The Groovy Magic of Vinyl

by Amy Scott, Volunteer Coordinator and Museum Store Manager

Most of us remember times during childhood when the line between magic and science appeared blurry. For me, that happened when I discovered vinyl records. Those shiny, seemingly supernatural objects transported me to other worlds and held all the enchantment of unicorns and fairy dust. I remember the thrill of setting down the needle of my portable turntable and waiting for the opening strains of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. I remember the heartbreak of scratching my beloved albums beyond repair. Most of all, I remember being mesmerized by the spiraling grooves on the glossy black discs, marveling that a needle passing over them could create music, and wondering how on earth such a thing could possibly work. It seemed like magic, but actually it was science (check out this article on eHow, “How Does a Record Player Work?“).

I recently purchased an Emerson Wondergram, a tiny portable turntable produced around 1960. It didn’t work when I bought it, but for the love of vintage audio electronics, I had to have it. It works like a charm now, thanks to my brother, who got the tone arm repaired for me as a birthday present.

Some people may wonder why anyone would want to listen to records at all, much less with such an obsolete ancestor of the Walkman. Records warp and collect dust. They crackle and produce interesting sound effects such as “hiss,” “pop,” and “tick.” You get strange pitch variations like “wow” and “flutter.” In light of all this, why would I want to invest time, money, and energy into resurrecting a dinosaur in the world of audio equipment?

Here’s why: my Wondergram is a thing of beauty. It is battery operated, and it fits easily inside a shoebox. When it’s standing on its three little legs, it resembles an Eames-era spaceship. A pair of wheels spins the record, and the speaker is on the underside. Its volume may be demure, and its sound quality may be poor by today’s standards, but what the Wondergram lacks in polish it more than makes up for in personality.

I can pack it up, along with some old Dean Martin records, in a giant picnic basket and take it into the mountains. What’s more, it is a wonderful time machine that carries me back to a place where perfection and purity in audio are not required. Nostalgia, not stress, overwhelms me when my record skips and chirps out the same bar of music over and over again. It takes me back to a time when I was young and Rock ‘N Soul Part 1 by Hall and Oates was new.

I’m amazed that I overlooked this charming footnote of music history. None of my friends and family members, many of them audiophiles, had ever encountered the Wondergram either. This old technology is brand new to me, and playing with it reminds me of the joy of playing with vinyl records for the first time. I am a kid again, in a bedroom plastered with unicorn posters, listening to a 45 of Sammy Davis, Jr. singing “The Candy Man.” It’s as though I am actually there. It’s almost like magic.

Listen to Amy’s Wondergram in action (excerpt from “Memories of Madrid” by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, A&M Records)

The Edison Wondergram

The Emerson Wondergram

Close-up of Wondergram action

Close-up of Wondergram action

Totally simple!

Totally simple!

The Wondergram is smalled than a Kleenex box!

The Wondergram is smaller than a Kleenex box!

Advertisements

4 Responses to “The Groovy Magic of Vinyl”


  1. 1 Lesley September 4, 2009 at 12:25 pm

    I wish my iPod looked that cool.

  2. 2 df January 14, 2010 at 6:01 pm

    Just posted this on the post below by mistake – should have posted here…

    I just got myself a Wondergram on ebay. I’ve had to tinker with it because it didn’t work at all when I first unpacked it, but now it works and it’s so lovely – now I just have to find all the vinyl I have stored at my parents’ house.
    I opened it up, and it’s almost as beautiful under the casing as it is outside – the genius of the electric and mechanical age, which we’ve now moved out of.

  3. 3 rapunzel747 May 31, 2010 at 4:32 pm

    Help help help!!! I was given a Wondergram by my father when I was a child and I still have it…original box and all…the foam has dryrotted and their isn’t much plastic left on the legs but otherwise it’s in very good condition…except for one thing….I can’t remember how to turn it on but then the batteries I used may not have been good…so I would really appreciate if anyone with a Wondergram could point me in the right direction.

  4. 4 as June 2, 2010 at 12:49 pm

    Hi,rapunzel747. In my limited experience with a functional Wondergram, the record should begin to spin when you move the tonearm out of resting position and onto the record. You’ll also want to make sure the lid is down to make the record play. Good luck with yours!


Comments are currently closed.



September 2009
S M T W T F S
« Aug   Oct »
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
27282930  

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 48 other followers

Flickr Photos

More Photos

%d bloggers like this: