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Tag Archives: Dr. Peter Goldmark

First, There Was Highway Hi-Fi

Did you know that in the 1950s, you could buy cars with special record players installed? Dr. Peter Goldmark invented the Highway Hi-Fi in 1955, and Chrysler agreed to install them in their cars. In order to allow for longer playing time, and therefore less time changing the record, Goldmark slowed the rotations to 16 2/3 rpm, which is one half of the Long-Playing (LP) speed. He also shrank the record to 7 inches in diameter so that it could fit into a car’s glove compartment. However, this required the record to contain three times as many grooves per inch as the LP.

Goldmark developed the ultra microgroove record, but was afraid the turntable might not work in an automobile. Once he balanced it properly, however, the turntable could withstand sudden stops, cobblestones, potholes, etc. Chrysler went ahead with production, advertising the Highway Hi-Fi as a wonderful new innovation. But they had installed it in Dodges and Plymouths, which have different suspension and other characteristics than the Chrysler line. The machine made terrible noises, jumped grooves, and did everything that it wasn’t supposed to do. But Goldmark pulled it off, and was able to develop a Hi-Fi system that worked in these cars. The press conference was a success. All seemed well, the cars were certain to sell.

But it didn’t take off. Complaints abounded about the way the record players worked. Chrysler and Columbia Records failed to do the proper marketing by not advising prospective customers how to acquire additional records. Dealers stopped stocking the cars with Highway Hi-Fi, and Chrysler relaxed its promotion.

 The Highway Hi-Fi disappeared from the highway, but appeared in homes. The record-changer manufacturers liked the idea of the 16 2/3 rpm record that they included the new speed in their changers “so you can take home your Highway Hi-Fi.”

The interesting thing is that hardly anyone knows about these Highway Hi-Fi record players. Just as the youth of today may not have heard of or seen an 8-track player, which was largely popular in automobiles in the 1960’s. Later, cassette tapes became more popular, not only in cars but in personal/portable tape players. Eventually we were all in awe of the CD players in cars (and WOW, a 6-CD changer!). Now, that is all old news in the age of MP3 players. What’s next? Who knows. We sure have come a long way from Highway Hi-Fi.

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