As seen in:
Popular Science, November 1955.
What it was: An option for 1956 model-year Chrysler automobiles that put a phonograph player in your dashboard -- one that played special 7-inch LPs from Columbia that played at 16 2/3rpm and contained between 45 minutes and an hour of music. The player itself rested on cushions, was allegedly skip-proof, and cost about the same as a car radio.
Flies in the ointment: Here's how Popular Science described the experience of using Highway Hi-Fi:
You play records with no more fuss than it takes to work the radio-an obvious safety requirement. Press a button and the door flops open. Pull out the turntable as far as it will go, pick a record from the stack underneath, and push it against stops on the turntable -- it drops right over the spindle. Press a lever on the tone arm and move the arm until it stops. When you let go, the needle drops into the first groove and the music starts.
Sounds complicated to me, at least if you're trying to do it on the freeway with one hand, without taking your eyes off the road. And this account seems to leave out at least two steps: pushing the turntable back in, and performing the whole process a second time to listen to the flipside of the record. Also, who'd want to buy new copies of all their favorite music -- or at least everything that was available -- in a format that only worked in cars? (The article says there were no plans to build home players compatible with the discs.)
Another fly in the ointment, possibly the one that proved fatal: The players were apparently notoriously unreliable and complicated to repair.
When did the basic idea become practical? Highway Hi-Fi only lasted a couple of years; Chrysler tried again for 1960 with an RCA player that could take standard 45s, and failed again. A few years later, 8-track cartridges and cassettes put music in a much more car-friendly form that could also be played at home.
Modern counterpart: Until recently, I would have said the in-dash CD player. These days, though, it's just as likely to be an AUX port that lets you plug in your iPod or music-capable smartphone.
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