With the warm weather and the opportunity to sleep with open windows comes the return of the Urban Thump Machine, those cars with the 1000-watt subwoofers that can be heard coming six blocks away, usually at about 2:30 a.m.
Music and cars have gone together for more than a hundred years. As far as anyone seems to remember, the first car radio actually predated radio itself. The Auto Wireless No. 1 was displayed at a fair in Missouri in 1904, more than two years before Canadian inventor Reginald Fessenden figured out how to broadcast voice and music through the air. I’m guessing that it wasn’t a big seller.
By the 1920s, it was possible to order a radio for your Chevy, but they were big, bulky, fragile things susceptible to spark interference from the engine, meaning the only way to actually listen to it was with the motor off — not a great selling feature for an option that added more than $200 to the price of a car that sold for $800. Then in 1930, Motorola demonstrated the 5T71, a radio that could both operate while the engine was running and survive the rough roads of the day. Listening to the radio in the car took off.
In 1956, Chrysler brands offered an in-dash turntable — seriously — that played both the new-ish 45 RPM singles as well as special discs running at 16 2/3 RPM that could only be purchased from dealerships. But like the early car radios, they didn’t work so well when the vehicle was in motion and were discontinued after just one year. It wasn’t until the 8-track appeared in 1966 model Fords that drivers had a reliable (well, comparatively reliable) format that allowed them to choose their own music while on the road.
The cassette player was a big improvement when it came along in the 1970s and reigned supreme until the 1990s when CD players became tough enough to withstand the harsh automobile environment. Meanwhile, the era of the in-dash cassette player has apparently ended. The 2010 Lexus SC430 convertible — apparently the last model from a major manufacturer to offer a cassette player as standard equipment — has a new stereo. It now comes with a six-pack changer.
And how long will the CD player last? Show me a car with a built-in iPhone dock and I just might buy it.
The Ongoing History Of New Music can be heard on stations across Canada. Read more
at ongoinghistory.com and exploremusic.com