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210222 February 22, 2021


Turning the Page on Turntables
Tommy Towery
LHS '64

I could write pages about the record players in my life, but I will try my best to keep it as short as possible in comparing the one I had when I attended Lee to today’s. But, I have to have a little background intro first.

Like many of my friends, the first record player in my life was a small portable one with a lid on it. At the time there were still three speeds to be considered when you played a record. There was a speed of 78 revolutions per minute (rpm), a speed of 33 1/3 rpm, and of course our favorite the 45 rpm ones.  I remember them costing about $1.00 each. The 45 rpm records usually had a hole about the size of a half-dollar in the center and looked like a toilet paper roll, but some had a smaller hole about the size of a pencil. If your record player had an automatic feeder allowing you to stack multiple records on it then you needed the larger holes. If you wanted to play one with a big hole on a single play system you needed a plastic insert to reduce the hole to the size which fit on a standard spindle.

The record player was already in my family by the time I got old enough to start listening to records. I do not know what model it was, where it came from, or how much it cost – it was just there. Looking back, I seem to remember the first record I talked my mother into buying me was “(How Much Is That) Doggie in the Window.” I must have been about nine at the time. It was recorded by Patti Page on December 18, 1952, and released in January 1953 by Mercury.  It reached No. 1 on both the Billboard and Cash Box charts in 1953, and sold over two million copies. Other records I remember the family owing from those days were “16 Tons” and “The Ballad of Davy Crockett.”

Doggie in the Window

By the time I was a senior at Lee, my record player technology had moved to the Stereo Console TV entertainment center I wrote about last week. One memorable item from the early life of that system was the joining of the “Record of the Month Club.” How many of us grabbed that bait by hook, line, and sinker. Sure you got a lot of records for cheap up front, but then they kept coming. You had about a week to refuse the monthly selection or take an alternate but you were locked into buying two or four or more in the coming week. We got a lot of albums we really did not want to buy. 

        One of the first stereo albums I got was “Impact” which was a collection of television themes. One of the tracts on that album made me a stereo believer. It was the first track and was from the TV show “The Naked City.” It is still one of my favorite "Stereo" albums to listen to for the stereo sound. The song started out with the sound effects of a siren and it starts low in only one speaker and increases in sound as it travels to the other one. You can close you eyes and visualize the police car driving across your living room floor. Later I learned this moving sound routine was called the Doppler Effect. Click on the album below and listen to the first track to hear what I am talking about.


One of my favorite albums of the day to play on my stereo was an album my brother Don bought (with money borrowed from me) called “The Buddy Holly Story”. It stayed my favorite until the beginning of 1964 when I purchased “Meet the Beatles”.

But, this story is about record players and not record albums. As I stated last week, the TV entertainment system stayed in my life well through college and even into my Air Force years. If finally went away during one of my Air Force moves when cassette tapes had taken the place of vinyl records. My musical devices went through cassettes, 4-track and 8-track tapes, CDs and finally streaming music over the internet. During that time I also had a stereo system made up of a Sony turntable and amplifier I bought in Thailand when I was overseas. I even had a Panasonic Reel-to-Reel tape recorder which I bought at the same time. I even owned a juke box once which held 100 45 rpm records and was the start of me collecting over 2,500 45 rpm records.

    That said, I do still have a record player in my life, even though I do not use it very often. Sitting behind me as I write this is an Emmerson system which has a turntable, a radio, a CD player, and a tape player. It is not used that often to play records much, but every once in a while I come across a vinyl disc I want to convert to digital music so I run a cable between the Emmerson and my computer to accomplish that.

Still, there will always be a place in my heart for the memories of the importance of the simple little record players of my puberty days. We would have backyard or basement parties and everyone would pool their records to provide the entertainment for some serious dancing – both fast and some really nice slow ones. Many friends identified their own collection by writing their names or initials on the labels of the records with fingernail polish so that at the end of the night they could go home with their rightful owner. Except there is still one of you who made off with my “Chubby Checker Twist Party” album. I’ve got a long memory of some odd things.

Record Player Comments


        Memphis, TN - Last week's issue had a small survey at the end of the main story about televisions. I appreciate those of you who took the time to participate in in. For the question asking if either "I had one of those" or "I remember that." , 97.8 % of the responders agreed to the statement. Only one person who responded did not agree. It seems like I got a lot more responses via this method than asking people to email me with their comments. This week I am trying that again, and if you want to leave your name with your responses please do, but a name is not required.