The world’s brand-new analogue music format. Will it succeed or fail?

[This was my column for GlobalNews.ca and a follow-up to an article I wrote in this space last week. – AC]

On June 21, 1948, Edward Wallerstein of Columbia Records, walked into a press conference at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York with what looked like a collection of ordinary records under his arm. They looked a little bigger than the standard 10-inch 78 RPM records made of brittle shellac and limestone dust that had been the foundation of the recorded music industry since Emile Berliner demonstrated his gramophones 50 years earlier.

But these weren’t 78s. Wallerstein was there to introduce the brand new long-playing album, a 12-inch slab of polyvinyl chloride, a durable plastic invented by the B.F. Goodrich tire company in 1926 and originally used for sewer pipes. Using new precision lathe-cutter technology, very narrow grooves (.003 of an inch), each of these new records could comfortably hold 22 minutes of music per side as they spun at 33 1/3 times per minute. This was up significantly from five minutes that could fit on a 78. For the first time ever, an entire symphonic movement could be heard without interruption.

The LP changed everything about recorded music. RCA, Columbia’s archrival, initially balked at adopting the format and tried to compete with a microgroove format of their own: the 7-inch 45 RPM single. But after a marketing joust ended in a stalemate, the industry adopted both formats, a situation that we still have today.

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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.

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