HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
August 27, 2007, Herald Journal

25th anniversary of the compact disc

By MARK OLLIG

August 17, 1982 at the Philips manufacturing plant in Langenhagen near Hanover, Germany, history was being made.

Rolling down the assembly line were thousands of round, shiny, palm-sized plastic plates with a rainbow luster to them.

It was the “passing of the torch” from analog vinyl records to digital plastic coated discs.

In 1982, a ‘CD’ was a “Certificate of Deposit” that a person would buy at the bank.

Today we know that a CD is also a Compact Disc.

In 1979, Holland’s Royal Philips Electronics and the Sony Corporation of Japan engineers formed a task force to design a new type of digital audio disc.

Philips produced the compact disc and laser technology, while Sony contributed the digital encoding technology that allowed for the smooth, error-free audio playback.

Recently I was having lunch with my youngest son Andrew who happens to be turning 20 on August 28th. The conversation found its way to what my generation used to listen to our music on when I was his age, before the Internet, iPods and CDs.

I told him we mostly used cassettes, 8-track tapes and vinyl records.

As I explained how a 45rpm record held just one song on each side, he just shook his head in disbelief.

When I told him that we played those records on our ‘hi-fi’ stereo turntables, he tilted his head to one side wondering what I was talking about. I then explained hi-fi meant “high fidelity.”

I also needed to explain the turntable thing.

Back then I would buy (at the local drug store in Winsted) a 45rpm record just for the one song it had on it. The flip side of the record usually had a “filler” song from the same band that was not played much – unless it was a Beatles 45rpm record, then both sides were good songs in this humble columnist’s opinion.

For those of you who may be interested, on March 31, 1949, RCA introduced the 45rpm vinyl record to the world.

Actually, the CD reminds me of those old vinyl 45rpm records. They have a spiral of little pits in them where the encoded information of 1s and 0s are – somewhat like the grooves in those old vinyl records. The CD’s audio is scanned by a laser to obtain the “information” somewhat like how the record player or phonographs needle in the tone-arm did.

What is cool about CDs is that they do not wear out like my old 45rpm records did.

Excellent sound quality from the CD stays the same over time, as there is no physical contact of the laser to disc, so nothing wears out.

Feeling somewhat nostalgic, I took one of those old vinyl 45 records I had in storage, blew the dust off and played it on my old turntable. The needle was a bit worn and I should probably have cleaned it off with some vinyl oil we used to use because too many “pops” and “hisses” were audible on that old 45.

While looking at some articles about the history of the CD, it is agreed that the actual design of the CD was based on the shape of a record. I also found one interesting explanation of how the size of the CD came about.

One story said the size was made to match a Dutch beer coaster. This story may have originated in the offices of Holland’s Royal Philips Electronics.

Originally, the recorded audio content length of the CD was to going to be one hour.

It was said that either a Sony executive or a famous conductor wanted the audio storage large enough to hold the complete Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. And so it came to be that the CD could hold 74 minutes worth of digital audio.

Sony sold the very first CD player in Japan on Oct. 1, 1982.

By 1986, CD players were outselling record players, and by 1988, CDs outsold records.

This year marked the 200 billionth CD to be made, despite declining sales due to the increased use of the Internet to download music.

Purchasing music CDs is declining as more of us are downloading music off of the Internet to our computers, MP3 players, iPods, iPhones, USB storage drives and even to our cell phones.

Philips states on their website that if all the CDs ever made were placed upon each other they would circle the Earth six times.

For more information on the 25th anniversary of the CD, its history and the engineers that created it, visit the Philips website at http://www.newscenter.philips.com/.

For a detailed explanation on how CDs work, visit the How-Stuff-Works website at http://www.howstuffworks.com/cd.htm.