Hello, Phonette!

Today was a very nice day for thrift-store shopping. I would say “great,” but it could only have been great if I’d had more extra cash– but alas, this was not so. Regardless, I managed to pick up what may be my coolest thrift-store find ever!

No, I didn’t take the picture, but yes… I’m now the proud owner of a shiny red “Phonette” hand-operated record player. It’s a very nifty device. The lid is hinged in such a way that it can function as a “tabletop” for the player when open, and protects the player when closed. The crank is able to be pushed in so that it becomes hidden in the side of the player, to protect it from damage during transit; a significant feature when you consider the ugly history behind these little wonders.

You guessed it– or you managed to read the words “Gospel Recordings” off the handle– these are the now-outdated tools of missionaries worldwide. It amazes me that nobody ever bothered to make something like this for people without electricity to just listen to music… but my hope is that a large number of them were “re-purposed” by native people globally for non-Jesus use.

Since I’m on the topic, dig some of the other neat-o devices the missionaries need to let me play with:

This is the “CardTalk,” a super-low-tech record player. You are supposed to use a small stick to push the record around in a circle. See the black dot off-center in the label area? That’s where the stick goes. I have to say, if someone showed up to tell me about god, I’d be fairly unimpressed about the “pushing a record with a stick” show.Equally unimpressive in the revival tent of my mind is the “Messenger II,” whose creators earn a few points in my “inadvertent irony” category for the use of Roman numerals:

Again, this is a fully human-powered device, which is pretty cool. One or ten of these would surely find a lovely home in my collection of things that make noise, so if you’re looking for the perfect gift to give me for all my hard blogging work… Oh? You say you’re hint-blind? Here’s a link to the order page. Feel free to surprise me in the quantity column.

My initial suspicions about “re-purposing” of these audio devices are probably right on the money. Witness (har har) the “MegaVoice Messenger,” a fixed-message digital audio player.

The key words here are “fixed” and “message,” meaning that the end-user can’t tamper with the evangelical nonsense, and insert his own name in place of Jesus. Sorry, “Bob Christ,” you’ll have to stick to iPods. Still, I have to totally drool over this device. It can hold up to 160 hours (goddamn!) of stereo listening with headphones (or use the internal speaker), although your 9-volt battery will wear out in about 10 hours… for this purpose, you can purchase a solar-power attachment. Sony, take note. These people are on to something.

Back to those pesky fixed messages, though. How do they get on the player in the first place? Enter… the “MegaVoice Scribe”:

The “Scribe” is basically DRM taking physical shape. Instead of allowing “tampering” of the amazing messages contained within the “Messenger,” the Scribe allows privileged operators to port audio from a computer to some sort of flash media setup, and then on to the Messenger. It is also able to run a smart-detect feature to determine the operator’s skin color, and will only turn on for whites. I believe a pith helmet is used as a dongle.

Just kidding! (But this may come up in future models, so watch the MegaVoice product page, eh?) Obviously, all this stuff is just begging for oddmusicians to put everything to better use. If you happen to come up with anything, feel free to leave a comment or two– and if you record it, I’d be extra happy to link to your mp3 file!

As a side note, check out how the charm of these players has totally been lost along the years. The record-on-a-stick thing is kinda ugly, but maybe a little fun. The Phonette is downright loveable, with its goofy, round tone arm and pleasing red paint job. The Messenger II is beginning to become ugly, but at least gets a few points for color-coding the buttons for illiterate folks. The you get to the MegaVoice line, which all look like ugly garage door openers with an iPod-wannabe complex. Yuck.

8 Responses to “Hello, Phonette!”

  1. chi Says:

    The fixed message is probably held on a ‘read only memory’ or ROM chip, which has a memory layer accessible through a little window. As i remember, these little tykes are written using a high power ultra violet box. The memory is etched on the chip with a kind of stencil. The contents can’t then be changed without use of another box, but i think (usually) it can only be destroyed.
    They can be made in batches and the memory is permanent and requires no back-up electricity. i think they are still used in the industry. Not quite as much as they once were.

  2. motleyjust Says:

    The history of the “Phonette” can be found here

  3. Daniel Thompson Says:

    Cool stuff. I would love to find one of those cardboard record players. I’m sure they could be sold very cheaply, if someone could be bothered to produce them. I found an Optigan organ at a thrift store once. It uses strange record size optical discs. The disks are transparent so you can play them upside down and backwards or play two at once. It’s kind of cool in a cheesy kind of way. I hope to record it sometime.

  4. howsthatsound Says:

    whoa! you keep finding the coolest shit! i’m so jealous. although looking at that cassette player has given me some hacking ideas so it looks like we both win.

    and daniel, an OPTIGAN!?! holy shit! i’m a big failed music tech geek, so you are totally making me drool on my laptop now.

    i hate you guys… ;)

  5. Sonney Dey Says:

    DaveX YOU LUCKY DIRTY AUDIOPHILE DOGMEISTER! That damn “Phonette” has got to be the most pristine thrift store score of all time. If you tell me you got that for less than $35 I swear I’ll haul out my DaveX voodoo doll and commence to playing my SSgt Barry Sadler vinyl record in its ear.

    Oh I’ve had my day of good gets. Like the “Not For Sale” Coral blue label first Buddy Holly album, which means it was a radio station copy or a demonstrator at an appliance store; but after 75 or so spins ole Buddy’s analog grooves are about down to gravel road sound quality.
    Or the 125 and 80 watt Motorola suitcase phonographs I’ve scored for $35 and $25 each; but they’re both dead, with the 125 watt unit crashing and catching fire and creating a near Bophol, India toxic fume event in the garage.
    Sure I’ve got a functional “Astrotone” on legs 16/78/45/33 speed player; but when I cleaned the decades of baked on dust off its 7 tubes there were no serial #s, so it’s screwed being I find nothing on-line about the Astrotone except some vintage guitar stomp pedal and a Japan vintage guitar in the Teisco vein of beater 60s garage band axes.

    But this Phonette, now that’s something. Whereas my Motorola units weighed 49 lb and the Astrotone 52 lb, and both are slaves and need plugged into Reddy Killowatt, your blessed Phonette could be toted to Turley Park and cranked up and boom instant good times with the 40 ouncer and pint of Kessler whiskey– I’m talkin’ me doin’ that DaveX, of course. And dare I say that a dude like me might sit at a Mall food court with this and spin Olivia Newton John’s epic “I Honestly Love You” for a chick on a 45 vinyl, and boom she hustles me to her SUV to do the deed, hey it could happen man!

    My question is are you cranking up a spring with this Phonette, or cranking up a DC volt charge?

    Malcolm “Sonney” McShannon, III of Marion, IL

  6. Sonney Dey Says:

    Dear DaveX:

    In September of last year I came by miracle into possession of the “Astrotone” 4 speed phonograph am/fm clunker. It’s a Made In UK thing and I’ve no idea if it was ever distributed in America. 45 watts of fun. I’ve added a jack and utilized the suitcase speaker of one of my old burned-out Motorola “StereoPhonic” suitcase phonographs. Replaced a dry-rotted left speaker and added a hidden bass dedicated speaker hidden below.
    It only gets one local radio station on FM and I haven’t bothered to find any rabbit-ears for it.

    I did actually listen to The New Testament on 16 speed LPs once… but you must understand that I was crazy because of low beer money funds at that time (But take note that it was old Bud Collier of the Superman radio show that narrated that box-set of bible drivel, and that’s why I justified scoring it for $4 back in 2004.). Hell I owed it to the Salvation Army to buy that, being that I’ve scored so much record players and LPs and 45s off them on the cheap. I mean wtf I got Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman” there on a 50 cent for two records day fer-cryin’-out-loud.

  7. startlingmoniker Says:

    If memory serves, I got the Phonette for $5. It is neither spring nor electric-generating– it seems to have a governing gear system, so you crank it by hand, and after a certain speed, it simply tops out at approximately the correct RPM. If you quit cranking, it quits spinning. Very low tech!

  8. startlingmoniker Says:

    I make it a rule to buy 16RPM records. They’re rare enough of a find around here that they’re still a fun rarity for me to discover, and they’re tons of fun to mess around with, speed-wise.

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