During a summer convention in 1948, Columbia Records revealed its ‘revolution in sound,’ introducing the long-playing record.
Outside the Traymore Hotel in Atlantic City, the crash of waves on the beach provided a soundtrack for the start of summer in June 1948.
Inside the luxury hotel, the sound of music and history were being made at the two-day convention held by Columbia Records. More than 400 distributors and related salespeople had come to the hotel at Boardwalk and Illinois Avenue to hear about Columbia’s revolution in sound with a formal demonstration of the long-playing record.
As the introduction of television to American homes after World War II changed a nation’s viewing habits, the unveiling of the vinyl album would forever alter the delivery of music.
Columbia had spent most of the 1940s working on the development of the long-playing record to replace the 78 rpm disc and intensified its efforts after World War II ended.
The advantage of the vinyl LP, which played at 33-and-a-third revolutions per minute, could accommodate 22 minutes per side, as opposed to about four minutes a side for the 78. The LP also had the advantage of durability.
“The vinyl LP revolutionized the way Americans listened to music and the way artists and their labels recorded music,” says Sean Wilentz, author of the recently published 360 Sound: The Story of Columbia Records (Chronicle Books).
In Atlantic City, Columbia laid the foundation for introducing the LP to the public via its sales staff with a mix of music and technology.
The presentations included “dramatic skits which spared no humorous digs at competing record companies” and the distribution of special booklets to all sales representatives, according to an account in the July 3, 1948 issue of Billboard magazine.
Paul Southard, sales manager for Columbia, came up a special way to drive home the sonic advantages of the LP. While he delivered his speech, Southard made sure it was the same length as “The Nutcracker Suite,” which took up the length of one side of an album, and played in the background as he spoke.
When Southard completed his speech and removed the stylus from the LP, the distributors at the Traymore erupted with an extended round of applause.
Howard Scott, a Columbia Records employee who has been described as a “founding father of the long-playing record,” attended the convention in Atlantic City. His role was to let the sales representative know when to adjust the sound of the “The Nutcracker Suite” recording during Southard’s speech.
It was “the record that changed the music business,” Scott recalled in a 1998 interview with The New York Times.
No Columbia Records convention would be complete without entertainment and the company featured some of the label’s biggest acts that spanned the spectrum of American music.
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