Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Illustration from the cover of the December 1930 issue of Radio Craft magazine

The Dawn of Home Audio Recording

• November 08, 2012 • 8:22 AM

Illustration from the cover of the December 1930 issue of Radio Craft magazine

When Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in 1877 the world was introduced for the first time to a machine that could both record and play sound. It started as an incredibly crude machine with very little in the way of practical application for posterity—removing the tinfoil on which the recording was made rendered it unplayable, meaning that you either had to listen to the recording you made over and over again or take off the tinfoil and never hear that recording again.

Edison would return to the phonograph, attempting to “perfect” it over the following decades; it served as a welcome distraction for him whenever he was frustrated with his other inventions. But Edison resisted the idea of recorded music, and was late to the game when it came to monetizing recorded sound (though he later started his own record company) and even later in understanding the importance of arguably the most important advancement for the spread of popular music: radio.

In 1913 Charles E. Apgar would become known as the “pioneer home-recorder” in radio nerd circles when in October of that year he became the first person to record Morse code signals on a phonographic cylinder. But it would be take another couple of decades for home audio recording to become the latest and greatest toy for early adopters.

Radio itself only gained steam as a popular broadcast medium in the United States in the mid-1920s. Once it hit the masses, the radio nerd community turned its attention to home audio recording as a fun, untouched field. People sold kits that could be attached to existing radios in order to do your own recording of radio programs on phonograph records. And radio magazines of the 1930s proclaimed that recording the human voice on a phonograph record meant parents could preserve the voices of their children as they grew older and conversely, children could preserve the wisdom of their parents and grandparents.

No less than Hugo Gernsback—the father of science fiction and a publisher who did much for the field of radio—declared in 1930 that the technology of home audio recording had advanced so considerably that “even an intelligent child can become proficient” in it. Radio manufacturers began including “home recording” capabilities in their sets, with the desired goal of busting out of radio hobbyist circles and into mainstream America. This technology, however easy to use, would come at a price. RCA made the Radiola Model 86 which sold for the hefty price of $285 (about $3,800 adjusted for inflation). A hard sell no doubt at the beginning of the Great Depression.

Ad for the new RCA Radiola with home-recording capabilities (Dec 19, 1930 Olean Times)

An ad in the December 19, 1930 issue of the Olean Times in Olean, New York read:

In addition to the highly perfected new Radiola Superheterodyne, and the very latest Electric Phonograph, Model 86 brings you a startling new feature — HOME-RECORDING! Thus Radiola 86 provides a great variety of entertainment that makes it a most complete musical instrument for the home. The exquisite console cabinet in Early English in design and finished in beautifully figured Walnut veneer. Height, 46 inches.

The December 1930 issue of Radio Craft magazine featured a cover which touted the burgeoning fad of home audio recording.

HOME-RECORDING is the latest adjunct to radio and has already reached a commercial stage such that the radio dealer and the independent Service Man can now cash in on this new feature.

Home-recording is likely to take the country by storm, as soon as the, public awakens to its possibilities. Parents would like to preserve the voices of their children—and children in turn will be anxious to preserve the voices of their parents and grandparents; so that the spoken word will remain after the little folks have grown up, or the old have gone.

A good deal of money can be made by installing such home-recording sets in homes; and the present article—the first of an authoritative nature to appear in any radio publication—brings together under one head the better- known recording anparatus now on the market.

The magazine called voice recordings on the Radiola an “audio snapshot,” a somewhat apt analogy to the photograph in its unscripted recording for posterity.

Matt Novak
Matt Novak writes about past visions of the future for BBC.com and Smithsonian.com.

More From Matt Novak

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

November 21 • 4:00 PM

Why Are America’s Poorest Toddlers Being Over-Prescribed ADHD Drugs?

Against all medical guidelines, children who are two and three years old are getting diagnosed with ADHD and treated with Adderall and other stimulants. It may be shocking, but it’s perfectly legal.



November 21 • 2:00 PM

The Best Moms Let Mess Happen

That’s the message of a Bounty commercial that reminds this sociologist of Sharon Hays’ work on “the ideology of intensive motherhood.”


November 21 • 12:00 PM

Eating Disorders Are Not Just for Women

Men, like women, are affected by our cultural preoccupation with thinness. And refusing to recognize that only makes things worse.


November 21 • 10:00 AM

Queens of the South

Inside Asheville, North Carolina’s 7th annual Miss Gay Latina pageant.


November 21 • 9:12 AM

‘Shirtstorm’ and Sexism in Science

Following the recent T-shirt controversy, it’s clear that sexism in science persists. But the forces driving the gender gap are still being debated.


November 21 • 8:00 AM

What Makes a Film Successful in 2014?

Domestic box office earnings are no longer a reliable metric.



November 21 • 6:00 AM

What Makes a City Unhappy?

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, Dana McMahan splits time between two of the country’s unhappiest cities. She set out to explore the causes of the happiness deficits.


November 21 • 5:04 AM

Sufferers of Social Anxiety Disorder, Your Friends Like You

The first study of friends’ perceptions suggest they know something’s off with their pals but like them just the same.


November 21 • 4:00 AM

In 2001 Study, Black Celebrities Judged Harshly in Rape Cases

When accused of rape, black celebrities were viewed more negatively than non-celebrities. The opposite was true of whites.


November 20 • 4:00 PM

Women, Kink, and Sex Addiction: It’s Not Like the Movies

The popular view is that if a woman is into BDSM she’s probably a sex addict, and vice versa. In fact, most kinky women are perfectly happy—and possibly healthier than their vanilla counterparts.


November 20 • 2:00 PM

A Majority of Middle-Class Black Children Will Be Poorer as Adults

The disturbing findings of a new study.


November 20 • 12:00 PM

Standing Up for My Group by Kicking Yours

Members of a minority ethnic group are less likely to express support for gay equality if they believe their own group suffers from discrimination.


November 20 • 10:00 AM

For Juvenile Records, It’s ‘Justice by Geography’

A new study finds an inconsistent patchwork of policies across states for how juvenile records are sealed and expunged.


November 20 • 8:00 AM

Surviving the Secret Childhood Trauma of a Parent’s Drug Addiction

As a young girl, Alana Levinson struggled with the shame of her father’s substance abuse. But when she looked more deeply into the research on children of drug-addicted parents, she realized society’s “conspiracy of silence” was keeping her—and possibly millions of others—from adequately dealing with the experience.



November 20 • 6:00 AM

Extreme Weather, Caused by Climate Change, Is Here. Can Nike Prepare You?

Following the approach we often see from companies marketing products before big storms, Nike focuses on climate change science in the promotion of its latest line of base-layer apparel. Is it a sign that more Americans are taking climate change seriously? Don’t get your hopes up.


November 20 • 5:00 AM

How Old Brains Learn New Tricks

A new study shows that the neural plasticity needed for learning doesn’t vanish as we age—it just moves.


November 20 • 4:00 AM

The FBI’s Dangerous Misrepresentation of Encryption Law

The FBI no more deserves a direct line to your data than it deserves to intercept your mail at the post office. But it doesn’t want you to know that.


November 20 • 2:00 AM

Brain Drain Is Economic Development

It may be hard to see unless you shift your focus from places to people, but both destination and source can benefit from “brain drain.”


November 19 • 9:00 PM

Gays Rights Are Great, but Ixnay on the PDAs

New research suggests both heterosexuals and gay men are uncomfortable with public same-sex kissing.


November 19 • 4:00 PM

The Red Cross’ Own Employees Doubt the Charity’s Ethics

Survey results obtained by ProPublica also show a crisis of trust in the charity’s senior leadership.



November 19 • 2:00 PM

Egg Freezing Isn’t the Feminist Issue You Think It Is

New benefits being offered by Apple and Facebook probably aren’t about discouraging women from becoming mothers at a “natural” age.


Follow us


Sufferers of Social Anxiety Disorder, Your Friends Like You

The first study of friends' perceptions suggest they know something's off with their pals but like them just the same.

Standing Up for My Group by Kicking Yours

Members of a minority ethnic group are less likely to express support for gay equality if they believe their own group suffers from discrimination.

How Old Brains Learn New Tricks

A new study shows that the neural plasticity needed for learning doesn't vanish as we age—it just moves.

Ethnic Diversity Deflates Market Bubbles

But it's not in the rainbow and sing-along way you'd hope for. We just don't trust outsiders' judgments.

Online Brain Exercises Are Probably Useless

Even under the guidance of a specialist trainer, computer-based brain exercises have only modest benefits, a new analysis shows.

The Big One

One company, Comcast, will control up to 40 percent of Internet service coverage in the U.S., and 19 of the top 20 cable markets, if a proposed merger with Time Warner Cable is approved by regulators. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.