Paper Phonograph and Debut of LPs (Jan, 1932)

Phonograph Plays Paper Strips

ONE strip of paper will carry an evening’s entertainment under the new system developed by an Austrian company, under the title of the “Selenophon Piccolo,” by which the “sound tracks,” such as the standard moving-picture sound film carries, are printed in black and white on an inexpensive strip of paper. A thousand feet of this runs twenty minutes; the output of the photo-cell which scans it being amplified in the same manner as the output of the magnetic pickup used with an audio amplifier in phono-radio combinations. A single strip may carry as many as eight sound tracks, on each side. These are very cheaply made by photography.

In the sound track illustrated at the upper right, of the detail above, the wavy edges of the black lines correspond to the waves of sound which the loud speaker actually emits. The compact nature of the apparatus may be seen from the pictures of models of the “Selenophon” above.


Since, the introduction of the large electrically-transcribed records in use with motion-picture films, owners of radio-phonograph combinations have wondered why they could not be favored with the similar advantage of a long-playing record. This has at length been provided by a new record which, like the theatre machines, requires a turntable revolving at 33 1/3 r.p.m, instead of 78; and which has the further feature of having half as many grooves again to the inch. The new disc, besides carrying much more recording than the old types is much lighter and thinner, flexible and unbreakable, and has much lower “surface noise.” In addition, a lighter pressure on the needle preserves the point of the latter as well as the sharpness of the record grooves; three ounces on the needle point is 22,000 pounds to the square inch! New needles have been developed as well, with a tip of chromium, which resists wear much better than steel. A single 12-inch record will now carry a half hour’s entertainment, and a needle can play a dozen of these without change.

  1. Stephen says: December 25, 20105:38 am

    The LP was a seriously good idea, of course: they were only superseded in the 1980s. It seems strange to me that my sister’s children, born after 2000, have never seen a record played by a needle. On the other hand, using /paper tape/ to record sound seems very short-sighted: it would easily crumple or tear, and a smudge on the paper would break up the sound.

  2. jayessell says: December 25, 20106:16 am

    I was wondering about how the paper tapes would be mass produced .
    I can’t picture the printing press.
    An ink jet printer controlled by a master tape?
    (Yeah… I know… no inkjets in the 1930s.)

  3. Mcubstead says: December 25, 20107:31 am

    Wow, an optical based play back!!! I too am wondering how they produced the tape. Toward longevity, paper is a vague term, and in that period of time the quality was much higher than it is today. I suspect if they used a 100% cotton fiber base (common in writing paper of the period) it would last as long if not longer than an LP. Inks of the period were predominately pigment based not dye, once dry they would rarely smudge.

  4. Firebrand38 says: December 25, 201010:07 am

    The original Selenophone was printed on film. It seems a number of performances were recorded in that format and have been converted to current media……

    As regards the paper tape, insight on how it was made may be found here

    Apparently the last operating Selenophone of the film type is at the New York Public Library…

  5. Toronto says: December 25, 201010:56 am

    It would seem to me that the old “needle on smoked glass” mastering method might be photographically reproducible onto film stock or direct to paper – not a bad idea. And ten inches per second (1000 feet / 20 minutes) seems like a reasonable speed.

    Does anyone remember the “bar code strips” some computer magazines experimented with in the mid-to-late 1980s? You could scan programs in from magazines at densities of about 20k per page. That would have taken about 12 minutes by the modems of the day, if you could find the software on a local BBS.

Submit comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.