08:48:22 pm on
Wednesday 11 Dec 2019

Recent Audio History
Matt Seinberg


The Dodo bird went extinct c 1622. Music radio may suffer the same fate.

When I got my Equinox in July of 2017, I had to be creative with how I wanted to play my music. A CD player was not build-in. This was a bummer, as I have many CDs.


Scratchiness irritated me.

To compensate, I bought a car CD player with a car-plug power adapter and audio output. It worked fine, but there was some scratchiness. I don't know if that was from the jack or the stereo cord. It was annoying.

I decided to put my music on memory sticks. Most of the music played fine, but for some reason the USB port wouldn't pick up everything I put on it. This is rather strange.

Then I took a 250 gig hard drive out of dead laptop and put it into a case with a USB cable. Again, most of the music I loaded appeared, but some didn't. I'm thinking that music in my iTunes library isn't going to work. This means anything I have on CD needs ripping, again, using Windows Music Player, a job I'm not looking forward to doing. I also play music from my phone using Bluetooth.

All of this technology got me thinking about how audio technology has developed over the years.

Most people won't remember the Edison cylinder, which was a vertical tube covered in shellac, with grooves embedded in it. Then there came the 78-rpm record, followed by the 33- and 45-rpm formats.

I remember my first visit to a radio station when I lived in Poughkeepsie, New York. It was WKIP-AM and I always called the same DJ, Johnny Walker, not realizing at the time it wasn't his real name. I wonder how many Johnny Walkers were on the air, in those days.

The studio had turntables, reel-to-reel tape machines and cart machines. All the technology controlled by a rotary-knob broadcast board. This hooked me, of course, and that's when I knew that I wanted to be on the radio.

That's how all radio stations played their music from the 195os right through the 1980s. Then boom, the personal computer changed how everyone played music. Load music on to the laptop, run the programming software and go for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

I remember visiting WYNY-FM, in New York City sometime, in 1978. I saw how its automation system worked. To me, it was a work of art. To the DJs, it took away all the control they previously had at running their shows and performing.

WYNY-FM had two 10-inch reel-to-reel machines that played music supplied by Bonneville International, a commercial production company and music supplier. There were two big cart carousel machines, which played promotional announcements and commercials.

Because I listened to the station so much, I heard the pattern of the music and many songs played at the same time each day. Was someone asleep at the wheel, I wondered? I mentioned that to the nighttime DJ, the late John Vidaver. I could hear him shrug his shoulders, as he told me it a computer controlled the music.

It was forty years ago that Sony introduced the Walkman, a portable cassette player that anyone could take anywhere and listen to any time. How many of us now felt free to make out own mix tapes and take them with us from home, to the car and now outside, wherever we were? This initiated the slow demise of radio.


Anniversary editions.

Sony is now introducing the 40th Edition of the Walkman. One will be anniversary branded. One won't.

The next evolution came about with CDs. They replaced carts in the radio-studio carousel. DJs still controlled the commercials and promos in the studio with carts though. Another brick removed from the radio wall.

Then Sony introduced the Discman, which let us take out CDs anywhere. It had a clean sound, and could hold up to 80 minutes of music in .wav format, or 12 hours, of content, mp3 format. This was another reason for not listening to radio for music.

Apple then came out with the first iPod and the iTunes store. It was the only place people could buy their favourite track(s) from an album or an entire one. It was a new direction for access to music.

The fly in the ointment was Napster, which was the first free file sharing service. It only lasted about a year before lawsuits brought them down; first Realplayer, then Best Buy tried to make file sharing legitimate. Neither one could make a pay model work. I have much of my music from Napster and other illegal file sharing services, such as LimeWire. None was as good as was Napster.

The next big improvements were music-scheduling computer programs and having all the music stored as wav files on a computer in the studio. The music director would schedule the music. The studio system would import selection.

There were different folders now for music, promotions, commercials and even jingles, which the DJ controlled through touch screen monitors in the studio. The true end had begun for DJ control.

Full automation systems appeared. It allowed stations to run completely by computer, without any human except the music director and programme director doing all the work. That meant that voices were just another computer file, programmed by software. Any DJ from anywhere could record these tracks, import them into the system and thus appear as if they were local.

From CDs, music went to digital files, with the most common being mp3, wav and the soon to be monster, Apple. The first iPod could hold thousands of songs that users could import from their own CD collection or buy from the iTunes store.

Soon after, many mp3 players appeared that you hooked up to your computer and put music on them. There was no direct download, as with Apple, and the cost was much less.

Here we are now with satellite radio, streaming services, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. In my car, I like to listen to Radio Margaritaville on Sirius XM with my own music from my phone or memory stick. Sometimes it's tough to decide what to hear.

A short trip will be the radio or the memory stick. Longer trips will be satellite radio or music from my phone. Now we say, radio, what's that?


The end of music radio.

As consumers gained control of music, through technological development, radio increasingly lost much of its relevance. Musical autonomy supplanted radio. Power to the people didn’t work well for radio. I wonder how new music finds its place, as this was a key role for radio, once upon a time.

Matt Seinberg lives on Long Island, a few minutes east of New York City. He looks at everything around him and notices much. Somewhat less cynical than dyed in the wool New Yorkers, Seinberg believes those who don't see what he does like reading about what he sees and what it means to him. Seinberg columns revel in the silly little things of life and laughter as well as much well-directed anger at inept, foolish public officials. Mostly, Seinberg writes for those who laugh easily at their own foibles as well as those of others.

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