MP3 and Me

Good Things (by StarbuckGuy)

Although MP3’s are a small part of the computing spectrum of things that have changed my life, they’ve had a strong impact. I love ’em and use ’em. My iPod (child of MP3) is full of them, representing the things I listen to regularly: music, audiobooks, and podcasts.

To fully appreciate MP3’s I only have to think back to the late 50’s and early 60’s. Transistor radios were in the early stages of becoming a consumer product, thanks to the US space program and the subsequent development of solid-state technology.

1959 and my beloved Chicago White Sox were in the World Series. Back then they played ballgames during the day which, unfortunately, also corresponded with being at school. I was in grade 9 in Lyndon, Illinois, and one of kids in my class had a new, white transistor radio with an earphone stuck in one ear.

Periodically he would call out the score. That he was rooting for the recently-moved LA Dodgers made it worse as my Sox slowly went down to defeat. He was the rich kid in the class and I wanted to sock his smug face.

That year, the new high-fidelity sound systems, dubbed hi-fi, were beginning to expand into stereophonic recordings. The music aficionados, with their Heathkit amps and preamps and AR-3 speaker (singular) considered ‘stereo’ a fad, an unnecessary complication, and a detriment to the hi-fi sound.

By the time I went to university, four years later, stereo had supplanted mono completely. Four years after that, I acquired my first stereo system — a Lafayette receiver, turntable, and speakers. It was low end, but it was all I could afford on a student budget.

But try as I might, I never liked LP’s. They were fussy to keep clean and after very few plays they got scratchy. The big dust jackets had great artwork and I loved the liner notes, but the medium itself never appealed to me.

In the 70’s I upgraded to some nice Marantz stereo gear with a good turntable and a quality Shure cartridge, but I still didn’t like LP’s. In the 80’s when relatively high-quality cassette tapes appeared, I moved to tape and with the aid of a higher-end Sony tape player, got reasonable sound from them. But tape, while convenient, always sounded a bit muffled, even when played with all the Dolby enhancements.

I was slow to embrace CD’s in the early 90’s until I discovered that Vanguard and Elektra were issuing material from the 60’s folk era. I really liked 60’s folk and soon started accumulating CD’s.

I loved CD’s. I know audiophiles gripe about them, but to my non-audiophile ears they sounded clean and they were really convenient. Except for storage. Those damned plastic cases were thick and slippery. Environmentally unfriendly too, as we later came to appreciate. But if you took reasonable care of them, they didn’t get scratchy and lose their freshness.

Because I was a writer about things computerish during the 80’s and 90’s I watched the development of digital video and audio formats with interest. The advent of the DVD was terrific. Great quality video and sound, plus convenience that blew away VHS tapes.

But the dark horse in the mix was the lowly MP3 music format. Despised by audiophiles, they sparked a raging prairie fire of popularity, and all kinds of rippers appeared to convert CD’s into MP3 recordings, and players for the desktop computer became a hot item.

Portable players began to appear — some, like the high-end models from Creative Labs, had hard disks that could hold your entire music library. Soon that previous darling of the masses, the Sony Walkman, faded into technological extinction.

Apple both capitalized on the MP3 and boosted it into the stratosphere when it introduced the iPod and iTunes. Cracking through the reserve of the music industry, they offered music singles for 99 cents. And it became easy to sync podcasts with your iPod,  creating growing audience support for podcasting.

The rest, as they say, is history. History that is still unfolding. Recently there have been changes in the pricing structure of music from the iTunes store, and DRM (Digital Rights Management) has been removed., and other online stores, also sell MP3’s online.

This morning, before leaving the house for my daily walk, I slid a CD-R of MP3 jazz albums into my Bose Wave. The CD-R plays for hours. I’ve put my entire MP3 collection on my netbook so I can listen to anything that grabs my fancy wherever I am.

My little iPod — a 4GB Nano — slips in my back pocket and I listen to podcasts while I’m cooking or cleaning around the house. The MP3 has changed how I listen to audio — all for the better.

Yet I can’t help but note the similarity of my little Nano to the tiny transistor radio my classmate sported in 1959. Gadgets may change, but the love of gadgets endures.


About Gene Wilburn

Gene Wilburn is a writer ~ photographer ~ humanist
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8 Responses to MP3 and Me

  1. Barry says:

    Reading this brought back memories of my similar experiences over the years,although I never “disliked” LPs, as it didn’t occur to me at the time that anything else would ever be available. Dripping the cleaning fluid & careful wiping added ceremony to the anticipation, I found. Although, as you say, the crackles still cropped up quickly!

    I did try reel to reel tape in the early 60s, & that WAS a lot of trouble, but you really felt “professional” recording in that fashion. Not very portable, though!

    Much later, just as the MP3 wave was getting under way, I decided to move over to MiniDisc, & was pleased with the quality of the sound, & feel of the equipment. But, like you, it’s my iPod that gets most of the use!

    My parents, who married in 1939, went for “trannies” in a big way, having one or two in each room, but never moved away from that practice, & disdained my Walkman. Possibly because radio in Oz was & is very satisfying.
    Anyway,thanks for this Mike.

  2. Gene says:

    Mike, thanks for reply. I’d almost forgot reel to reel — some of my friends were into that. Yes, it looked (and was) so professional.
    Your folks are lucky — radio in NA has, on the whole, been little more than a pop-song vehicle for advertising. Fortunately Internet radio is a lot better.

  3. Chet says:


    One of the things I’ve been doing is buy CD versions of items from my LP collection. Whenever I visit my good friend Anne in Toronto, I would head over to Sam the Record Man to see if there’s anything new. I’ve gotten a few Elton John CDs from there, including Madman Across The Water and Tumbleweed Connection.

    However, I do think the digitally remastered CDs do not sound as good as the LPs.

    Oh, I just googled Sam the Record Man and found that the store on Yonge Street has closed! The last time I was there was in 1999.

  4. Gene says:


    I’m sure you’re right about the sound of CD’s compared to LP’s. I’ve been told this by many reliable people. It’s just that my tin ears don’t hear it. My loss, I’m sure.

    It was the end of an era the day Sam the Record Man closed. Over the years I bought SO many albums there. There are still some good record shops nearby, but these days I tend to buy CD’s from online stores.

    If you’re ever in Toronto again, let me know and I’ll treat you to a cappuccino, or whatever!

  5. MattNJohnson says:

    I wonder what it will be like in 10 years. My 6yo son fall asleep listening to music on his 4GB iPod Nano. It’s just a part of his daily life and he takes it for granted I’m sure. I just signed up for Netflix because I can watch movies online now on the Mac, the XBOX 360 and my PC. I started a movie last night on the XBOX, paused it, went upstairs, signed into Netflix on my Mac and picked up right where I left off. I didn’t have to download anything and I pay one monthly fee no matter how many movies I watch. I’m not advertising for Netflix, I’m only observing that the technology and delivery methods are evolving so fast that the producers and distributers of the media have a hard time keeping up. The DRM free iTunes is a recent change on iTunes. I don’t think anyone can predict were all this is headed, but I can’t wait to see it evolve! Thanks for the thought provoking post Gene. You’re truly, Matt

  6. Gene says:


    I’m looking forward to whatever comes next. Imagine the changes your son will see in his lifetime!

  7. Barry says:

    Gene, so sorry to have called you “Mike” in my earlier response! Mike is my brother who actually is in Australia, whereas I am along the shores of snowy Georgian Bay. My old(ish) mind must have drifted off to days in sunnier climes as I finished my little note to you.

    But I think you are a little unkind to NA radio in your kind response to me, even though you did qualify it by saying “on the whole”. Yes, of course commercial radio is the pits, but the CBC & also NPR in the US do a job worth listening to, I think. If only the CBC were less tiresomely & monotonously PC!

    Compare the CBC to the Beeb, if you will, in that area. It is quite possible to be informative, witty & cultured at the same time as being rather humorously vulgar. Or should that be vulgarly humorous?

    As evidence I refer you to a Channel 4 TV prog. called QI, (Quite Interesting)which is excerpted on YouTube. Very rude at times, but sooo “intellectual”, as well as funny. Worth a watch, although, given our North American prudery against vulgarity (but not war & murder!!) not a hope of us seeing it on even TVO.

    Finally, I liked very much the pic that accompanied your post. It evoked warmth & security, of a masculine kind. To me it suggested a man surrounded by his quality “things” – a better-than-average coffee, an almost-Leica film camera, his elegantly designed metal-bodied music machine, as well as the fountain pen & I hope (to keep the image up) a Filofax organiser. All reflected a nice balance of traditional as well as contemporary elements in the photographer’s psyche.

  8. Gene says:


    My apologies. I thought your name was Mike. My equally old(ish) mind gets easily confused.

    You’re right — there is some good radio out there if you go looking for it. And the magic of podcasting allows us to tap into excellent radio programming from around the world. My comment was probably too harsh. Some days I feel overwhelmed at the amount of advertising directed at me.

    I’m glad you liked the pic. It’s not a Filofax, but it is a classic Moleskine notebook (made famous by Hemingway and Picasso) LOL

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