Many of my Bitstreams posts have featured old-school audio formats (wax cylinder, cassette and open reel tape, Minidisc) and discussed how we go about digitizing these obsolete media to bring them to present-day library users at the click of a mouse. In this post, I will take a different tack and show how this sound technology was represented and marketed during its heyday. The images used here are taken from one of our very own digital collections–the Duke Chronicle of the 1960s.
Students of that era would have primarily listened to music on vinyl records purchased directly from a local retailer. The advertisement above boasts of “complete stocks, latest releases, finest variety” with sale albums going for as little as $2.98 apiece. This is a far cry from the current music industry landscape where people consume most of their media via instant download and streaming from iTunes or Spotify and find new artists and songs via blogs, Youtube videos, or social media. The curious listener of the 1960’s may have instead discovered a new band though word of mouth, radio, or print advertising. If they were lucky, the local record shop would have the LP in stock and they could bring it home to play on their hi-fi phonograph (like the one shown below). Notice that this small “portable” model takes up nearly the whole tabletop.
Duke students of the 1960s would have also used magnetic tape-based media for recording and playing back sound. The advertisement above uses Space Age imagery and claims that the recorder (“small enough to fit in the palm of your hand”) was used by astronauts on lunar missions. Other advertisements suggest more grounded uses for the technology: recording classroom lectures, practicing public speaking, improving foreign language comprehension and pronunciation, and “adding fun to parties, hayrides, and trips.”
Creative uses of the technology are also suggested. The “Add-A-Track” system allows you to record multiple layers of sound to create your own unique spoken word or musical composition. You can even use your tape machine to record a special message for your Valentine (“the next best thing to you personally”). Amplifier kits are also available for the ambitious electronics do-it-yourselfer to build at home.
These newspaper ads demonstrate just how much audio technology and our relationship to it have changed over the past 50 years. Everything is smaller, faster, and more “connected” now. Despite these seismic shifts, one thing hasn’t changed. As the following ad shows, the banjo never goes out of style.