16 and 2/3

If you can find an early 60s record player, there are four speeds. 78, 45, 33 and 16. 16 means sixteen and two-thirds. There are very few 16s around.

Tales of Terror Top Rank

Tales of Terror: Top Rank 1959. 

The first British disc was Tales of Terror by Edgar Allen Poe on a twelve-inch disc from Top Rank in Britain in 1959. It runs to 95 minutes.

As sound quality was greatly reduced, talking books were its natural medium. The frequency range (300-3000Hz) was about the same as an early 1960s telephone.

Prestige issued several 16 rpm jazz LPs in the USA in the late 1950s, including a Miles Davis album.

Prestige Miles Davis 16 rpm

Highway Hi-Fi

Chrysler Highway hi-fi

Chrysler advert for Hi-way hi-fi

Columbia also developed the Hi-way Hi-Fi for Chrysler,  an in-car record player which played 7” discs (or rather 6 7/8″ discs)  in Chrysler cars at 16 rpm. There was an obvious issue with changing a 45 rpm disc every 2.5 minutes while trying to drive at the same time.

Hi-way Hi-fi was designed by Peter Goldmark who had been the head of CBS Labs for Columbia when they invented the 33 rpm LP record. The discs developed a microgroove format so that they squeezed  45 minutes a side on to a 7″ disc running at 16 2/3.

Peter Goldmark: I started to wonder how much information one can put on a small record for use in a car without a changer. The answer, it turned out, is easy to figure. To give us forty-five minutes of playing time on a side, as much content as both sides of an LP, and to give us a record small enough to fit with its mechanism inside the glove compartment, the record would have to be seven inches in diameter and would have to revolve at 16 2/3 rpm, one-half of the LP speed. In addition it required almost three times the number of grooves per inch as did the LP. Our earlier experience with the LP stood us in good stead, and in just six months we developed the narrowest microgroove in the business, the ultra microgroove. It was one-third the width of a human hair. The fidelity was superb.
‘Maverick Inventor’ by Dr Peter Goldmark, 1973

There was also the question of material. It came with a box set of six records:

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Highway HI-Fi: The Pajama Game Side One

1  Romantic Moods / Quiet Jazz
2  Music of Cole Porter / Music of Victor Herbert
3  Walt Disney’s Davy Crockett / Champion The Wonder Horse
4  Tchaikovsky’s Symphony #6 in B minor / Borodin Polovian Dances
5  The Pajama Game
6  Paul Gregory Presets / Don Juan in Hell

That was it for software. Unfortunately, but predictably, it suffered from motion jumps.  Apparently they had tested it rigorously over speed bumps too.

Peter Goldmark: Columbia persuaded Chrysler to pay for the initial set of records and phonographs and then grew apathetic, leaving follow-up to Chrysler. Seeing the slow sales, the auto company relaxed its promotion. Ironically, even though the business declined, the record-changer manufacturers were so enamored with the l6 2/3 that they included the new speed in their changers – “so you can take home your Highway Hi Fi” – even though there wasn’t a 16 2/3 rpm record in sight.
‘Maverick Inventor’ by Dr Peter Goldmark, 1973

There were attempts at in-car record players (7 inch) in the early 60s, including in Britain, but these generally were meant for standard 45s. RCA Victor carried on their competition with Columbia by designing a system to play standard 45s with an autochanger.

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The champ with in-car 7″ record player, This is a large hole standard disc. This is not the Chrysler system.

Seeburg launched the Seeburg Background Music System as a rival to Muzac in 1959, using 9” discs with large centre holes playing at 16 2/3 rpm.

16 2/3 was designed primarily as a long play spoken voice medium, and most records produced were either radio transcription discs, or talking books for the blind. Evangelists were fond of it. Jimmy Swaggart did a set of eleven discs of his sermons.

New Testament 16 rpm

The Complete New Testament

There was a New Testament set of 24 discs which played for just under 24 hours. It must have lacked the “binge listening” equivalent of watching the TV series 24 in twenty-four hours. They produced an Old Testament too. Anyone for sitting listening to Numbers?

Peter Goldmark: As a spin-off from the new record technology I developed for the Library of Congress a seven-inch record that plays four hours of spoken word and rotates at 831 rpm. This came into being because of my association with Recording for the Blind, an organization that has brought the beauties of the spoken word into the homes of thousands of blind students. We used the identical tone arm as we did in the automobile, so that it could be pummeled around a bit without distorting the sound.

Some new record decks still had 16 speed settings into the late 70s.

American Express Tour Talker discs

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The 7” discs shown are American Express Tour Talker Service for Paris.  They had three sets, each with three discs to cover Paris. You rented a Solocast portable record player from the Amex office then you took a taxi to Palais de Chaillot.  There was a map, so you wouldn’t have to try to speak French. You just showed the driver. The Solocast record player must have been related to the Highway Hi-Fi format. The instructions say:

Start the Solocaster when you are standing on the sidewalk at the main entrance between the two buildings of the Palais de Chaillot.

From there you were guided by the disc. There is no mention of headphones. So there you are in Paris in 1964, holding a portable record player steady and horizontal in the street, with a voice in English coming out of the speaker, wondering if anyone will guess that you are a tourist.  The three discs in the set were yours to keep as a memento of the tour, so back home in Wichita you could relive the experience, without the ridicule from passing Parisians.

The discs in the set are numbered 11, 14 and 19, and also AEX 163. So there must have been quite a lot of others. They don’t show up on any Google search.

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