Phono fun all over again

As Julie’s family opened gifts on the most recent Christmas Eve I was delighted to watch 13-year-old granddaughter, Eliza, open her gift from us. She told Julie earlier in the year that she wanted a phonograph and two long-play albums for Christmas.

Though I recognize that vinyl albums have enjoyed a revival in recent years it was fun to watch a young person excited over an actual phonograph and a couple of 33 rpm record albums. The scene brought back some happy memories.

Until recently if you told an average 13-year-old that you enjoyed listening to some hot 45s on your hi-fi you would likely draw a blank stare. Today it’s I-tunes and a quality and portability of sound we never dreamed of in the 1950s.

For decades we were entertained by records — vinyl platters from which a stylus was vibrated to reproduce sound. The departure from records for home musical entertainment began in earnest in the 1960s. Audiophiles began the progression with reel-to-reel tape recordings then moved to the more portable four- and eight-track tapes and finally to cassette tapes. The industry took a big leap in sound quality some 30 years ago with digitized sound reproduction via compact discs. Now digital music is king!

Today’s music systems are a far cry from my grandmother’s old Victrola phonograph. Oma Huisman inherited the large, upright device from her parents and kept it in a spare bedroom on the second story of her massive farm house.

The phonograph from her youth produced hours of entertainment for my generation of cousins in the 1950s. On a Sunday afternoon we selected our favorites from the several dozen thick platters stored in the belly of the wooden cabinet. Then we turned the crank and moved the lever which set the turntable in motion. Placing the needle in the platter’s groove initiated the entertainment — no batteries or power cords required.

The old Victrola’s self-contained record library was limited to hymns and gospel songs, patriotic numbers, marches and a few popular and novelty songs of the early 1900s.

Our family acquired a more modern phonograph in the mid ’50s — a used table model that played only 78 rpm records. Mom ordered a set of children’s recordings from a mail order catalog and several days later we children were thumpity-thump-thumping along with Frosty the Snowman and friends.

A few years later Dad bought a console radio/phonograph which played 33 rpm long play albums and our musical horizons were broadened.

I finally acquired my own phonograph in the early ’60s when, one summer morning, I hitched a ride with Aunt DeLoris to the Dollar Day sale in Webster City. Imagine my bargain-hunting delight when I found a little blue and white portable phonograph with a price tag that fit my budget.

I had enough money left over to buy an album. Foreseeing my father’s grim reaction to a rock and roll recording, I purchased a Hank Snow country album. “The Wreck of the Old 97,” “Old Doc Brown Has Moved Upstairs” and other old time country hits nearly made my younger brothers vomit but I’m still a Hank Snow fan.

Uncle Floyd, from whom I apparently inherited my music-loving techno-nut characteristics, introduced me to the joys of stereophonic sound reproduction in the early ’60s. My sights had been raised and my appetite whetted for bigger and better sound equipment.

Those champagne tastes, however, have always been governed by a beer-budget. Whenever I was ready to buy a new piece of sound equipment it seems the water heater sprung a leak, the car broke down or the washing machine died. What the heck, with the rate at which technology is advancing new equipment is obsolete within a few years anyway.

Though the sound quality of today’s equipment is questionably better — I still enjoy the richer sound of analog recordings — I wonder if we enjoy our music any more than Oma and her family enjoyed the scratchy sound from the thick black platters on their Victrola.

Beauty lies in the ears of the listener.

Arvid Huisman can be contacted at huismaniowa@gmail.com. ©2024 by Huisman Communications.


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