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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”

Mystery Photos: Who Am I? (Part 2)

Last week, we posted on this blog 30 photos that the Library of Congress is attempting to ID.  We were overjoyed by the response we got!  Thank you to all!  Now in our second (and last) post, we have here 30 additional photos also in need of a “solution.”  As always, “clicking” on the thumbnail […]

Vocal Recordings the Hard Way

Today’s post is by David Sager, Research Assistant in the Recorded Sound Research Center This blog relies on recordings from the Library of Congress’s National Jukebox, a resource with over 10,000 early recordings which is well worth exploring.  You can also hear thousands more rare recordings, including radio broadcasts from the 1930s, 40s, and 50s […]

At the Packard Campus–May 2018

Thursday, May 3 (7:30 p.m.) Overboard (MGM/UA, 1987) Spoiled heiress Joanna Stayton (Goldie Hawn) hires carpenter Dean Proffitt (Kurt Russell) to build a closet on her yacht, then refuses to pay when the project is completed. When Joanna accidentally falls overboard and loses her memory, Dean takes advantage of the situation to seek revenge. This […]

LIVE at the Packard Campus–Gail Davies/Chris Scruggs (April 8, 2018)–SOLD OUT!

The Library’s Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation is hosting a night of with Country Music singer/producer Gail Davies and her son, multi-instrumentalist Chris Scruggs. The concert will take place Sunday, April 8 at 7:30 p.m. at the Library’s Packard Campus Theater.  Tickets for the free event can be obtained at: daviesandscruggs.eventbrite.com.  Some “day of […]

At the Packard Campus Theater–March 2018

  Thursday, March 1 (7:30 p.m.) The Life of Emile Zola (Warner Bros., 1937) In this Best Picture Oscar winner William Dieterle directed Paul Muni as French novelist Zola who defends the falsely accused Captain Dreyfus (Joseph Schildkraut in an Oscar-winning performance). The Dreyfus case, which was a cause célèbre of anti-semitism during the latter years […]

Now Playing at the Packard Campus Theater (Feb. 16, 2018)

The following is a guest post by Jenny Paxson of the Packard Campus. Friday, February 16 (7:30 p.m.) The Tennessee Mafia Jug Band (Live)–SOLD OUT! Self-described as “five guys and a scrubboard, with roots like wisdom teeth,” the Tennessee Mafia Jug Band from Goodlettsville, Tennessee, perform a fun combination of traditional country, bluegrass and hillbilly […]

Now Playing at the Packard Campus Theater (Feb. 8-10, 2018)

The following is a guest post by Jenny Paxson of the Packard Campus. Thursday, February 8 (7:30 p.m.) Hope and Glory (Columbia, 1987) This British comedy-drama was written, produced and directed by John Boorman, based on his own experiences growing up in the Blitz in London during the Second World War. A warmly nostalgic view […]