Readers can tell that I’m a geek by the inclusion of a Technology section in this history of Rock and Roll story. It’s probable that the rock revolution would have happened without the new technology of the 50s, but it would have been a lot more gradual…maybe more of an evolution than a revolution.
There were 4 major technological drivers that coincided with the birth of Rock and Roll. First and foremost was the transistor radio. Radios weren’t new, even prior to the 50s they were in every home, but the invention of transistor radios that fit in a pocket and ran on batteries was a tremendous influence on rock. Now, for the first time, teens could carry their music with them, and the earphones allowed listening without censorship by their parents.
The second major technological impetus for the rock revolution was television. Adults could go out to concerts or nightclubs and see some of the rock performers on stage, but this was out of reach for most teens. Even traveling shows like Alan Freed’s historical rock tour played to very limited audiences. The TV brought the stars into living rooms everywhere, as Dick Clark highlighted a new star each week and Ed Sullivan brought the blockbusters to Sunday night.
Next is the 45 rpm single. Radio stations and juke boxes had just made the switch from the bigger, more delicate, 78s to the new inexpensive 45s. In the process, they “cleaned house”, and started their music collection anew. This opened the door to change. At the same time, us baby boomers, armed with spending money and new portable phonographs, snapped up the new singles.
Finally, any list of the technology in rock needs to include the electric guitar. Early rockers made do with saxaphones, acoustic guitars and a stand-up bass, but once Bob Dylan took the stage at the Newport Folk Festival with his amplifiers, music was changed forever.
This section will take a closer look at these technologies and others that helped make the Golden Age of Rock.