Rise, Fall and Death of the '78

During the 1930s and 1940s, there were all sorts of experiments with the phonograph. Western Electric's "electrical" recording technology briefly became the basis of talking pictures in the late 1920s before finding a place in radio stations, where it was called the transcription recorder. Columbia in 1931 introduced the first "long playing" record. Resembling the later LP, these 12-inch diameter discs had finely spaced grooves and turned at just 33 1/3 rpm. There were even experiments with stereo. But through all this, the standard 10- and 12-inch, shellac-based discs remained the top sellers.

RCA record player of the 1940s

It was not until after World War II that new technologies displaced the old. A new disc introduced by RCA in the late 1940s began selling well. This 45-rpm disc doomed the older records, which were now known, like the '45' by their speed of rotation-- 78 rpm. Many people hung on to their record collections, and most record players had a '78' setting until the 1980s. However, sales of 78-rpm discs fell off during the 1950s, and the last records were issued by about 1960.

The date of the very last 78-rpm record is not known, although some claim that the last one issued in the U.S. was Chuck Berry's "Too Pooped to Pop " (Chess 1747), released in February 1960. There were almost certainly later released on small labels, and there are documented cases of 78 discs released as late as 1961 in Finland. According to one source, 78s were deleted from the EMI catalogs in 1962.

It's worth mentioning that Moby Grape's 1968 LP, Wow, featured a song that was recorded at 78 rpm.

 

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