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The history of DJing

It all starts with "vinyl"

The phonoautograph was invented in 1857 in France. Although it was able to record sound, there was no possibility to playback. It took twenty more years before Charles Cros from France invented a phonograph, but unlike Thomas Alva Edison, Cros never actually build one. In the United States, Edison invented the phonograph cylinder that was able to play back recorded sound. The first commercial gramophone records were produced by Emile Berliner and sold to the public in 1892. Fourteen years later, in 1906, it was Reginald Fessenden who transmitted the first audio radio broadcast playing William Handel’s “Largo” from Xerxes.

The pioneer Disc Jockeys

In 1909, at age 16, Ray Newby, of Stockton, California, became world’s first disc jockey and started playing records on a small spark transmitter under the authority of radio pioneer Charles "Doc" Herrold.

"We used popular records at that time, mainly Caruso records, because they were very good and loud; we needed a boost... we started on an experimental basis and then, because this is novel, we stayed on schedule continually without leaving the air at any time from that time on except for a very short time during World War I, when the government required us to remove the antenna... Most of our programming was records, I'll admit, but of course we gave out news as we could obtain it..."—Ray Newby, I've Got a Secret (1965)

In the early years of radio broadcasting, content typically included comedy, drama, news, music, and sports reporting, “live” as well as pre-recorded, but the term disc jockey was not used yet. The on-air announcers and programmers would later be known as disc jockeys. In 1927, Christopher Stone became the first radio announcer and programmer in the United Kingdom, on the BBC radio station.

The term disc jockey was first used in 1935 by American radio commentator Walter Winchell to describe Martin Block; the first radio announcer that became famous for his show "Make Believe Ballroom" where Block would pretend he was broadcasting from a ballroom by playing the nation’s top dance bands. The term “disc jockey”, derived from “disc”, referring to the disc records and “jockey” which is a machine operator, caught on and appeared in print in "Variety" in 1941.

The rise of the DJ

In 1943, Jimmy Savile organized the world's first DJ dance party by playing jazz records in the upstairs function room of the Loyal Order of Ancient Shepherds in Otley, England. He also claims to have become the first DJ to use twin turntables for continuous play.

Gradually radio disc jockeys became famous separate from the radio station. In the days before station-controlled playlists, the DJ often followed their personal tastes in music selection and played a big role in exposing rock and roll artists to large, national audiences. DJ Bill Randle of WERE 1300AM was one of the first to introduce Elvis Presley to radio audiences.

In the 1950s, American radio DJs started appearing live at "sock hops" and "platter parties". They would usually play hit singles on 45-rpm records while talking between songs. Occasionally, a live drummer was hired to play beats between songs to keep the dance floor alive.

Developping DJ skills

Between 1969 and 1975, with more specialized equipment on the market, special techniques like beat matching (creation of seamless transitions between records with matching beats) slip-cuing, (holding and releasing a record to create a sudden transition), scratching and mixing back and forth between two identical records to extend the rhythmic instrumental segment, or break. Turntablism was started.

In 1977 the Disco Bible was introduced by disc jockey Tom L. Lewis. Later renamed to Disco Beats it published hit disco songs listed by BPM (beats per minute), as well as by either artist or song title. This way beginning DJs could easily learn how to create seamless transitions between songs.

MTV was launched in 1981 and originally broadcasted mainly popular rock music videos. This initiated the term "video jockey", or VJ, to describe the young and gorgeous looking announcers of videos.

DJs are taking over the world

Starting in the mid-1980s, the wedding and banquet business started to be taken over by DJ companies thanks to their skills and knowledge of audience participation, MC charisma, and "crowd-pleasing" repertory selection.

During the early 1990s, the rave scene changed dance music, the image of DJs, and the nature of promoting. Famous DJs started touring around the world and were able to branch out into other music-related activities.

The gramophone record started to lose popularity due to the Compact Disc. In 1992, MPEG designed the MPEG-1 standard to produce reasonable sound at low bit rates. The MPEG-1 Layer-3, popularly known as MP3, later revolutionized the digital music domain.

The birth of Internet Radio and digital DJ revolution

In 1993 it was Carl Malamud who developed the first internet "radio station", Internet Talk Radio. By relaying audio over the internet, it was possible to access internet radio stations from anywhere in the world, making it popular for both amateur and professional disc jockeys. During the late 1990s, various DJ and VJ software programs were developed, allowing anyone with a PC to DJ or VJ using their own music or video files.

The first MP3 digital audio player (the Eiger Labs MPMan F10) was released in 1998. Final Scratch came out with the first digital DJ system enabling DJs to control MP3 files through special time-coded vinyl records or CDs. Although it took a while before "die hard Vinyl DJs" would warm up to this innovation it was the first step in the new Digital DJ revolution.

In 1999, Shawn Fanning released Napster, the first of the extremely popular file sharing systems. During this period, the AVLA (Audio Video Licensing Agency) of Canada announced an MP3 DJ license, administered by the Canadian Recording Industry Association, which would give DJs the right to perform in public using music stored on a hard drive, rather than bringing their entire CD collection to work.

2000 came with a bang! The role of the DJ is developping faster than ever before and now in 2012 taking a prominent place in the music and entertainment industry. If you are or aspire to become a DJ and need help with your set up, from software, to streaming to marketing and networking, please contact us.

Credits: Read the complete history on Wikipedia.

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