Con's 14 y.o. tutor, David, asked for a demonstration of "how vinyl records work." Several weeks ago, Mom gave Marilyn and I her record collection. I started feeling nostalgic for my 80's music(on vinyl), so I talked to Matt (a tech God, and also David's father) about wanting to transfer the albums to CD's. I knew from the comments that David made during this conversation, he truly did not get the concept of vinyl. He asked things like, "They play on both sides? How do you make it play on the other side? They should make CD's that play on both sides. A CD has tracks, what does an album have?" It seems strangely inside out when a technological relic is found to be intriguing. I never thought about how it would feel to introduce a young person to the technology of my youth, and I have to say it is odd.
The stereo in question is a somewhat crappy Panasonic SG-D15, which probably retailed for about $100.00 in 1985. It consists of:
*Automatic Turntable - hard plastic,
*Stereo Control Amplifier,
*Stereo Double Cassette Player/Recorder,
This system is a standard dorm room sized "stack" stereo system. I don't even think the term "stack" is used anymore, but back then, your system was either stack or component. As we near the stereo, David says, "Is that it? I have been wanting to try this for a long time." I laugh and think to myself, "You're 14 y.o. and the stereo is 20 y.o. - I'm not sure if you really know what a long time is, yet." He is grinning with a look of awe on his face as he eyes the stereo, like his name is "Indiana" and the relic of a stereo is the Arc of the Covenant. He started firing off questions, "How do you pick up the albums? Can you touch them with your fingers" I show him the "flat palm on the edges" method of handling an album. He asked questions about how to put the album on the turntable, how to place it back in the album cover, and how to store them. One of my favorite questions was, "Do you have the 7-inch albums?" This question threw me, because I knew what he was talking about, but for a minute I could not remember what we used to call the 7-inch albums. I had a memory flash and told him, "They're called 45's." Then he asked, "There's more than one speed?" So, I tell him the three speeds are 33, 45, and 78. I left out that the speed measures rpm, and that "rpm" is revolutions per minute, but he seemed to understand in spite of my omission. He asked, " Do you have any 78's?" So, I tried to explain 78's, "Well, they are thicker than 33's and they are more brittle...have you seen Ghost World? Steve Buschemi collects and sells 78's in that movie...they're really old, so I've never had any."
For the demo I used an English Beat album. I pushed the ON button, and as I started to move the needle, David hovered over the turntable to get a closer look at what I was doing, then he said, "How does it work? How do you make it turn? Does the needle go on the inside or on the outside of the album?" At that question, I started laughing again, causing him to apologize, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to make you feel bad (i.e. old)." This comment makes me laugh even more, and I assured him that I am not feeling bad, but it's just too weird explaining how to use household objects that have been around for your whole lifetime. Sensing that I really didn't view his questions as cruel, he continued, "Which side plays when you put it on the turntable, the top or the bottom? That really is a needle!" We went over the finer points of blowing dust off the album and the needle, but I did not get into all of the products that you could buy to get rid of the static electricity and dust on albums - it seemed like overkill. He asked if he could put on a Doors album and I told him, "Of course." David grinned and looked like he just won a prize at the carnival and the questions began anew. "How do you get the needle to the right place on the album? How do you get it to change from one song to another song, like if you want to play song number four and it's on song number one? Do you have to guess where to put it?" These may sound like silly questions to someone born before 1980, but this kid lived in a vinyl free world for 14 years, so it is entirely conceivable that he is not just having some fun at the expense of my record player.
We finished up the demo with a tour of the other parts of the Panasonic SG-D15. He fiddled with the equalizer, then asked, "Can you hear the radio on this, too?" I pushed the radio button and magically, a broadcast came out of the speakers. He quickly says, "Change it back to the record player, this isn't as interesting." I point out that the dual cassette player, not only plays, but it also records. A light bulb appears over his head (it’s true, I saw it) and he says, "It can record albums on tape? That's what they mean when they say they are going to tape an album!" He goes on to explain that he always thought that they put a tape recorder with a microphone next to the speaker while an album is playing. This leads me to ask, "I suppose you've never heard of reel to reel?" He responded that he had not, so I told him about reel-to-reel and then about hand-cranked gramophones. He asked, "Do you have to crank it the whole time it plays?" So, David got a mini-history of recording technology lesson and I got a laugh and a reality check.