Sunday Christmas Music Break

4 12 2016

Some YouTube surfing this afternoon led me to:

This was the first version of “Rudolph” in my conscious lifetime.  It came off the album whose album art you see, which came out in 1978, not long after I decided to hatch.  This also means that every song from this album was the first such version of these songs in my conscious lifetime.

As I listened now, and I haven’t heard it in a very long time, I want to say since I was either nine or ten years old, I wondered two things:  First, this version in this YT video is noticeably faster than the one I remember, and also, the version I remember had a hell of a lot more bass.

It only took me a few minutes to figure out why.

When I was listening to this as a kid, I was often listening through my mother’s Tonecrest console stereo.  My adventures with that piece of equipment, I wrote about in this space almost a year ago.  If you’re a Millennial or younger, you’ve probably never even seen a console stereo, and my Google Image Search, while it didn’t lead me to precisely the particular one she owned, did lead me to a pretty close enough approximation thereof, for you to see what I’m talking about:


This particular console was a Zenith of the 1965 model year. My mother’s Tonecrest, she bought in 1968 (give or take, thanks to her memory). Tonecrest was a registered trademark of the May Corporation, meaning Famous-Barr, and of course, for a lot of years, she had a line of revolving credit from Famous, so that she bought it from Famous (the odds are high that she bought it from the old F-B on Kingshighway and Chippewa), is not a surprise.  My bet, looking at some of the Google Image Search results, is that Tonecrest was just the store branding, and that Zenith actually manufactured the units.  Similarly, from around the late ’70s to early ’80s, JC Penney sold stereo components under the house brand MCS, but they were actually manufactured by Technics mostly or NEC in a few cases.

Since the first direct drive turntables hit the American market not until 1969, under the Technics label, speaking of, and even then, they were separate component turntables and not part of any console or set, this means that for sure, any turntable sold before then was a belt-drive turntable.  One thing we know about belts is that with age and use, they lose their elasticity, and if the belts control a spinning item, over time and with use, the item won’t spin as fast as it did when the belts were new.  That we can see with washing machines, though more and more washing machines are direct-drive instead of belt-drive, for that reason.  (Replacing a broken belt on a washing machine is no fun.)  So, by the time Disney released the Christmas album, and I understood what I was hearing, my mother’s console was well more than a decade old.  That means the record was spinning on a turntable that was slowing down, a bit slower than the proscribed 33 1/3 RPM (and all the other RPM settings as well).   That means all along I was hearing an artificially slow version.  That takes care of the speed issue.

As far as bass, that was easy, too.  These consoles were actually very good bass machines, though their appearances and the size of their woofers belied the reality.  They didn’t shake the neighborhood or annoy the neighbors, but they gave you very noticeable and accurate mid-low frequency reproduction.  In contrast, when I listened to this YT video just a while ago, it was through my desktop computer and its Logitech 2.1-system speakers.  Yes, even with a discrete subwoofer, it didn’t crank out the bass that I remember.

So, what I did was rip the audio from this video, convert to MP3, use Audacity to slow down both pitch and tempo by 1%, save that file, and then listen through my Sennheisers.  And there you go, just as I remember.

Who the hell knew strolling down memory lane would be such a hassle?




17 responses

4 12 2016
The Gentle Grizzly

Tonecrest stuff was made by a variety of makers. I recall seeing Tonecrest stuff in the May Company at Wilshire and Fairfax in Los Angeles. The TVs were dead ringers for the Emerson sets of the time.

The turntables in most of those old all in one sets were rim drive. There was generally a little shaded pole synchronous motor with a shaft that had several diameters machined into them. When you changed speeds, a little tire-like wheel was moved up and down to engage one of those diameters on the shaft. The smallest diameter was for 16 2/3 rpm talking books, the largest was for 78rpm. The other two were 33 1/3 and 45 rpm.

Those rubber tires got a bit glazed or hardened over the years. There were various treatments one could apply to them to extend the life of the rubber tire, but eventually they would need replacement. A store just across and a bit north of the at May Company, called Ametron, sold electronic parts. Among other things, I bought replacement drive tires there for several turntables over the years.

For anyone who listens to the old Jack Benny radio shows, that May Company at Wilshire and Fairfax was the one Mary Livingston worked in as part of her character. It is a gorgeous building of unique design, and is now a branch of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

4 12 2016

The tires losing their grip would be the cause of the speed reduction, I presume.

And before I lose my train of thought, when the Tonecrest finally went to the great stereo in the sky, of course I disassembled it, as was my habit when it came to such things on their death beds. And I know for certain its turntable was belt driven. One of its death throes was that the turntable stopped spinning at all, and my disassembly showed me why — A belt had broken.

5 12 2016
The Gentle Grizzly

A belt drive turntable in “brown goods” (as radio/TV/phono combos were known as in the trade) is RARE. That is quite a surprise, and I just learnt something.

For those who like to see this old stuff, how about a German perspective? There is a man on YouTube who goes by the handle Deutschlandsender. He presents a lot of the great music the European dance and swing bands were doing during the 1930s and 1940s.

Most of his videos open with video of one or another of his restored machines, followed by the music, often accompanied by home movies or publicity footage of the era. Here is an example.

Old-car buffs will like this one a lot. Note how great the sound quality is from a 78. I don’t know why, but I really LIKE this particular song.

5 12 2016

Since Tonecrest was a May holding company house brand, and Federated (now Macy Inc) bought out May, I guess I’ll put in a call to Cincinnati to see if there are any corporate historians who can tell for sure. Maybe my eyes fooled me.

4 12 2016

My godmother had one of those and damn I loved listening to it. Absolute clear sound and craftmanship. As a wannabe engineer I loved taking older systems apart. those paper woofers sure did good work…until they ripped.

4 12 2016
John Vawter

My paternal grandma had a 1966 Magnavox with a color TV built in. She was a registered nurse, divorced six times and each time she took the guys for a everything they had. So she had way more money than the rest of us – her house was paid-off, a caddy in the driveway, a Hammond B3 (!) in the family room, a full set of 1970 Encyclopedia Britannicas for her favorite grandson (nothing for me or my brother, though I eventually got the Britannicas because her fave grandson was/is in jail).

The funny thing about the console, it was on constantly for her amusement (my brother and I headed straight for the Britannicas) but in Central Oregon in those pre-cable days she could barely get the CBS and NBC Portland affiliates, ABC was a no-go. When the stations would drift in and out, the static was absolutely deafening. If I have any hearing loss, I know that’s where I got it. She saved on heating bills tho…with that many tubes (in the TV and the amp), that sucker got hot enough to burn you.

I have a set of Sennheiser HD600s, nice pieces of kit, replaced the pads three times but still going strong.

5 12 2016

I know from my searches that TVs inside the consoles were a passing fad. I think the reason they never really took off is that back then, TVs went on the blink and needed repair way more often than any piece of household electronic equipment, and if the TV in the all-in-one went out and needed to go to the shop, then the whole thing was out of the house for awhile. The other issue is that it really didn’t benefit a TV to be part of a stereo system when stereo TV audio didn’t roll out until 1983. Sure, even mono sound from the TV benefited from the console’s speakers, but in those days, living room TVs themselves were in consoles with pretty good speakers. Something else I remember from childhood experience, one of the first two TVs in my conscious lifetime was my mother’s RCA console bought circa 1972. This precise model:

5 12 2016
The Gentle Grizzly

Lots of shops could pull the TV chassis (leaving the picture tube behind), and service the chassis back at the shop; they all had picture tubes in metal cabinets on their test benches.

5 12 2016

I remember those things, TVs and stereos all came in gigantic wooden cabinets. Our stereo was even bigger and heavier than the one in the picture, and it had an 8 track adapter inside along with an AM-FM stereo and record player. Then when buying an Atari in the early 80s and getting a separate TV (because my dad was convinced it would “ruin” our giant console monster’s tube) all of a sudden they started coming in cheap plastic like they did until the advent of the flat screen.

5 12 2016

If I heard the notion that attached video game console “ruined” tube TVs once, I heard it 500 times. “Ataris ruin TVs,” “Nintendos ruin TVs.” If Ataris and Nintendos ruined TVs, then VCRs ruined TVs, using the same logic. That’s because you attached both a game system or a VCR to a TV the same way: Either line level RCA inputs if the TV was newer, or if it was an older TV without RCA line level inputs, you hooked the game or VCR to the 75 or 300 ohm antenna inputs, and the game system or VCR would simulate being an analog NTSC TV station, you would tell the device to use either channel 3 or 4 (as at least one of those two channels were guaranteed to be unused in every TV market), and then tune your TV to that channel to watch the VCR or play the game system.

If Nintendos did ruin TVs, it was purely because Nintendos caused the TV to be used more than it otherwise would have. But, the same goes for VCRs.

The other issue was screen burn-in; CRT TVs were really bad for burn-in. Before VCRs and game systems came along, it was never an issue, because over the air TV never held the same image for long. But when people got game systems and VCRs, and got the ability to pause either the game or the tape, if they did it for too long, the paused image would burn in to the screen, and unlike flat screens, where a burn-in image could eventually be conditioned out, burned-in CRT images were there forever.

4 12 2016
Kevin Ytza

Great post, blogmeister

5 12 2016
O Kerry Anderson

Ditto, post such as this are few & only w/ a retro blogger such as CD… oh yeah… Rock Me Mama!

5 12 2016

I have a 1961 Zennith that has duel band AM tuning with a manic tuning “eye” this was the front runner to FM Stereo. One channel was one one frequency the other on another frequency. Two big tube tuners and two big tube amps and 12,inch mains with 4 inch minds and 2 inch highs. All wrapped up in a gorgeous walnut piece of furniture.

5 12 2016

Would it happen to be:

5 12 2016
The Gentle Grizzly

Walt: are you certain it used two AM tuners for stereo? There was a common system back then called “Sonocast” by some marketers, and was used primarily by classical stations that had both AM and FM transmitters. I believe the right channel went over AM and the left over FM, and this was pretty much reserved for live concerts, or specific programming.

I believe that KFAC* in Los Angeles did this for Evening Concert quite often.

* “This is KFAC, AM and FM, the music stations, Prudential Square, Los Angeles.”

5 12 2016

Thinking some more about this, thinking about why and when console stereos went out of style. I want to say that it was the early ’70s, and the reason, other than the fact that nothing is forever, and styles change, is that that market bifurcated. After the early ’70s, combo systems (record-tape-radio) became less the province of high discretionary income adults and more the province of teenagers and youths, and as a consequence, they got smaller and more cheaply made. At the same time, adult discretionary incomes spent on audio equipment started getting spent on separate components and rack systems, something I alluded to in this post with the first direct drive turntable, which was itself a separate component. That’s a story all its own. And yes, it’s also a story that crosses over into my young childhood:

I should add that at my time, my uncle had both this Pioneer rack/separates system and his older wooden console system (I’m almost sure it was an RCA), in the same room, and I’m not sure how, but while using the Pioneer speakers for audio output, he also and simultaneously routed the audio through the console’s speakers at the same time. My guess is that he routed a line level output from the receiver into the console’s tape input.

At the same time, my mother’s Tonecrest had provisions for an extra set of speakers that mirrored its own speakers’ stereo audio.

Interesting, at the beginning of the 1970s, expensive stereo meant a wooden console, at the end of the 1970s, it meant aluminum-polish components stacked in a rack.

Also by the end of the 1970s, we had yet another audio fad to contend with: the boombox.

5 12 2016
Alex the Goon

I was thinking some hipster should build an ironic console around their ipod or flatscreen, but then thought, what if the next evolution is building the TV into the house?

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