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June 21, 2024 7 mins

On this day in 1948, Columbia Records released the first long-playing vinyl record, or LP.     

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
This Day in History Class is a production of iHeartRadio.
Hello and Welcome to This Day in History Class, a
show that spins the greatest hits of history one day
at a time. I'm Gabe Lucier, and in this episode,
we're looking at a game changing moment in the history

of music technology, the introduction of the first LP and
the birth of the album as we know. The day
was June twenty first, nineteen forty eight, Columbia Records released
the first long playing vinyl record, or LP for short.

Company president Edward Wallerstein announced the new format during a
press conference at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City.
He also demonstrated the breakthrough technology by playing the first
long playing disc ever produced, a recording of the New
York Philharmonic under the baton of Bruno Walter performing Mendelssohn's

Violin Concerto in E minor. Take a listen. As the

name suggests, the LP allowed for longer recordings to be
played on turntables. The previous standard record had rotated at
seventy eight RPMs or revolutions per minute, and could only
hold three or four minutes of music on each side,
but LPs were a different story because they had a

narrower groove, which Columbia dubbed a micro groove, and because
they played at a slower speed thirty three and a
third RPMs. Each side of the record could now hold
around twenty minutes. This meant that longer works, such as
classical pieces or extended jazz compositions, could now be heard

in their entirety without having to flip over the record.
It also enabled contemporary musicians to package a dozen or
so of their shorter songs onto a single disc. The
LP addressed other limitations of seventy eight RPM discs as well,
including durability and sound quality. This was done by changing

the material from which records were made, ditching the heavy,
brittle shellac of seventy eight's in favor of lighter, sturdier vinyl.
The switch to vinyl also improved the listening experience compared
to shellac records, which had always been plagued by a
high level of surface noise such as crackles, pops and
needle his hiss. It wasn't the vinyl itself that reduced

the noise, but the long spiral groove that was able
to be cut into the more flexible material. As the
Columbia Records catalog proudly touted, quote, each LP record consists
of scores of microscopically fine grooves, precisely controlled channels capable
of capturing the most subtle nuances were the most magnificent

for tissime. Many of the features that contributed to the
LP success had already been developed as far back as
the nineteen twenties. Both Columbia and its primary competitor, RCA
Victor had experimented with vinyl material thirty three and a
third RPMs and micro groove, but those early efforts were

always derailed, first by technical limitations, then by the Great Depression,
and finally by the Second World War. It wasn't until
the summer of nineteen forty seven that a Hungarian American
engineer named Peter Goldmark was finally able to put all
the components together, the material, the speed, and the micro groove.

He didn't do it alone, though his team at Columbia
had spent the better part of a decade solving all
the previous problems, like grooves that were too wide and
playback times that were too short. It's no exaggeration to
say that their efforts changed the music industry forever. When
Columbia launched the first LPs in nineteen forty eight, the

term album referred to a group of record sleeves that
were bound together, like a physical photo album, but for music.
Sometimes an album would collect the various singles of a
given artist, each of which had to be recorded on
its own seventy eight rpm disc. In other cases, an
album would collect a longer musical work, such as Beethoven's

Fifth Symphony, which had to be spread out over five
or six discs. Once LPs caught on, though, the meaning
of the term album shifted. An album became a collection
of recordings issued on a single record, an entirely new
unit which music could be conceived, packaged, and listened to.

This new take on the album was a win for everyone.
It allowed record companies to charge more money for discs
with more content, It spared listeners the hassle of having
to change records every few minutes, and it enabled artists
to branch out from short, radio friendly singles. That last part,
in particular, was crucial to the development of modern music.

No longer restricted to singles and B sides, bands and
musicians began to conceive and record entire albums at once.
Some of the songs were longer, slower, or more experimental
than what the old model had allowed for, and often
they were united by a shared theme, concept, or narrative.
Commercial music became richer and more varied as a result,

and listeners gained a new appreciation for how artists developed
or changed their sound from one album to the next.
With so many points in its favor, the vinyl LP
had no trouble supplanting the seventy eight records of old.
By the nineteen fifties, it had become the industry standard
for recorded music, a role it continued to fill all

the way until the rise of digital recordings in the
late nineteen nineties. That said, the format of a long
play album never went anywhere. From cassettes to CDs to
MP three's, unified collections of songs remained the norm for
commercial music releases, and while vinyl isn't quite as prominent
as it once was, it's had a major comeback in

the last decade or so. Maybe it's the warmer sound
of the audio or the tactile nature of the object itself,
but for many people, even younger generations, vinyl is still
the ideal way to listen to an album. As for me,
I'm holding out for the resurgence of Shellac Records. Love
those pops and hisses. I'm Gay Blues and hopefully you

now know a little more about history today than you
did yesterday. If you'd like to keep up with the show,
you can follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at
TDI HC Show, and if you have any comments or suggestions,
feel free to send them my way by writing to
This Day at iHeartMedia dot com. Thanks to Kasby Bias

for producing the show, and thanks to you for listening.
I'll see you back here again tomorrow for another day
in History class.

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