big hole & skinny posts : adapting to the 45 rpm yellow swirl

Why is there a hole in a donut?  Why was there a hole in old 45 rpm records?

Art Chantry ( ) :

I have no idea WHY the hole in the middle of 45 is so dang big. the only thing I can imagine is that it was some sort of marketing idea to force people to buy even more equipment (sort of like cd’s). as soon as those big holes in the little vinyl disks appeared, a new industry popped up to supply the new demand.

When the 45 rpm vinyl recording disk emerged in the beginning of the 1950’s, it was a huge boom for the faltering postwar record industry. Those 78 rpm disks were too expensive to make and frankly, tended to warp when they used the new (highly carcinogenic) pvc instead of shellac (they didn’t have the manufacturing process quite down yet). The newer, more extensive 33 1/3 rpm long playing (or “LP”) pvc vinyl recording disk had been an immediate success – simply because you could suddenly put much more and much longer pieces of music on one object. You could suddenly record entire symphonies and extended jazz sessions on on record (never mind you had to stop and flip it over in the middle). ‘album’ sales skyrocketed.

Suddenly, you could buy a single disk record that carried as much music (or even more) than those old heavy 78 rpm ‘albums’ – which were called albums because they were actual cardboard “albums” of as many as ten heavy shellac 78 disks – often with only one song (or partial song) on each side. They took up enormous space, were VERY heavy and fragile and clumsy and way too expensive to make or sell. The new super flexible pvc Long Player was a revolution.

Jermaine Rogers ( From Everything Radio ) :The 45 RPM record was developed by RCA Victor company in 1948 - immediately following the invention of "vinyl" plastic and the development of the 12" LP record by CBS engineers (also in 1948). The 45 RPM speed was the only one to be decided by a precise optimization procedure. The optimum use of a disc record of constant rotational speed occurs when the innermost recorded diameter is half of the outermost recorded diameter. " RCA marketed the new 45 format by producing and selling hundreds of thousands of 45-ONLY turntables at near cost. Of course, these new turntables with the big center spindle could not play other records with the small holes, so owners were locked into buying only the new style records. By the mid 1950's, the 45 format had become the accepted standard for selling singles, serving RCA through licensing fees (as the patent holders) for both record production and record player production by other companies. The 45 held sway until the CD revolutionized music distribution with digital sound. This was a full thirty years, from 1955 through 1985. Not even the offshoot formats of reel-to-reel tapes, 4-track tapes, 8-track tapes, and cassette tapes had any significant impact on 45 sales during this period.

But the ‘single’ with it’s one song per side – still represented by the 78 rpm record – stalled. They cost too much to economically ‘worth it’ to the consumer. You got so much more bang for your buck with the LP. But the demand was still there for the “hit of the week” sales – especially with the new emerging ‘youth market’. Suddenly, there was a whole new class of consumer to sell to. They were something new called a “teenager” – a whole new design concept in consumer marketing demographics, created to make even more money by selling cheaper crap at higher prices to young fools. Sadly, the entire idea of the ‘american teenager’ was actually created by the marketing industry in the immediate post war era. Prior to that, they were ‘young adults.” They went from kiddie clothes to suits and evening wear without a transitional period we expect now.

It was a perfect storm. A new product created to cater to a new market and a new culture emerged surrounding that very product. The 45 rpm record became the symbol of a ‘new world order”. It was so attractive and alive that even the ‘grown-ups’ wanted to get into the act. So, we eventually became an entire nation of extended adolescent idiocy. Will we Americans never grow up? Well, why should we? Baby boomers be damned (and we have been.)

So, at any rate, one of the truly wonderful offshoot industries that emerged from the creation of the 45 rpm record was built. All from a simple demand to come up with a way to play these weird “big hole’ records on a standard record player with a skinny little post designed to play 78’s over fifty years earlier. Of course, there were all sorts of “built-in’ adapters crated for the booming hi-fi markets. but, there was still the problem of the more average and older existing players. how do you adapt the big hole to the skinny post?

Art Chantry:my personal favorite adapter - one i've held onto and used for decades - is a simple conical device that you can simply place on the spindle post and then just drop the record onto it. the cone shape centers it for you. it's so utterly effective and simple (i think used the word 'simple' three (now four) times in this post. but it's so simple!

Behold! The magic of the “45 adapter” a tiny little coin-like disk that snaps into the big hole – making it magically into a small hole! Leave it to American ingenuity to come up with this simply brilliant idea. The big problem was, that it was an idea that literally hundre

f people and companies came up with all at once (maybe with a little copy-catting, too.)

During the battle for supremacy in the 45 adapter wars, there were dozens and dozens of different innovative designs for these little things – and made and sold by hundreds of different companies. There were plastic designs and metal designs. Circular designs and triangular designs. There were snap locking permanent adapters and easily removable versions. There were more spiral springs designs than you could shake a stick at. And talk about color! This little collection of mine doesn’t do the colors justice – there were bright amazing colors – from white and red and blue and green to screaming dayglo pink.

As time wore on, many of these designs failed. The metal ones that snap-locked into place could not be removed without snapping the record in half (believe me i’ve tried many times). So, they were simply permanent. Seems like an advantage to sell more of them, not so good in practice. 45’s were cheap, but you didn’t relish snapping them half all that often. So, the metal design disappeared quickly. Beside, the plastic ones were so dang cheap to make with the new postwar injection mold systems of all things plastic.

But, those crazy little designs! Most of the plastic ones seem to rely upon a simple ‘spring’ built into the swirl you see to make them easy to install and even easier to remove. You didn’t actually need to buy an adapter for each record. You could simply pop them in and out as you “DJ’d” your way through your personal collection. It was perfect and oh-so cheap!

Many of these designs simply weren’t ‘springy’ enough. Or they were fragile (possibly due to inferior plastic) and would break with use, actually wear out. That’s why you can spot a design with little reinforcing posts to make the arms stronger. As time went on, one by one, they all disappeared from the market and eventually there was an actual ‘victor’ in the design war. The ‘winner’ is the yellow swirl design in the upper left hand corner of this collection. By the 1970’s, this was the only design available in the market place. All the others had died off. Sometimes you could still find this same design in a nicer color (like the red example very near it). But, for some reason, even the yellow color became a standard, too. Easier to see them in a stack of black plastic? I dunno.

So, this little yellow plastic swirl spring became, through sheer adaptable survivability, one of the most iconic designs of the last half-century. Very few iconic images can more squarely define an entire culture as clearly and precisely as this simple masterful design. We all know exactly what this image is and what it means. It brings out layers and layers of inference and recall in our experience – almost none of it less than wonderful. This familiar swirl likely creates more smiles than a million happy faces can achieve.

About ten years back, I attended a concert by Patti Smith at a club in St. Louis. She had managed to get her long-time collaborator Lenny Kaye to again accompany her musically. Now, Lenny Kaye is a notorious and widely respected music historian and record collector. His realm of specialization is the forgotten 45. I imagine he has one of the finest collections of 45’s in the world. In a solid way, he instituted the entire punk rock revolution when he personally complied his collection of forgotten garage punk 45’s into the seminal compilation record called “Nuggets’ back in the early 1970’s. when he reminded us of the wonders of the cheezy amateur DIY 45 (as oppose do the godzilla known as “album oriented rock”), he changed the course of popular music.

While he was playing his guitar in stage behind Patti Smith, I watched him closely, looking for antique riffs pulled from his music collection. But, I couldn’t help notice that he had only one accoutrement added to his otherwise all-black clothing. It was a simple chain with a solid silver 45 adapter hanging on it – his personal emblem of choice. It was the standardized ‘winner’ of the 45 design wars, too.

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