem to have been a recording of Alpensymphonie, Op. 64: Sonnenaugang by the Berliner Philharmonic conducted by Herbert Von Karajan and The Visitor by ABBA.

4.  The first consumer CD player was the Sony CDP-101, which was released in Japan on October 1, 1982, the same day CDs first went on sale in that country.  The pricetag?  $900.

5.  “Compact disc” was just one of a number of names considered for the new technology.  Other possibilities included CompactRack, MiniRack and MiniDisc.  Why “compact disc?”  To complement co-developer Philips’ earlier invention, the compact cassette (or just “cassette” to most of us.)

6.  Unlike a vinyl record which revolves at a constant speed and plays from the outside in, a CD’s spin rate varies from 200 to 500 RPM and plays from the inside out.

 7.  At first, there was great reluctance by the recording industry and by record retailers to the compact disc. Still suffering from both a brutal recession and the post-disco industry crash, the last thing they wanted to do was spend money on an unproven format.  They hated the idea of having to invest in factories, transportation, warehousing, marketing and shelving.

8.  Shelving was an especially big issue for retailers.  After spending untold millions on racks for 12-inch LPs, they didn’t want to refurbish their stores to display compact discs.  A temporary solution was the introduction of the “longbox,” cardboard or plastic packaging that allowed two CDs to fit side-by-side in a rack designed for a vinyl album.  The longbox was eventually abandoned because of criticisms over too much wasteful packaging.

9.  The first album transferred to CD for demonstration purposes was Living Eyes from the Bee Gees in 1981.

10.  Among the first CDs to go on sale to the general public in Japan when the format was first introduced on October 1, 1982, was 52nd Street by Billy Joel.

11.  The first CD to sell a million copies was Dire Straits’ 1985 album, Brothers in Arms.

12.  The first CD recorder or “burner” appeared in 1988.  It cost $20,000 and required another $80,000 worth of gear to operate.  The total apparatus weighed 600 pounds.  At the time, it was predicted that the technology would never become cheap enough for consumer use.

13.  The first CD burner I ever used was made by Studer.  It was the size of a suitcase and cost $12,000. It burned CDs at 1x speed (i.e. in real time) and blank discs cost $40 each.

14.  The first sub-$1000 CD burner–one suitable for some consumer use–was introduced by HP in 1995.

15.  The first compact disc to be manufactured in America (as opposed to in Germany or Japan) was Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA in 1984.

16.  In 1984, Sony became the first company to offer an in-dash CD player for cars.

17.  Sony released the DiscMan, the first portable CD player, in 1984.

18.  In 1985, Mercedes-Benz was the first automobile manufacturer to offer an in-dash CD player in its vehicles.

19.  The first artist to switch his entire catalogue over to compact disc was David Bowie in 1985.

20.  The Beatles did not allow any of their albums to be transferred to compact disc until 1987.

21.  The shelf life of a CD is estimated to be about 100 years.  Meanwhile, if stored correctly, a vinyl record can last forever.

22.  However, scientists know of a fungus discovered in the jungles of Belize that eats both plastic and aluminum.  A single CD would be a banquet feast for them.

23.  If you stretched out the spiral of data included on a 5-inch compact disc, it would extended over 3.5 miles.

24.  A CD can hold a maximum of 700MB of data.  A first-generation iPod could hold 5GB of data.

25.  CD players outsold turntables for the first time in 1986.

26.  By 1990, the CD was the dominant music format.

27.  The first #1 album to be available on CD and not vinyl was To the Extreme by Vanilla Ice in 1990.

28.  In 1994, record labels began releasing “mixed-mode” CDs, discs that included bonus multimedia material meant to be played on computers.  They were later marketed as “enhanced” CDs as “CD-Plus” and “CD-Extra.”  The first of this type seems to have been Besides from Bob Mould’s band, Sugar, which was released on July 25, 1995.

29.  With the teen-pop boom of the late 90s, more than five billion CDs were sold between 1995 and 2000.

30. Virtually all the CDs we use today are based on technology developed in the 1970s.  Things haven’t changed much at all since then.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 37808 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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