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The Future is….1981!: When the CD Was Born

An unknown model poses with the past and present, vinyl vs. CD.


They had endured for a very long time.

Since first being introduced in 1948, by Columbia Records, the 12-inch vinyl disc “LP” (long-playing) album, spinning at 33 and 1/3 rpm, had been the norm. And it came very popular since an LP played music for more than 20 minutes on each side, unlike the 78rpm disc, which was limited to 5 minutes per side.  Hundreds of thousands of LPs were produced and sold and could be found—without exaggeration—in every single household in America.

But LP’s weren’t always perfect—they could get scratched, become dirty and they could melt in the sun…. Additionally, they weren’t always that convenient and (as any college kid of the ‘60s and ‘70s could tell you) they were really heavy to move en masse.

A cardboard insert from the press kit cut to the exact side of a “compact disc.”

Finally, in 1981, after many years of development (and some litigation), Sony believed that they had finally found something that could and would fully replace the large vinyl disc. They called it—obviously—the “compact disc.”

In June of 1981, W.E. Baker, VP of Corporate Communications for Sony, happened to stop by the Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division of the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.

If Baker’s visit to the Library was specifically to introduce LOC staff (curators, engineers, etc.) to “CD” technology or for another purpose, it is lost to history. What is known is, after his visit, he sent back to LC a thick folder of materials—photos, fliers, press releases—with information about the company’s forthcoming “Digital Audio Disc” technology.

That press kit details Sony’s big sales pitch and gamble for their drink-coaster size disc.  The kit must have proved successful.  CD’s would soon become the industry standard and eventually begin to take up a lot of real estate in the LOC; today, the Recorded Sound division of the Library houses over 447,000 CD’s and over 96,000 CD-R’s.

Also today, and left completely intact ever since the day Mr. Baker gifted it (complete with Baker’s personalized cover note), is the Sony CD  press kit which offers in its  pages a unique look back into a then brand-new technology that was about (for a time at least) to change everything.

Cover image for compact disc brochure

Original press release:  “The Record of Tomorrow”

Original press release:  “Digital Technology in the Studio”

Original press release:  “The Digital Revolution”

Original press release:  “1982 Marketing Plan”

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