By James Grahame
One bleak winter weekend in early 1979, my family drove down from Canada on a shopping expedition to Minot, North Dakota. It was something we did a few times a year. I vividly remember gorging on a smorgasbord of Saturday morning cartoons on the three major networks. Most Canadians will reluctantly agree that homegrown talent like the Friendly Giant and Mr. Dressup couldn't live up to the big-budget splendor of the Pink Panther and Scooby Doo.
However, my father showed little interest in cartoons that Saturday morning. He had something else on his mind -- a sleek new stereo. After long hours of tedious comparison shopping, he settled on a Sony console stereo with AM/FM radio, cassette, lots of fake woodgrain and a futuristic record changer.
When we got home, I was admonished to take great care of this amazing example of Japanese technology. I did, for the most part. But I was captivated by the robotic brilliance of the mechanical record changer, to the point that I gleefully encouraged it to cycle through an almost endless stack of discs whenever the opportunity arose. Mercifully, the Sony withstood my onslaught with stoic determination. It remained fully operational for decades, and its speakers still grace my parents' living room.
Of course, this is simply a long winded way of admitting that I'm irrationally smitten by record changers.
The most fascinating of all are the older ones, like this Zenith Cobra-Matic phonograph from the mid-1950s. It resembles the bastard love child of a Studebaker, a sewing machine and a metal lathe (apparently record players are OK with threesomes). The device had only two controls -- a 7-10-12" size selector and a variable speed control that allowed playback of anything from 16 2/3 RPM audio books to 78 RPM oldies.
Amazingly, the real world version of this device shares the same glistening sheen as the airbrushed beauty pictured in the ad, thanks to all-metal construction and high-gloss paint.