From Mono to Stereo and Beyond, Part 2

17 Dec 2014

Stereo records were introduced in 1958.  The two-channel listening experience (stereophonic sound) proved to be so popular that within ten years almost all record labels stopped producing mono records. 

In 1952, Emory Cook introduced a form of stereo record is introduced involving the left and right channels cut into parallel grooves on the record and played with a special double stylus.  About 25 records were made for this system.



In November 1957, Sidney Frey, the president of Westrex, demonstrated stereo records that used the same principles as Blumfein’s 1933 patent.  The following March, the first four mass-produced stereo albums were released to the general public:  Marching Along with the Dukes of Dixieland Volume 3, Lionel by Lionel Hampton and His Orchestra, Johnny Puleo and his Harmonica Gang and a disc of train effects entitled Railroad: Sound of a Vanishing Era.

In the late 50s, more than a dozen proposals were put forward to turn standard FM radio broadcasts from mono into stereo. Systems designed by GE and Zenith (which were virtually identical) were approved by the FCC in April 1961 and quickly became the de facto standard around the world.  The world’s first FM stations to broadcast in stereo were WEFM/Chicago (now US 99.5, a country station) and WGFM, Schenectady, New York.

Attempts at introducing AM stereo began in 1924 but technical difficulties and competing standards delayed widespread introduction for decades.  The US standard for AM stereo—known as the Motorola C-QUAM system—was declared in 1993.  This has become the de facto standard in most countries that with stations that have adopted AM stereo.

Because stereo sound for TV was so far in the future, TV stations and networks often teamed up with local FM stations to provide simulcasts for music events.  Viewers were encouraged to turn down the sound on their TVs and listen to the program through their stereos.  NBC’s Friday Night Videos was broadcast in this manner until the early 80s.

In the early 70s, attempts were made to expand the multichannel audio experience from two to four channels.  Quadrophonic (also called “Quadraphonic,” “Quadrasonic” or just plain “Quad”) made some inroads with audiophiles and performers.  Thousands of quad records and tapes were made—sold at higher prices than regular albums, of course.  Pink Floyd delivered the first surround-sound rock concert at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London in 1967.

Because of competing formats (each requiring a different and incompatible decoder), four-channel listening failed to catch on with music fans.  The extra expense required for amplifiers, special turntable pickups, speakers and recordings didn’t seem to be worth it for most people.

However, multichannel listening began a major comeback in the 1990s with the rise of home theatre systems.  Formats such as DTS, Dolby Digital, THX, DVD-Audio and Super Audio CD are all descendants of decades of experiments with stereo and quad.

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