Portable Music: The Early Years – A Turntable for Your Car
We are all so accustomed to being able to take our music with us wherever we go that the thought of being without it may come as a shock to the youngsters out there. 'Tis true, we weren't always as mobile with our sounds as we are now, but that didn't mean the idea wasn't there. Au contraire!
Let's look back to 1956 then, shall we? There were no cassettes or 8-track tapes, obviously no CDs -- and digital media? Hell, this was even pre-Jetsons, so the fantasy wasn't even born. There were, however, a couple of forward thinkers at Columbia, and in 1956 -- the year Elvis broke down the door to the future -- Columbia began offering portable record players made for your car.
The newfangled mobile entertainment was developed by Peter Carl Goldmark and manufactured by CBS Electronics. It was offered up as an option by Chrysler Motors for their Dodge, DeSoto and Plymouth models. The player used special discs made exclusively by Columbia Special Products. These discs played at 16 and two-thirds RPM, holding close to 45 minutes of sound and featured a slide out turntable device that was mounted under the dashboard. Looking like a modified dashboard, the player would slide out to reveal the turntable. With a simple flip of a switch, you could go from lo-fi AM radio to low-fi record player! Even Lawrence Welk had one!
A disaster waiting to happen you say? You do say! Though the heavier stylus used was unique to this player with the intent of preventing skipping during a typical drive, this didn't always do the trick. Bumps in the road would, obviously, make the record skip -- it's kind of hard to believe they didn't see that one coming. There was also another hitch. According to Cnet, an exclusive "content arrangement" with Columbia meant that drivers could listen only to artists signed to Columbia Records, the only label manufacturing these special records.
The record player option was short lived, lasting only that one model for one year according to the UAW website, but it was revived for the 1960 Plymouth with a model that was able to play 45RPM records. That, too, failed to gain any momentum. Obviously, we have come a long way since those days.
The guy who thought up the turntable in a car would probably gasp in wonder at what has become of portable music over the years. We salute him for giving it a go back in 1956!