These days, whenever two different ways to deliver the same content are invented at the same time, we expect them to duke it out for Total Market Supremacy. VHS vs. Betamax, Super Audio CD vs. DVD Audio, Blu-ray vs. HD-DVD. There Can Be Only One.
This, of course, explains perfectly why 10 inch gramophone records came in 33⅓, 45, and 78 rpm forms for quite a long time.
No. Wait. That non sequitur is a crack monkey on wheels.
33s and 45s coexisted for more than 30 years (the 50s to the 80s). Part of the reason why they cuold coexist for so long was that record-players could all play both speeds (and often 78s as well), because the mechanism to change speeds just involved some very simple gearing.
78rpm was an older format. When “data compression” improved, such that smaller grooves with smaller wiggles in them could convey the information satisfactorily, 78s became obsolete, but there were enough of them around that plenty of record players still supported them. Mostly these were 10" discs.
45rpm with the smaller grooves provided enough playing time on a 7" disc to record a single track of up to about five minutes, and there was a thriving market for singles - heck, it was a major part of teen culture from the 1950s onwards. (Although not to me, but then I was odd.)
33⅓rpm with the smaller grooves on a 12" disc provided enough playing time to record six to eight tracks a side, enough for a respectable-sized album.
Our Dansette radiogram also allowed for 16rpm playback, which I believe was for speech-only recordings, but I never saw one.
It seems hard to believe now that it felt like vinyl records had been around for ever, and would continue to be so.
The 78’s played on the players that used a paper or metel cone speaker on the head of the arm, and used direct conduction of vibration through the needle to power the speaker. The needles were half an inch long and about double the thickness of a thumb tack.
33’s and 45’s coexisted for the reasons already given.
45RPM records, or “singles”, provided another avenue of marketing to customers who couldn’t afford or didn’t want to buy the whole album, but still wanted to have particular songs. No doubt singles also provided a convenient format for top-40 disk jockeys as well. Singles persisted right through the early 1970s if not later, being geared increasingly toward AM pop radio listened to by younger fans. Even so, an important decision faced by serious rock groups like the Beatles or the Doors, when releasing an album, was which cuts off the album had the potential to be hit singles. This ended when rock and roll shifted more strongly towards the album concept.
Mediated perhaps, but not ended – the single is still the primary target of promotion, and because of that, for any particular album, all across the country, two or three tracks will get 90% of the airplay off the disc.
Also, after 78s were discontinued for most music, they were still being used for children’s records. Most stereos had a setting for 78 to accomodate those, and any older records (a rare example of an older format not being discarded once a new one came in).
Any player that used 78s also had a separate needle fo them; usually, you flipped the needle over. The 78 needle, if used on a 45 or 33, would wreck the grooves. You’d have the same problem is you played a stereo record on a mono needle.
Are 33 1/3 LPs still being made for the ‘audio purist’ crowd? I’m told that "direct discs’ are the truest form of analog audio recording. of course, you have to have low-oxygen copper speaker wires, and tube amplifiers, and etc. ($$)!
LPs and 45s are still pressed, yes. Lots of 12" singles (extended play for the dance/hip-hop DJ types) are still pressed as well. Check out any decently sized catalogue of psych/garage reissues & you’ll see tons of them. DIY punk rock never stopped pressing vinyl either.
FYI I believe the first 33 1/3 LPs were actually pressed in 1949, but 78s persisted through a good deal of the 50s as it takes a while for people to buy new technology. Plus a lot of music recorded in certain formats will simply never see the light of day in others; I shudder to think of the music I coucldn’t hear anymore if I tossed my turntable! Used record stores are cheap (often) and irreplaceable goldmines of decades of recorded music we won’t hear otherwise. And I’m one of those people who loves the sound too.
I think the OP is flat out wrong that one format obliterates the other in quick succession. The 8 track tape (there are still fans of these as well!) and C30 or C60 cassettte both had periods of ascendancy during the LP/45 era. Betamax and VHS coexisted for a bit and Betamax was always the broadcast standard for TV tapes even when VHS won out. It took a few years for CDs to beat the LP, a process still not complete. I think you also have to count the mp3 as a competitor of the CD at this point.
I won’t swear to it as it was a few years back, but I think that an issue of MAD Magazine around 1965 or so had a “record” included in it, entitled “She Got A Nose Job” in the 16 rpm format. It was kind of like a plasticized paper tear-out.
It was the only time I ever had anything to play on that setting on my record player.
Thanks for all the great replies. This has been very interesting so far.
Try to buy an eight track or a Betamax player (or blank tapes) at your local Wal-Mart or Radio Shack these days. I know that professionals don’t shop those places for gear, but everyone else in the world does. Besides, I didn’t mention eight tracks in my OP. I mentioned Beta vs. VHS because that format war is the format war by which all others are judged.
Format wars are 2/3 marketing hype, like everything else in the music industry. I was curious why marketing hype didn’t manage to kill off two of the record speeds, a question which has been answered.