Tagged: 1940s

Formats current at any point during the years 1940-1949

V-Disc (1943 – 1949)

V-Disc was a record label that produced music for US military forces between 1943 and 1949, pressed on 12-inch 78 rpm phonograph discs. Most V-Disc records were pressed on a mixture of Vinylite and Formvar, making it much easier to dispatch records without breakage (many of the brittle shellac records sent by relatives arrived in pieces) although Columbia, one of the companies that pressed V-Discs, continued to use shellac despite it being in short supply during World War II.

The V-Disc label came about as a way to boost morale among the forces. A strike by the American Federation of Musicians over royalty payments from the major record labels meant an agreement that the V-Disc records were not to be sold commercially, and the masters were disposed of.  The V-Disc project meant the forces could hear newly recorded music they would not otherwise hear due to the strike, and these included big band, swing, jazz and marches, often by famous performers who also put spoken greeting into the recordings.

Because of the larger disc size, and closer groove spacing, each side of the disc could hold up to 6 minutes, so performances could be longer and jams could be extended. Discs were sent in sets of 30, and included phonograph needles, lyric sheets and feedback forms to gauge which material was most popular.

After the war ended, the cost of producing V-Disc records meant that the project was gradually run down, with smaller consignments of discs, or longer intervals between them, though they continued to provide entertainment to forces stationed overseas as part of the Marshall Plan. The last consignment of 10 discs was sent in May 1949, and after this many masters and discs were destroyed as part of the agreement with the American Federation of Musicians.

Over 900 V-Disc record titles were issues, and over 8 million discs were produced.

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Recordon (1948 – mid 1950s)

The Recordon was an office dictation system using 9-inch paper disc with a magnetic coating. It was introduced by the UK company Thermionic Products in 1948 with the Recordon TP503 machine, made under license by the Brush Development Company of the USA that produced the Mail-A-Voice system.

The Recordon Recording Disc had fold lines printed on it, and could be folded for mailing. The system was fairly low fidelity, but was adequate for dictation purposes and as the recording runs from the centre to the outside of the disc, quality improves. Discs could be erased for re-use.

A couple of further models of the Recordon were produced, but in the mid-1950s Thermionic switched to the Agavox system.

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Open reel instrumentation and data logging tape (1949 – 2000s)

Magnetic tape was first used for data logging and instrumentation recording in 1949, when Jack Mullins installed modified Ampex Model 300s at Point Mugu Naval Air Station and at Edwards Air Force Base, both in southern California.

Tape has been heavily used since then for military, industrial, government and research applications. The Inter-Range Instrumentation Group (IRIG) set the standards for instrumentation tape recorders.

Instrumentation recorders were built to much more stringent standards than other tape recorders, and recorders that used direct, FM and PCM recording have been available.

On ¼-inch wide tape, there are typically 4 tracks, whereas on ½-inch tape there were 7, or sometimes even 14, tracks. On 1-inch tape, there were 14 or 28 tracks. Tape is usually wound on the reel with the recording surface facing towards the hub (the opposite of audio tape). Metal NAB reels were often used, for reels between 10.5 and 16-inches, but 7-inch plastic reels with cine spindle hubs have also been used.

Instrumentation recorders also used tape in cassette form, including systems that recorded onto S-VHS tape, and the Digital Instrumentation Recorder from Sony that used the SD1 cassette.

Instrumentation and data logging systems now use hard disks or flash memory for storage.

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White label vinyl record (1948 – )

White label vinyl records are generally 12-inch LPs, or 7-inch singles and come with a plain centre label (usually white) and are in plain packaging. The centre label might have handwritten details of the artist and title, or may be rubber stamped, or have a sticker applied.

Some white label records are test pressings made by the pressing plant, usually in quantities of 5 or less,  and then listened to to check the sound quality before pressing larger runs.

Some white label records are produced for promotional purposes, including advance copies sent to retailers or to DJs. Sometimes white labels are used to conceal artist identities, so the record is listened to without prejudice. Dance music producers might produce white label copies to play in dance clubs to gauge crowd response.

Other white label records are unofficial or partially unofficial releases, for example if a remix was made without the consent of the artist or label.

Generally, white label records are not distributed to the general public.

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Record album (late 1900s – 1950s)

Sometime during the late 1900s, record companies began to sell sets of 78rpm disc records in hardback ‘albums’. These were much like photograph albums, but with paper sleeves for multiple 10-inch or 12-inch phonograph discs, and they allowed record companies to sell complete musical works such as operas or classical works. The 78 rpm records of the time were only able to contain around 3 minutes of playing time on the 10-inch version, and 5 minutes on the 12-inch versions, so a longer complete work had to be spread across several discs.

Around the same time, empty record albums became available to allow listeners to store and protect their own discs, write information about the contents on an index page, and display the album on bookshelves.

Record albums eventually came to be used to contain compilations by artist, or by genre, in addition to longer works, and a set of 4-5 discs could contain 8-10 songs. Later releases had cover artwork and liner notes.

With the advent of the Long Play microgroove record in 1948 that could hold the same number of songs on a single disc there was no longer a need for record albums containing several discs, and indeed by the late 1950s the 78 rpm disc itself was being phased out. However, the term ‘album’ continues to be used to describe a collection of songs, whatever the format.

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LP (Long Play) 12 inch record (1948 – )

The LP (Long Play) record is an audio format for phonograph records, introduced by Columbia Records in 1948 and still in use today.

LP records are made of vinyl (either virgin or recycled) and together with a playing speed of 33⅓ rpm (though some were 16⅔ rpm) and the use of microgrooves, allow for a playing time of around 45 minutes. Previously, 78 rpm records had a playing time of just around 3-4 minutes per side, so an ‘album’ of records was sold as a set, and this name continued to describe a collection of songs on a single disc.

Each side of an LP contains a single continuous groove, with an average length of 460 m.

LP records are generally 12 inches in diameter, but 10 inch LPs have also been produced at different times. The amount of vinyl in an LP is generally 130 g, but some records were produced with less (sometimes as little as 90 g). Modern high-fidelity LPs tend to use more, such as 180 g. Generally LPs are pressed on black vinyl, but coloured vinyl and picture discs (with a card sandwiched between two clear sides of vinyl) have been produced.

By as early as 1952, LPs represented 16.7% of unit sales, rising to 24.4% in 1958 (by then, most of the remainder was 45 rpm singles, 78 rpm only representing 2.1%).

Stereophonic sound was introduced in 1957, and quadraphonic records were sold in the 1970s for a time.

The LP had no serious competitors for long-playing recordings until the 1970s when the Compact Cassette improved in quality, and then in the 1980s with the introduction of the Compact Disc. LPs ceased to be a mainstream format in the early 1990s, but continue to be produced in small but increasing numbers.

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Preservation / Migration

35mm film (1892 – )

35mm film was the most common film gauge for cinematography, and was also used in still photography (in the form of 135 film).

The name derives from the width of the film strip. When used for motion pictures, the image is across the film and each frame usually has four perforations giving 16 frames per foot, whereas when used for photography the image is lengthways along the film and each frame uses eight perforations. In conventional motion picture film, the image is 22 x 16mm (known as the ‘Academy ratio’). The shape and frequency of the perforations differed in the early years.

The 35mm format was introduced in 1892, soon after the introduction of transparent flexible film in 1889,  at a time when a large range of different film gauges were in use. By 1909 it became accepted as the international standard gauge and remained so until largely replaced by digital cinematography. Although other gauges have been used for cinematography, 35mm remained the most popular with professional film makers as it provided a good trade-off between cost and image quality.

Until the 1950s, 35mm film was made of cellulose nitrate which was highly inflammable and difficult to extinguish once alight. It was replaced with ‘safety film’ (cellulose triacetate). From the 1990s, film stock was made with a synthetic polyester safety base.

Sound was introduced around 1926, with Warner Bros. using synchronised phonograph discs. Later sound-on-film systems include optical analogue, optical digital, and magnetic strips. DTS soundtracks use a timecode printed on the film to synchronise with Compact Discs.

Between 2005 and 2015, most cinemas rapidly converted to digital projection, and in 2014 Paramount Pictures announced that it would no longer supply 35mm prints of movies in the US. Whilst 35mm film is still in use for both shooting and showing movies, it is rapidly becoming a niche format.

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Cigarette card (1875 – early 2000s)

Cigarette cards were a particular form of trade card, initially popularised by tobacco companies as a way of selling their products, and after World War II were also used by some other manufacturers such as tea companies.

Card was used as a stiffener in paper packs of cigarettes, and beginning in 1875 in the US, these cards began to carry images, for example of actresses, sportsmen or Native American chiefs. In 1878 they also began to include information about the image on the back of the card.

In 1887, W.D. & H.O. Wills began to issue cigarette cards in the UK.

The range of images expanded over time and began to be issued in colour, and the cards became popular as a way of viewing and collecting exotic images from around the world. They also began to be issued in sets, and around 1900 albums began to be produced to enable people to collect and store the cards together.

In 1939, cigarette card production virtually ceased in the UK as paper was in short supply during the war. After the war, ‘cigarette’ cards were issued by tea companies such as Brooke Bond in the UK, who issued cards until 1999. There have been some cigarette cards issued since, such as by the US tobacco company R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company who issued several series through a couple of its brand in the early 2000s.

Not all types of cigarette cards are the same size, but the standard size was around 67 x 36mm.

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Acetate / lacquer disc (late 1920s – )

Acetate discs (also known as lacquers or instantaneous discs) are a type of phonograph record created using a recording lathe to cut a groove in real-time, rather than mass-produced from moulds.

Unlike standard vinyl phonograph discs, acetates consist of a core material (usually aluminium, but glass and cardboard have also been used) coated with black nitrocellulose lacquer (prior to 1934, cellulose acetate was used as the coating, hence the common but incorrect name of acetate). They have ranged in size from 7-inches to 16-inches. Due to the metal core, acetates are heavier than standard records. Cheaper acetates may have a second hole near the centre, to prevent the disc slipping on lathes that don’t have a vacuum turntable. They are often one-sided, with no grooves on the reverse, and labels may be typed or handwritten rather than printed.

Acetates are used in record manufacturing; a master disc is created by dubbing from another medium (such as a master tape) and electroforming is then used to make negative metal moulds from. They were also used to evaluate the quality of the tape-to-disc transfer, to compare different takes or mixes of a recording, to get approval from band members, or to get preview copies to radio stations before the mass-produced copies were available.

Prior to the availability of magnetic tape, acetate discs were used for direct-to-disc recording. Home recording machines of the 1940s and 1950s used acetates.

Acetates wear much quicker than standard vinyl records due to the softer material used, and a chipped stylus can damage an acetate in one play.

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Preservation / Migration

media stability 5obsolescence 3Playback ideally requires a suitable stylus designed for use with lacquer discs, and for discs larger than 12-inches, a special turntable platter is also needed.

Graphophone / Dictaphone cylinder (1887 – early 1950s)

The Dictaphone was one of two competing wax cylinder phonograph systems for voice dictation, the other being Edison’s Ediphone system. The use of cylinders for voice recording pre-dated their use for music when, in 1887, Alexander Graham Bell, his cousin Chichester A. Bell, and Charles Sumner Tainter put into production a wax cylinder system for recording and reproducing speech (Edison then switched from tinfoil to wax cylinders in response in 1888).

Until 1907 the Dictaphone system was known as the Graphophone.

The main difference between the two rival systems was the recording method, with Edison using ‘hill and dale’ recording, while the Graphophone used lateral (side to side) recording. The cylinders could have a layer of wax shaved off, to enable re-use.

By the mid-1940s, new dictation technologies were rapidly being introduced such as Dictaphone’s own Dictabelt, Edison’s Voicewriter, the Gray Audograph and the SoundScriber, and both Edison and Dictaphone stopped supplying wax cylinders in the early 1950s.

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