Before we began listening to music as “ones and zeroes”, albums were actually … albums. Flat, grooved platters made of vinyl with a little hole in the middle. The cardboard protector, into which you would slide your album, usually started new inside a cellophane wrapper.
When I began in the business, new albums would arrive from record companies almost daily. Stamped “Promotional Copy Only – Not For Sale”, these nuggets of new music were specifically sent for on-air promotion.
Sometimes the record companies would send multiple copies of the same album or single. You see, vinyl isn’t nearly as nondestructive as “ones and zeroes”. And the record companies wanted to be sure you had all you needed to play their music on the air over and over again.
When I would work on Sunday mornings, our station played religious and public service blocks of programming to help fulfill our quota of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) public service. Once I had these large reel-to-reel tapes cued and playing, I had time for other things: making coffee, cleaning up the studios, writing and producing commercials or promotional announcements for the next day, and–most importantly–previewing some of the new music that arrived that week.
This is how I discovered Van Halen. I put their album on one of the large Gates turntables in the production room and started listening to “Running with the Devil”. Wow! Then “Eruption” segued into their cover of “You Really Got Me”.
I was so excited that I plopped the big, heavy tone arm at the start of each track. There wasn’t a loser among them. And the rest is history.
I enjoyed debuting songs and artists when the cardboard containers arrived. Even if an album was a dud, I could usually find a piece of a track that I could use behind a commercial or a high energy promo.
I still have a vinyl collection, but sadly, I don’t get to listen to it much. I have some of what had been popular when I was in the business as well as more esoteric titles.
These days, I’m much like everyone else. I usually play “ones and zeroes” while I type these posts.