The phonograph, a.k.a. record
player, is a survivor in the history of media. Various record formats
have been used as recording media throughout the twentieth-century.
And although challenged in the 1990's, vinyl records made a comeback
for various reasons. (1) Vinyl
record stores even established a day to celebrate LPs with "Record
Store Day" becoming an annual international event in 2008.
Record players and their 33
1/3 RPM vinyl records are currently alive in their niche market.
The Edison Phonograph and its wax records, on the other hand, are
on life-support being used by a much smaller niche of collectors
I say that Edison wax cylinders
are still living only because they have current 'users' and because
there are actually a few companies that still make cylinder records
for these machines. Compare this with other dead media that really
have perished. For those devices we can read about them or visit
their remains in museums. The Edison cylinder machines and wax records
are likewise in museums but I'm personally not quite ready to think
of them as dead media like the phenakistoscope and the teleharmonium
because I think the Edison Phonograph is part of a different cultural
memory bank. The early phonographs are also too iconic and have
a protected niche of collectors and Friends of the Phonograph
to label it dead media.
Here's how the Dead
Media Project's Manifesto
explains this process:
"It's a rather rare phenomenon for an
established medium to die. If media make it past their Golden Vaporware
stage, they usually expand wildly in their early days and then shrink
back to some protective niche as they are challenged by later and
more highly evolved competitors. Radio didn't kill newspapers, TV
didn't kill radio or movies, video and cable didn't kill broadcast
network TV; they just all jostled around seeking a more perfect
To this I would add that Radio
didn't kill the phonograph, TV didn't kill the phonograph and video
and cable didn't kill the phonograph.
The Edison wax cylinder, however,
is specifically said to have 'perished' by the Dead
Media Project. I love the Dead Media Project but as a Friend
of the Phonograph (who listened to an Edison cylinder just the
other day) I would add a few comments to the obituary that I think
is still being written.
Per the original use and intent
of Edison's cylinder Phonograph it is true that it has been replaced.
The early talking machine industry spent many advertising dollars
promoting the fidelity and life-like performance of their machines.
In its time it was state of the art and was the medium that could
transport the world of entertainment to one's living room. But when
a medium can't compete with newer technologies and when consumers
replace it with other formats a 'media death' does occur. After
all, who would choose a 1905 wax cylinder version of Sousa's "Stars
and Stripes Forever" performed by the Edison Military Band
if they wanted the best sound quality available to listen to that
song knowing that superior formats exist?
But since there are still collectors
who enjoy listening to cylinder wax records on their Edison Phonographs
I'd like to continue in my own bubble and not call it a dead medium.
I'd also like to give it a tip
of the hat by pointing out not only are Edison Phonographs still
being played they could also now be called environmentally clean
Consider these good citizen
of planet Earth factolas about the Edison Phonograph:
1) It is a spring-wound machine
and doesn't require
any electricity to play a song
2) It uses old records which
are passed down from earlier users and recycled
3) It doesn't require new
manufucturing or use of raw materials/resources to own one of
4) It provides clean entertainment
and enjoyment (with a disclaimer
regarding some cylinder recordings that may be offensive due to
content that reflects the attitudes, perspectives, and beliefs
of different times)
5) And finally, very few Edison
Phonographs will now end up in landfills.
QED The Edison Phonograph is
an environmentally friendly entertainment medium that still has
In that spirit, and with its
friends and continued use and pop culture connections, I believe
Phonographians can proclaim the Edison Phonograph to be alive and
The motto of Phonographians?
ENERGY - WIND A PHONOGRAPH