Not too long ago, I recall this large bulky brown rectangular coffin-like piece of a furniture in the sitting room. It was every home’s pride to own a “grundig” gramophone. You had to half enter into the box gadget to get hold of 33′ LP plastic black plate record with lines like race tracks all over the plate. You had to place the plate either side, depending on the tracks you wanted to listen to, nicely on the gramophone or changer, as the smaller version was called and the needle tracker would drop nicely on the plate and then comes these scratchy squeaky sound before the music filled the room. You had to wait for it. It was not automatic. The beauty was in waiting for the music. Often times we would pose and freeze in a dance step expectant.
On the other side, it had this small rectangular face that would light up and a large knob to the right that would be turned to select the radio station. It also had short sausage like spring knobs, when depressed sprang forth another one to indicate it it was SW1, SW2, SW3, MW or LW. These means Short Wave, Medium Wave and Long Wave.
We had one of those and how you would know my father was awake was when the BBC World Service would rend the air. They used to be very loud and quite audible. Not every home had one. It was a big deal to own one of those.
It was complimented by a square box television set that had two doors. You had to unlock the TV set with a key and open the wardrobe door to expose the back and white tv screen. TV Stations opened service by 4.00pm with some rainbow colored large stripes across the screen. It was not 24 hours television service and we certainly did not have cable television back then. We had physical radio studios that showed programs and shut down just before midnight with a western movie called Wild Wild West.
Not long after this, we had a great invention. the cassette. It ride on the back of what was called Cartridges. These were larger boxes of warehousing music the size of an average novel. We could now record music in these for 30mins, 60 mins, 90mins or 120mins. We had the chrome version which improved on the sound and were quite expensive comparatively.
We became very skillful in joining these tapes when they got cut. We owned transparent adhesive tapes and razor blades that we would use to surgically repair damaged tapes. If this was not done expertly, some of the music would be lost. We knew how to use pens or pencils, shaped as though built for the cassettes to rewind or fat forward the tracks up the cassettes before playing the tapes. We were proud of the “workman” that came along, that were made as large boxes with that we hooked to the belt loops and with our funny looking head phones back then, we would blast our music all the way.
We owned loads of these and it would take up so much space. You had to label each of the tapes/ cassettes to be able to identify the one that had the desired music. They were not waterproof and music was easily lost if these got soaked in the rain. You had to re-record them from the radio stations again or those who could afford to record musics from record stores, other dubbed from them. These cassettes were around for a very long time and it seemed man had invented his best in the electronics space on how to preserve and listen to music.
Try imagining how clumsy it was to have a disco party back then. The DJ would have a large suit case of 40-100 plates of diverse records neatly packed in the suitcase. The DJ had to know which large folder to open quickly to take out a record plate, place it on the turn-table to spin the sound. If you didn’t handle the plates well, it broke and the records were quite expensive. You had to wipe them with soft cotton cloth to prevent scratches or dust settling on them. Indeed they stopped their production long time back so everyone kept their own very safe.
Just when we had given up on technology in this area, we started having CDs. Before we knew how to use the CDs well, we had DVDs. Then flash drives showed up and now we use clouds. Today we can have millions of music warehoused in the cloud and on a very small device reel them out with ease and pleasure.
The man called Steve Jobs came and disrupted the music space. He shut down so many music stores from Virgin Record Stores to hmv stores were all disrupted. They no longer sold DVDs or CDs because Steve Jobs revolutionized how we listen to music. Record companies were out of business, recording machines became obsolete quickly and everyone had to change their game to remain in business.
He called them iPods and the music was as clear as could be. We started listening to very old music that we had missed. The Beatles, ABBA, James Brown, Brothers Johnson or Hot Chocolate, Donner Summer, Marvin Gaye, all came back to life through the iTune Stores. Over a ten years period every one moved to the blue ocean created by Mr. Steve Jobs and now the blue ocean has turned bloody red.
So, where we we go from here? What’s the next big thing on how music would be preserved and served to us? Perhaps in the cloud with no device through cloud computing? I think Mr. Steve Jobs went too soon. He may have created another blue ocean for himself and his band if he was still around.
In a span of 40- 50 years, those who are 40 years and older would have experienced all these transitions and tranformations. Those much younger may be lost in this narrative and may only have read about them and maybe never seen what they really looked like. They were a bulky piece of art that would sell as artifacts today.