A short story about CDs

CDs have entered our lives dynamically since the late twentieth century and despite the “crisis” they face, thanks to streaming and other technologies that are thriving today, they continue to claim a large part of the pie in the music industry. It is arguably the most popular medium in the world for playing and storing music, and it all started with one person. Or maybe not?

The person who invented the CD is still in question. This is because all the credits for the original idea, development and realization, even for the final product, as we know it today, cannot be attributed to one single person. However, most part of the invention is often attributed to James Russell. This is mainly because, in 1965, inspired by a revolutionary idea, Russell designed on paper an ideal music recording system to replace vinyl records. He envisioned a medium that could record and reproduce audio without physical contact between the individual sections as was the norm until then. That is how it kicked off! And there was CD! Well, not exactly…

From Russell’s vision to the realization of his invention, there were several steps to be made. The idea was gradually enriched, and several different technological advances were incorporated into it, such as the laser (1960), digital recording (1967) and optical disc technology (1970). It was Sony and Philips who realized the potential of CD ROM technology, bought the idea and developed it together, in 1979, to finally deliver to the market the small (compared to vinyl), glittering disk that would revolutionize the music industry.

What happened next is history we are all more or less aware of. But did you all know those tiny, yet remarkable details about this popular medium?

The world’s first CD was created in Langenhagen, Germany, on 17 August 1982. The first album was “The Visitors” by ABBA.

The CD is supposed to store 74 minutes of continuous music. But why 74 specifically? This is said to have been decided by Sony’s Vice President, Norio Ohg, as his wife’s favorite song was Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

Dire Straits, by Brothers in Arms, was the first album to sell over a million CDs.

The “Tomorrow’s World” BBC show host, Kieran Prendiville, although he presented the new invention to his audience in 1981, was skeptical about whether there was indeed an audience interested in the CD.

Shows like Kieran Prendiville’s were followed by a frenzy. They were all determined to show off the durability of the CD and started scratching CDs with stones, even spreading honey and jam on them, and put them to play.

But knowing today that even a fingerprint can cause skipping and playback problems, do we really believe they were the same CDs they put back then into players? Probably not.

More than 200 million CDs have been sold worldwide. It is also estimated that if all the CDs ever made in the world were piled up, they would circle the Earth six times.

The first commercially available CD Player was Sony’s CDP-101, which was released in 1982. Sony’s CEO, Nobuyuki Idei, took the model’s name after the numbers 0101 (number five in the binary code), which, indirectly but undeniably, meant that it was a middle-class product.