I'm just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round
May 9, 2014 8:44 AM   Subscribe

If you were sitting around in the early years of the Great Depression with $247 burning a hole in your pocket (about $3,800 in today's dollars) and were too lazy to get up and change your records when they finished playing, you might have been tempted by RCA's new Radiola Automatic Electrola RAE-26.

Sure, any cheap machine could play the music, but the RAE-26 would do the heavy lifting and put on a bit of a show at the same time. The video starts to get interesting at the 1 minute mark. This was RCA's third attempt at an automatic record changer for the home, the second already having brought a special meaning to "record reject."

By the late 1930s, some changer designs continued to be a bit cavalier with records. In '49, the top-of-the-line Capehart could still make the owner of the records a bit nervous. As late as the 1950s, the Lincoln Model 50 literally sucked when it changed records. Chris Cuff and his cat explain this "engineering nightmare."

These, of course, were changers for the home. For commercial use, things got a bit more complex. Going back to the early 1930s again, Capehart was the first to achieve practical success. For a mere $1,250 — roughly the price of two new Model A Fords — a business could purchase a Capehart Orchestrope Model 28G.
posted by Longtime Listener (7 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
That's pretty cool. Thanks for sharing.

As I look at this, I'm caught in this weird thing where the older I get, the faster time speeds up. So things that I used to feel were a really long time ago historically don't feel that long ago any more, and it's a weird dissonance between looking at old things that used to elicit a certain feeling and this newly developing way of feeling about them. As the last decade of my life flew by, "50 years ago" from my memories in the 1980's that used to feel like an eternity ago now feels like a drop in the bucket, and I'm amazed at the technology differences not so much because they are foreign and ancient, but because it seems like our technology really does progress at a very fast rate.

The good news about this rate of perceived time compression is that at some point I'll probably blink and suddenly find that we have holographic video games and vacation spots on the moon.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:29 AM on May 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

That first video is really great in how it shows and demonstrates the technology behind this record changer. No time wasted, great music, not a dull or unnecessary moment in the video.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:54 AM on May 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Neat! I was recently at the Pavek Museum in Minnesota where they demoed their 1927 automatic Victrola for us, which I'm assuming was RCA's first attempt at an automatic player.

My favorite part was the volume control- if you wanted to turn down the volume you had to partially close the door of the cabinet that housed the speaker. Want to crank up the Jolson? Throw the door open!
posted by Esteemed Offendi at 9:59 AM on May 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

That's beautiful. It's amazing the quality of sound you can get from those old players. I have an old hand-crank player from the 30s; it's just a little, portable thing with the sound projection being purely mechanical (a diaphragm on the tonearm is connected to the needle and amplifies the sound through the tonearm and out through an opening in the box)--but man, it is loud when played with the right needle. There's a kind of damper thing for closing and opening the "speaker" and if you're playing it inside you really need to use it.

What interests me about the RCA machine in the FPP is the Gothic styling. You'd think a "high tech" device like that would be packaged in a much more up-to-the-minute deco or moderne style, wouldn't you? I guess they figured that the hep-cats would want it anyway for its flashy automation and that the bigger concern was persuading the squares that it wasn't too outlandish to take a place in the sitting room.
posted by yoink at 10:33 AM on May 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I assume all of these will spontaneously burst into flames if you try to play Lazaretto on them.
posted by ckape at 11:49 AM on May 9, 2014

Exactly, yoink. My guess is, at that time, records were still attempting to convince people they were the Everyman replacement for symphony tickets on demand, instead of hip new appliances.

No matter how many teenyboppers were getting their first taste of sex-bomb Al Jolson, it's the dad who was shelling out the greenbacks.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:38 AM on May 10, 2014

if you wanted to turn down the volume you had to partially close the door of the cabinet that housed the speaker

Reminded me of this:
Gustav Holst created a unique effect for the conclusion of his orchestral suite The Planets. He stipulated that the women’s chorus was “to be placed in an adjoining room, the door of which is to be left open until the last bar of the piece, when it is to be slowly and silently closed,” and that the final bar, performed by chorus alone, was “to be repeated until the sound is lost in the distance.”
from http://www.futilitycloset.com/2014/05/04/the-outer-dark/
posted by effbot at 3:11 AM on May 10, 2014

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