Evolution of Audio Entertainment
Nowadays, it doesn’t take a lot to listen to music or a radio show. What with the option to listen to digital radio on just about any platform or device you can think of, streaming sites like Spotify and Amazon Music and DABs? The evolution of audio entertainment is a very interesting one and one that took place over a relatively short space of time. About 139 years to be exact.
Let’s look back through the corridors of history, starting with the Phonograph up to present.
1877 – Phonograph, as Invented by Thomas Edison
Audio entertainment, at least in the sense of recordings, all began really with Thomas Edison’s invention of the phonograph in 1877. The phonograph made recordings of vibrations caused by sound by making etches into a wax cylinder that was rotating at the time. There was a stylus that then made a tracing over the zigzag or spiral shapes left on the cylinder, which allowed the sound to be replayed.
Although this was a big success, sales of recorded music started to have dwindled during the Great Depression and the main audio entertainment came in the form of radio broadcasts.
AM Radio, Invented by Reginald Fessenden in 1906
For a more comprehensive look at the medium’s past, check out this great history of radio broadcast post. The first entertainment broadcast across AM radio was made in 1906 on Christmas Eve when Reginald Fessenden played some seasonal music from Brant Rock in Massachusetts on his radio transmitter. The broadcast was heard hundreds of miles away, reaching audiences in Virginia.
The input of Westinghouse, GE, and RCA helped to push radio tech forward. CBS and NBC were established by 1920 and transforming radio into the biggest cultural phenomena for many years. People loved radio because it brought relatives and friends together so they could hear live stories, news, and music.
Stereo Sound, Invented by Alan Blumlein in 1931
Without a shadow of a doubt, the next most important development in audio entertainment that we still benefit right down to our modern-day was the introduction of stereo sound. Up until the 1930s, people who had radios in their own homes had to put up with the poor sound produced on mono systems.
So, when stereophonic sound became a thing, it allowed people to hear live performances that were of a similar quality to what they would have heard if they were there in person.
Mono relied on just one channel for the sound to come from, whereas stereo used more channels to give music a real multi-layered sound that meant listeners could hear specific instruments on the left of the device and the singing and voices on the right.
It is thought by the late 50s that just about all popular and official audio recordings, as well as broadcasts, were produced in stereo sound.
LP Records, by Columbia Records in 1945
Now we move onto more familiar territory when it comes to consumer entertainment. Although turntables had been used from as early on as the 20s and 30s, it wasn’t until 45 that Columbia Records introduced its so-called “long-playing” record, also known to audiophiles and music lovers as 12-inch LPs. The benefits of this and probably why they are so enduring is the facts that they are easy to produce en masse, produce great sound quality and have enough space for up to 22 minutes
Compact Cassette, by Phillips in 1962
In the 1960s, Phillips designed and produced the compact cassette. These were a real revelation and a foreshadowing of the kind of revolution audio entertainment would undergo just three decades later. They were small, played the longer recording, and sounded much better. They could even be played in a variety of different locations, such as your car or home and on the go, eventually, when Sony designed the Walkman.
There have undoubtedly been other developments deserving of being highlighted, but these formative days of audio entertainment show where things would eventually head with the development of MP3s, streaming technology, and wi-fi connectivity.