Great history lesson: The first streaming music service dates back to 1881. That is not a typo.

When it comes to on-demand audio, the first thing people tend to think about it something like Spotify. However, streaming music is a whole lot older than these newfangled 21st century inventions. The first platform for this sort of thing goes back to the 19th century.

The Irish Times has a great history on systems such as the théâtrophone, Telefon Hírmondó and Eletrophone, all of which debuted sometime around 1881.

“[I]n 1881, the French inventor Clément Ader demonstrated his théâtrophone, which could transmit two-channel, multi-microphone relays of theatre and opera over phone lines for listening on headphones. The use of different signals for the two ears created a stereo effect.

“This kind of pre-radio relay became a subscription business, and was quickly imitated in Budapest as Telefon Hírmondó (Telephone Herald) and in London as Electrophone. The composer Arthur Sullivan had royalty to dinner after he was given a knighthood, and entertained his guests with an Electrophone relay of selections from his Iolanthe, the performance coming from the Savoy Theatre.

“The Electrophone service was expensive – £5 a year at a time when that sum would have covered a couple of months’ rent. And the number of subscribers seem to have been in the hundreds rather than the thousands. The experience was communal rather than solitary, and some of the photographs of listeners being transported by the new experience bring to mind images of addicts in an old-style opium den. Radio killed the venture off in the 1920s.”

Fantastic stuff. Read the whole thing here.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ 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.

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