In the first week of April 1949 RCA Victor presented a whole new way of listening to music: The 45 Record
The release of the short play, seven-inch 45 record was in response to Columbia’s new format, the 12″, playing at 33 1/3. While both new vinyl formats had their advantages over the heavy, shellac covered 78s with the 45 record RCA set out to revolutionize the listening experience.
Introduced as a well thought out system 45 records were colour coded in reference to style and came with their own specialized player. The new turntable, exclusive to RCA had a 1.5 inch diameter spindle which stacked ten 45s. These records were played in the order the listener assembled them and allowed for one hour of uninterrupted play, a big deal before the luxury of iTunes. Perhaps there was some commercial rivalry between RCA and Columbia however like most revolutionary inventions there was more thought put to this then just gimmicks and marketing ploys. RCA set out to improve the sound quality of records, address their functionality and create a brand new listening system.
Advertisements in Billboard magazine screamed its praises, “the world’s fastest record changer”, “compact and light!”, “convenient 7 inch size”, “distortion free playing surface”, and they were right.
The 45 speed was chosen specifically to make the music sound better and decided by a mathematical equation* , the turntable had its own 1.0mm stylus with a 5 gram weight, the reduced record speed allowed for mircogrooves, finer grooves assimilated into a smaller space, and the records had a raised edge to prevent the grooves from touching when stacked. So what’s with the big hole? In order for the record to pick up speed when dropped on the platter a lot of torque was needed. The small hole on the records would stretch out causing the record to spin unevenly and affecting the sound quality. The larger hole reduced wear keeping the hole round and sound intact.
With its convenient size, affordable price and new lightweight material the 45 gained popularity. Jukeboxes replaced their 78s with 45s and went from having 30 songs on offer to over 100. The newest singles of the day were released on 45 to a hungry audience of young folk who enjoyed their compact size and cheap price in comparison LPs. From 1948 – 1950 the competition between 33 1/3 and 45 was on, known as the War of the Speeds the buying public and record companies alike were unsure which format would prevail. Eventually the 12″ record playing at 33 1/3 became the most sought after format for full length albums and 45s settled nicely into its niche for single song releases.
In the 1950’s when turntables were released with three speed option ( 78, 33 1/3, 45) and a standard small spindle something had to be done about the size of the hole in the 45 record. Enter the 45 adaptor, that little flexible plastic insert we all know and love. As any record collector will tell you there are many styles of the 45 adaptor. The patent on the first one was filed in 1951 and issued in 1955. James L.D. Morrison is credited as their inventor.
In the end the 12″ record would become the most common format releasing full length albums as well as singles. However for a short period the 45 record spoke to the heart of music buyer of the time and still inspires loyal followers and collectors today. From single buying beatlemanics, Jamaican dancehall DJ’s to the hands of indie grunge rockers fans of the 45 record all cherish their format of choice and respect the various styles of adaptors that allow us to hear the music.
* Calculus was used to show that the optimum use of a disc record of constant rotational speed occurs when the innermost recorded diameter is half the outermost recorded diameter. That's why a 7-inch single has a label 3 1/2 inches in diameter. Given the CBS vinyl groove dimensions and certain assumptions about the bandwidth and tolerable distortion, a speed of 45 rpm comes out of the formula." http://www.history-of-rock.com/record_formats.htm