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Friday, November 29, 2019

The Last 78 RPM Records

"Gwendolyne" Julio Iglesias (1970, Colombia) Image: Discogs
What was the last 78 RPM record?

I've been asked this question now and then and to be perfectly honest, the 78 RPM speed is still with us. Mostly for collectors items and not as general releases. But it does occasionally surface.

But as general releases, 78 RPM was largely passe in America by 1957. In 1957, sales of 78 RPM records accounted for 4,500,000 units in 1957. In 1958, it plummeted to less than 500,000, less than 5% of overall sales and the writing was on the wall.

"Fannie Mae" Buster Brown (1959)  This is considered one of the last commercial American pop singles released at 78 RPM. Image: 45 Worlds. However, there were some 78s pressed on budget labels and independents well into the early 1960s .
But it still had a visible, if fading market for children's records (mostly because kids inherited hand-me-down phonographs from their parents and many kids phonographs also still had that speed.)

Phonola Record Player, 1950s -60s Note the case is pure Vanity Fair/Imperial Party Time, but the tone arm is a plastic gramophone reproducer that used steel needles. These players (which also sold under Woolworth's house brand, Audition) had two speeds, 45 and 78 (which were the speeds of most kids records available at that time, 45 by the 1970s, but many 78s from the '50s and '60s. still existed.) These players were sold well into the early 1970s. Image: Etsyspot
But what I'm going to focus on here is what were the last general release singles worldwide at 78 RPM.

While 78 RPM was all but abandoned in America, (save for certain budget, independent, promo releases and oddities (The "Just Like Gene Autry; A Foxtrot" track on Moby Grape's Wow album is one example.) In South America, 78 RPM was still in use until the early '70s for certain pop releases.

"Jolie" Latimore (1973, Brazil) Image: Discogs
 In the UK, 78 RPM was still being used for kids records.

Image: Discogs

Here's one from the Soviet Union, circa 1979.

Image: Discogs
 But by this time also, 4 and 3 speed record changers were in twilight and practically non-existent outside a very select range of high-end turntables in the '80s and '90s.

"September Song" Ian McCulloch (1984, UK) An unusual offering from Ian McCulloch, New Wave legend and frontman of Echo & The Bunnymen, best known for their hit "The Killing Moon", The flip side had a longer version of "September Song" and "Molly Malone (Cockles and Mussels)" and played at 45 RPM. Image: Discogs

"You're The One For Me, Fatty" Morrissey (1992, UK) Image: Discogs. Morrissey was the former lead singer of the British pop group The Smiths, best known for their 1984 alternative rock mega hit "How Soon Is Now". In 1992, he released a few 78s with selections from his solo album Your Arsenal.

"Millennium" Robbie Williams (2000, UK) Limited Edition of 999 numbered copies issued to commemorate the opening of the new HMV store in Oxford Street, London. Image: Discogs
The speed reemerged in the 2000s on some newer Crosley type junk players for playing old 78s. But some better quality turntables also began including it as the vinyl renaissance swept the country and anything with grooves fascinated Millennial hipsters. But most turntables still offer only the standard 33/45 speeds.

So to sum up, the last official general release new Western pop single on 78 that isn't a reissue, novelty, oddity, collector's item or promo is one that may never truly be known, even among collectors and they're still searching. The 1973 Brazilian Latimore 78 mentioned above is the most recent I've seen yet. I have heard of others that extend into the disco era, but I've never seen any as of this writing.

"Terraplane Blues" Robert Johnson (2019 Record Store Day reissue) Image: Discogs

Friday, October 25, 2019

Dumpster Diving in The Internet Archive

If you love random free, old, fun and useful stuff. But can't find anything useful on the curb outside and you're tired of the disappointing and questionable crap on Craigslist.

Or you're simply happy just where you are, curled up with your laptop, I, your Rip Van Winkle-like blogger, would like to introduce (or reintroduce) you to a valuable and ever expanding web resource. The Internet Archive.

The Internet Archive is where our public domain, copyright-lapsed, obsolete and often oddball media goes not to die. But to wait to be rediscovered.

You'll find:   

CD-ROM Computer Games, Operating Systems and Software

Image: Internet Archive
Image: Internet Archive
In recent years, The Internet Archive has become a motherlode for miners of classic video games. 1980s and 1990s computer games Gen-X and older Millennials grew up with such as Beavis & Butt-Head Virtual Stupidity, SimCity 3000 and others are now free and legally downloadable ISO files you can burn to CD or run with an image writer.

This includes obsolete operating systems* too. What this means for you, the person with a few old computer towers/laptops collecting dust and you lost or misplaced the rescue CDs, new hope. They make excellent retro gaming computers or home MP3 server jukeboxes.

An old low spec 32 bit 512 MB - 1 GB RAM older Pentium computer tower, can also be revived for secure modern use with some 32 bit versions of Linux are available like Bodhi LegacyLXLE and antiX can also run on systems that low) but the speed and performance of these systems will not be the same as with a modern PC. Simply because the hardware is too old for modern demands. But as a very basic computer, they will do fine.

*The Catch: Select carefully and download at your own risk. Some OSs/software aren't official releases or are in foreign languages. File scan everything for malware/viruses before installing. I'm not sure of the screening process (if any) at IA for software. But it doesn't hurt to make absolutely sure.

The Great 78 Project

For those looking for way out of the brain fog of modern pop music. Here's a fun place to explore.

It's like going through a musty mystery box of 78 RPM records, but much more accessible.


- No more back-breaking hauling in boxes of heavy shellac discs.
- No more fear of accidental breakage of some of these now rare records.
- No more daddy longlegs or other unsightly visitors lurking in the corners of these boxes. 
- No more needing to find an appropriate record player with 78 RPM speed.
- No more meticulous listens with different points of stylus to find just the right one. (It's already been done for you. With sample plays)
 - No more social embarrassment if you accidentally try to play the Edison Diamond Discs of the 1910s on a standard Victrola reproducer (tsktsktsk). Or having to rearrange the cartridge wires.

So why go through all that needless fuss, work and expense when at last, you can practically say "Alexa, play 'Low Bridge! Everybody Down!' Billy Murray"? Your great-grandparents wouldn't.

Among my other discoveries in the corner of the Internet Archive:

"Radar" Mr. Bear & His Bearcats (1956)

My latest full-throated shower singing masterpiece.
 "Transfusion" Nervous Norvus (1956)

"Money" Big Jim Buchanan (1954)

I wrote about this one before.

Decca Curtain Call Series Volume 2 - Side 1

Image: Discogs

Image: Internet Archive

Side 2

Image: Internet Archive

Image: Discogs
This crunchy sounding, yet free and downloadable copy of this respectable 1953 Decca 10" LP compilation album of catalog artist material from the 1930s (with informative liner notes on the back cover.) is a great starting point if you're doing research into this music. It's one of the handful of odd early 33 1/3 RPM LPs also in the Great 78 Project. The 10" LP was considered to be one of the early 33 1/3 RPM LP's selling points. A smaller size album the size of a standard 10" 78 RPM single (most 78 RPM albums of the '40s contained 4 records and 8 songs.) Eventually, 12" became standard size for LP records by the mid-1950s.

Unlocked Recordings

Unlocked Recordings are recordings that have fallen out of copyright. Or exist in a copyright limbo know as Orphaned Works.

If you're looking for albums beyond the '40s, the pickin's here resemble the typical thrift store selection.

All Time Favorites by Tops All-Star Orchestra / Tops, 1956
Country And Western Favorites by Chuck Hess and his Chuck Riders / Strand, 1960

Golden Favorites by Russ Morgan and his Orchestra / Decca, 1950

Crap From The Past

This 28 year running show on KFAI Minneapolis has been my mandatory Friday (10PM CT) listening for years. Specializing in lost hits, rare versions of hit singles, B-sides, demos, obscure tracks, should've-been-hits, cheesy cover versions and the really strange of pop primarily from the '70s to the '90s, Hosted by Ron "Boogiemonster" Gerber, he takes you on a graduate level course in pop music. If you miss the live broadcast on KFAI, you can hear/download it here.

A-Log on The Airwaves

If you remember and miss Dr. Demento since he left the airwaves, Anthony "A-Log" Logatto, a devoted fan of The Good Doctor, has a worthy radio fix for us (it's the only one we currently have of this type). Focusing on current releases, song parodies and a few original tracks with a generous amount of Demento classics and a weekly theme, each program is three jam packed hours of fun. It's how I was introduced to "The FuMP", a community of comedy musicians and fans. Highly recommended.

Feature Films

You won't find modern box office blockbusters (the best known public domain feature films are Birth of A Nation, Night of The Living Dead and Reefer Madness.) But if you love the kind of TV movies you saw on the Late Late Movie, get the popcorn ready. You'll also find crazy conspiracy films, Film Noir, low budget horror and sometimes, their trailers.

Ephemeral Films

An school A/V club member goldmine, these were the films you saw in class when you were growing up. You also get to see company training and promotion films and old stock footage

Classic Television

Brian Henderson's Bandstand, October 19, 1968: The disembodied head of Cilla Black is regular nightmare fuel.
For those who love the off-network TV shows often seen on independent UHF TV stations back in the day, here's manna: Several classic TV series, such as Gunsmoke, Bonanza, I Love Lucy and Ozzie and Harriet are available for download on Internet Archive. Plus, you get to see some foreign TV programs, such as Australia's Brian Henderson's Bandstand and several early UK TV programs we also missed here too in those days.

But all this great stuff isn't 100% free. It costs money and dedicated volunteer time to keep the selection expanding and the servers upgraded. So please consider a small donation to Internet Archive. It's a great deal for the price and keeps our pop culture history complete.

Have a great weekend!

Friday, October 11, 2019

Hospital Radio

Image: Sheffield Hospital Radio

It was an American idea that became a British institution that is almost completely unheard of in America. And one of the most overlooked ways radio has been used.

Most Americans don't know this. But in the UK, hospitals have their own radio stations. They are managed and staffed by volunteers, are operated around the clock and provide music and reading services to hospital patients and staff.

Image: CartoonStock
They are transmitted through AM/FM carrier current signals via the hospital wiring system, or more frequently today, direct cable (channel 1 on UK Hospedia systems) and could be heard in the surrounding area of the hospital. And many stream to the world.

Image: iTunes/Apple
And hospital radio has existed even before the dawn of modern radio broadcasting.

The idea for hospital radio was conceived at an American military hospital in Paris near the end of World War I. They found that radio would be an efficient way to deliver news and music directly to bedsides to help recovering soldiers. But the war ended before this could be set up. However, the equipment and idea was taken to Walter Reed General Hospital in Washington D.C. in 1919 where a station did operate. But it is unknown for how long, what the call sign was, all the necessary details.

Hospital radio in the UK underwent an expansion after World War II with more hospitals starting more radio stations. They're almost like mascots for their respective hospitals. And some of the best international promotion these hospitals could ever have.

UK hospital radio stations play a very wide variety of pop music, depending on each particular station, of course heavy on British content. Often spinning those awesome lost British pop oldies of the 1950s to the '80s we missed over here in the States because American record labels didn't distribute and/or radio stations overlooked or ignored them.

UK hospital radio stations even have their own organization HBA which is like the NAB for American radio stations.

But why hasn't hospital radio become a thing in America?

That's a tricky question. It's probably been suggested before, but aside from the Walter Reed General Hospital station, there are no hospital radio stations in America. I may be wrong, but I have looked everywhere. There were a few US hospital CATV system channels, mostly with health videos in the 1980s and '90s. But no radio stations.

The other thing is that American hospital stays are generally shorter than in the UK. You could have surgery one day and be at home the next whereas in the UK, you might stay a little longer, just to be safe.

But I think ultimately, there was no real need. Unlike the UK, the US had more higher powered radio stations outside the most populated areas than the UK. Second, by the 1950s, as US hospitals campuses were becoming sprawling developments, I'm sure some doctors and medical staff who have visited the UK were inspired by the idea. Music is a healer, But the funding, staffing, technical and programming parts were probably more than could be sorted out and/or what their hospital budgets allowed.

A brief listing of some UK hospital radio stations online:

Hospital Radio Plymouth

Hospital Radio Reading

York Hospital Radio

Hospital Radio Crawley

Canterbury Hospital Radio

Hospital Radio Basingstoke

Hospital Radio Colchester

Thursday, October 10, 2019

The Ben Cooper Pac Man Halloween Costume (1982)

One kid in a mask like this is alarming.

An army of kids in masks like this is nightmare fuel.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Portable And Car Audio Demonstration Cassettes

In the early days of portable cassette machines, late 1960s and early 1970s cassette decks often came with demonstration tapes. These were mostly public domain songs, such as "Little Brown Jug" and "Michael Row The Boat Ashore" or specially composed material, often with the second side blank for the customer or purchaser to test the recorder with. But several manufacturers from National/Panasonic, Sanyo and Sony made these cassettes.

Listen here
Below is a later '70s version, featuring a disco rendition of Mozart's 40th Symphony.

Listen here
Most Sanyo as well as other makes of portables had cheap top control mechanisms, which required the cassette to be loaded upside down. So Sanyo issued their '70s demonstration cassettes with upside down labels, a practice rarely used outside of children's tapes (the Fisher Price, Superscope Storyteller and Teddy Ruxpin cassettes all had upside down labels.)

Listen here
Listen here All images above: Internet Archive

By the 1980s, the focus shifted from '60s J-Pop renditions of "Red River Valley" to exciting ambient stereo sound with personal cassette players like the Sony Walkman.

As the 1980s rolled on, fewer electronics manufacturers were including demonstration cassettes with their portable decks. But there was one sector of the electronics market that not only embraced the demonstration cassette, but almost made it a science; The car stereo sector.

The GM Delco/Bose car audio systems were especially ambitious. They were the gold standard of 1980s car audio and their demonstration cassettes often came on premium normal or chrome tape. The music selections were varied, but mostly non-rock.

These auto demonstration cassettes were also made by Ford for their car stereos. The heyday of the car stereo demonstration cassette ended as CDs had began to become the audiophile standard and the last car stereo demonstration cassettes were made in the 1990s.

1992 Chrysler Audio System. Image:: eBay

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Pluto TV

Imagine a digital cable/satellite type TV service with channels and shows you’ve never seen before with a great selection of movies that you can take with you and watch anywhere you have an internet connection. And (the sweet part), it’s actually free.

Welcome to Pluto TV. Available on your computer at Pluto TV and on Roku, Android and iOS apps. As well as your Playstation/XBox

Pluto TV is a cord-cutter’s dream. Hundreds of channels, some with programming you’ve never seen before, or haven’t seen in years or even decades. There’s dozens of movie channels in every genre, from documentaries to horror. Sports channels, news channels, and music channels, including digital audio-only channels in genres from Jazz (Cool Ch. 982.) Classic R&B (Pure Soul, Ch, 978) Adult Standards (Ratpack Ch. 974) Hair Metal (The Strip, Ch. 971), etc.

But Pluto isn’t like Comcast (there are caveats.) First, Pluto doesn’t offer your local TV channels. Second, some of the news programming, such as the CNN and the NBC News Pluto channels aren’t live. This won’t do for a hardcore breaking news junkie like me. But if you’re just a casual news watcher, it should be fine. The stories and shows are usually from earlier in the day on the CNN and NBC feeds. There are live feeds of Cheddar and the suspicious RT America. The other thing is a strong high-speed internet connection is vital to the Pluto experience.

The movie channels are mostly 2nd tier films, but still entertaining. (I watched What’s Eating Gilbert Grape for the first time since 1993.) The thing here is most Pluto channel programming - including the on demand movies, have commercials.

There’s food channels, home improvement channels, some religious and a wide selection of sports channels (I’m not a huge sports fan, so I’m guessing the boxing matches at 3am aren’t live either.) Several all comedy, geek, Latinx and children’s programming channels are offered as well.

But if it’s HBO, Showtime and Cinemax you’re looking for, that’s not here. But the Pluto movie channels are acceptable, but the commercial break transitions are a tad jarring. However, the film returns to the last few seconds of the last scene prior to the break. So that helps as you’re running to the kitchen for the bag of chips.

The channels are laid out on a standard digital grid with current/upcoming programming listed. On Roku at first glance, you couldn’t distinguish this from your average cable/satellite grid.

Some of Pluto’s more unique channels:

Ch. 007 Pluto 007 - All classic James Bond films in random order.

Ch. 591 THC (The High Channel) - If you’re into the cannabis lifestyle, THC is your TV. It’s programmed for today’s modern stoner.

Ch. 597 SLOW TV - If you ever fantasized being a Norwegian train engineer, this channel is heaven. 24 hours a day, it’s the cab view of a Norwegian locomotive along the rails of Norway. And that’s it. 24/7.

It’s a nifty sub-cable system if you already have cable. And a decent alternative if you’re off the cord. But the fact you can take Pluto anywhere on your smartphone, tablet, gaming or PC computer makes it a must have in periods of boredom. Just surfing around Pluto is fun. Enjoy!