Morpheus on… Sixteen And Two Thirds

Once upon a time, there was just one speed for records – 78 revolutions per minute (okay, during the first few years of recorded sound, some companies went with 80, but never mind).

Then in 1948, those tosspots at CBS came up with the long-player, a record that ran at 33¹⁄³ RPM. The following year, RCA (bada-bing, bada-boom) introduced the single. It ran at 45 RPM.

So for the next few decades, all domestic record players had four speeds. FOUR? Yes. Anyone who’s as old as THIS reporter will recall they had 78, 45, 33¹⁄³ – and 16²⁄³.

Now I know this fourth speed was for “talking books”, but despite my having nearly 3,000 records, comprising 78s, 45s and 33¹⁄³s in the conventional sizes – 7″, 10″ and 12″ – plus a variety of oddities, ranging from 3″ to 8″ – I don’t have ONE 16²⁄³ disc. Hell, I’ve never even SEEN one.

Of course, I’m lucky enough to be SIGHTED, so some would say I should be damn GLAD I haven’t encountered any. However, having waded through MILLIONS of discs, including test-records, library discs, slimdisks, give-aways, V-disks and what-have-you, during my 50-year search for the gems in my collection, I would still have expected to come across a FEW. But no.

In fact the only use I EVER had for 16²⁄³ was making “Pinky And Perky” records (in the US, “Alvin And The Chipmunks”) for my own amusement.

For those, you needed a two-speed tape recorder (all tape speeds are multiples of two) then using the low speed, you recorded yourself singing along to it – slurrrrrring your words – to an album track playing at 16²⁄³. Then you played the recording back at the high speed and while the music returned to its normal speed, YOU sounded like – a helium-voiced idiot (I was EASILY amused in those days).

Then again, nowadays you can just use one of those pitch synthesizers available at any branch of Radio Shack.

Anyhoo, the reason I’m troubling you with all of this, is that these words are read by MILLIONS of people (well, approaching 24,000, if my stats are to be believed) all over the World. And I figure SOMEONE out there MUST HAVE one of these 16²⁄³ RPM records. So if that person is YOU, please leave a comment on this piece. Thankyou!

[UPDATE! I have now learned the following…

Wikipedia: “16 2/3 RPM – This speed was used almost exclusively for spoken word content, in particular for the “talking books” used by the visually impaired. For this reason, the inclusion of a 16 2/3 speed setting on turntables was compulsory in some countries for many years, despite the records themselves being a rarity. Cassette tapes proved to be a far more popular format for such spoken content.”

So now we know! Of course, while 12″ vinyl albums were introduced in ’48, the audio-cassette had to wait another 15 years for its debut. Thus from ’48 to ’63, the only medium for domestic playing of talking books would have been those damn 16²⁄³ RPM records. However, if the above is to be believed, few were actually produced.

And it appears only (pre-PC!) regulation forced the inclusion of the speed on the players (the extra “shoulder” on the gear wheels would have cost the manufacturers ZIP). Still, it DID permit those with tape-recorders and an imagination to make utter prats of themselves!] 

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