A gramophone record, commonly known as a phonograph record (in American English), vinyl record (when made of polyvinyl chloride), or simply record, is an analog sound storage medium consisting of a flat disc with an inscribed, modulated spiral groove. The groove usually starts near the periphery and ends near the centre of the disc. Phonograph records are generally described by their size ("12-inch", "10-inch", "7-inch", etc.), the rotational speed at which they are played ("33 r.p.m.", "45", "78", etc.), their time capacity ("Long Playing"), their reproductive accuracy, or "fidelity", or the number of channels of audio provided ("Mono", "Stereo", "Quadraphonic", etc.). (See below.)
Gramophone records were the primary medium used for commercial music reproduction for most of the 20th century, replacing the phonograph cylinder, with which they had co-existed, by the 1920s. By the late 1980s, digital media had gained a larger market share, and the vinyl record left the mainstream in 1991. However, they continue to be manufactured and sold in the 21st century. The vinyl record regained popularity by 2008, with nearly 2.9 million units shipped that year, the most in any year since 1998. They are used predominantly by young adults, as well as DJs and audiophiles for many types of music. As of 2010, vinyl records continue to be used for distribution of independent and alternative music artists. More mainstream pop releases tend to be mostly sold in compact disc or other digital formats, but have still been released in vinyl in certain instances.
78 rpm materials
Early disc records were made of various materials including hard rubber. From 1897 onwards, earlier materials were largely replaced by a rather brittle formula of 25% shellac, a filler of a cotton compound similar to manila paper, powdered slate, and a small amount of a wax lubricant.
The mass production of shellac records began in 1898 in Hanover, Germany, and continued until the end of the 78 rpm format in the late 1950s. "Unbreakable" records, usually of celluloid on a pasteboard base, were made from 1904 onwards, but they suffered from an exceptionally high level of surface noise. "Unbreakable" records could be bent, broken, or otherwise damaged, but not nearly as easily as shellac records. Vinyl was first tried out as a 78 rpm material in 1939, as a cigarette radio commercial mailed to stations, as vinyl was less breakable in the mail. On the record, mention is made of the Lucky Strike exhibit at the 1939 NY World's Fair. Decca introduced vinyl "Deccalite" 78s after the Second World War. During the war, the US Armed Forces produced thousands of V-Discs for the soldiers to play overseas, as well as giant 16-inch War Department radio transcriptions, all of which were made of vinyl. Victor made some vinyl 78s, but other labels would restrict vinyl production to the special DJ copies of 78s, which were also commonly issued in vinyl to be mailed to radio stations, during the late '40s and early '50s.
 78 rpm disc size
In the 1890s, the early recording formats of discs were usually seven inches (nominally 17.5 cm) in diameter. By 1910 the 10-inch (25.4 cm) record was by far the most popular standard, holding about three minutes of music or entertainment on a side. From 1903 onwards, 12-inch records (30.5 cm) were also sold commercially, mostly of classical music or operatic selections, with four to five minutes of music per side. (Victor, Brunswick and Columbia also issued 12" popular medleys, usually spotlighting a Broadway show score.) However, other sizes did appear. 8 inch discs with a 2 inch diameter label became popular for about a decade in Britain, but they cannot be played in full on most modern record players because the tone arm can't reach far enough without modification to the equipment.
 78 rpm recording time
The playing time of a phonograph record depended on the turntable speed and the groove spacing. At the beginning of the 20th century, the early discs played for two minutes, the same as early cylinder records. The 12-inch disc, introduced by Victor in 1903, increased the playing time to three and a half minutes. Because a 10-inch 78 rpm record could hold about three minutes of sound per side and the 10-inch size was the standard size for popular music, almost all popular recordings were limited to around three minutes in length.
For example, when King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band, including Louis Armstrong on his first recordings, recorded 13 sides at Gennett Records in Richmond, Indiana, in 1923, one side was 2:09 and four sides were 2:52–2:59.
By 1938, when Milt Gabler started recording on January 17 for his new label, Commodore Records, to allow longer continuous performances, he recorded some 12" records. Eddie Condon explained: "Gabler realized that a jam session needs room for development." The first two 12" recordings did not take advantage of the extra length: "Carnegie Drag" was 3:15; "Carnegie Jump", 2:41. But, at the second session, on April 30, the two 12" recordings were longer: "Embraceable You" was 4:05; "Serenade to a Shylock", 4:32.
Another way around the time limitation was to issue a selection on both sides of a single record. Vaudeville stars Gallagher and Shean, recorded "Mr. Gallagher and Mr. Shean", written by Irving and Jack Kaufman, as two-sides of a 10" 78 in 1922 for Cameo.
An obvious workaround for longer recordings was to release a set of records. The first multi-record release was in 1903, when HMV in England made the first complete recording of an opera, Verdi's Ernani, on 40 single-sided discs. In 1940, Commodore released Eddie Condon and his Band's recording of "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" in four parts, issued on both sides of two 12" 78s.
This limitation on the length of both popular-music and jazz numbers persisted from 1910 until the invention of the LP, in 1948.
In popular music, this time limitation of about 3:30 on a 10" 78 rpm record meant that singers usually did not release long pieces on record. One exception is Frank Sinatra's recording of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Soliloquy", from Carousel, made on May 28, 1946. Because it ran 7:57, longer than both sides of a standard 78 rpm 10" record, it was released on Columbia's Masterwork label (the classical division) as two sides of a 12" record. (See date.)
In the 78 era, classical-music and spoken-word items generally were released on the longer 12" 78s, about 4–5 minutes per side. For example, on June 10, 1924, four months after the February 12 premier of Rhapsody in Blue, George Gershwin recorded it with Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra. It was released on two sides of Victor 55225 and runs 8:59. Look under the title
 Record albums
Such 78 rpm records were usually sold separately, in brown paper or cardboard sleeves that were sometimes plain and sometimes printed to show the producer or the retailer's name. Generally the sleeves had a circular cut-out allowing the record label to be seen. Records could be laid on a shelf horizontally or stood upright on an edge, but because of their fragility, many broke in storage.
German record company Odeon is often said to have pioneered the "album" in 1909 when it released the "Nutcracker Suite" by Tchaikovsky on 4 double-sided discs in a specially-designed package.  (It is not indicated what size the records are.) However, Deutsche Grammophon had produced an album for its complete recording of the opera Carmen in the previous year. The practice of issuing albums does not seem to have been widely taken up by other record companies for many years; however, HMV provided an album, with a pictorial cover, for the 1917 recording of The Mikado (Gilbert & Sullivan).
By about 1910[note 1] bound collections of empty sleeves with a paperboard or leather cover, similar to a photograph album, were sold as "record albums" that customers could use to store their records (the term "record album" was printed on some covers). These albums came in both 10" and 12" sizes. The covers of these bound books were wider and taller than the records inside, allowing the record album to be placed on a shelf upright, like a book, suspending the fragile records above the shelf and protecting them.
Starting in the 1930s, record companies began issuing collections of 78 rpm records by one performer or of one type of music in specially assembled albums, typically with artwork on the front cover and liner notes on the back or inside cover. Most albums included 3 or 4 records, with 2 sides each, making 6 or 8 songs per album. When the 12-inch vinyl LP era began in 1949, the single record often had the same or similar number of songs as a typical album of 78s, which gave rise to the tradition of the term "album" being given to the LP.
Both the microgroove LP 33⅓ rpm record and the 45 rpm single records are made from vinyl plastic that is flexible and unbreakable in normal use. However, the vinyl records are easier to scratch or gouge, and much more prone to warping.
In 1931, RCA Victor (which evolved from the Johnson and Berliner's Victor Talking Machine Company) launched the first commercially available vinyl long-playing record, marketed as "Program Transcription" discs. These revolutionary discs were designed for playback at 33⅓ rpm and pressed on a 30 cm diameter flexible plastic disc, with a duration of about ten minutes playing time per side. In Roland Gelatt's book The Fabulous Phonograph, the author notes that RCA Victor's early introduction of a long-play disc was a commercial failure for several reasons including the lack of affordable, reliable consumer playback equipment and consumer wariness during the Great Depression. Because of financial hardships that plagued the recording industry during that period (and RCA's own parched revenues), Victor's "long playing" records were quietly discontinued by early 1933.
There was also a small batch of "longer playing" records issued in the very early 1930s: Columbia introduced 10" 'longer playing' records (18000-D series), as well as a series of double-grooved or longer playing 10" records on their Harmony, Clarion & Velvet Tone cheap labels. All of these were phased out in mid-1932.
However, vinyl's lower surface noise level than shellac was not forgotten, nor was its durability. In the late '30s, radio commercials and pre-recorded radio programs being sent to disc jockeys started being stamped in vinyl, so they would not break in the mail. In the mid-1940s, special DJ copies of records started being made of vinyl also, for the same reason. These were all 78 rpm. During and after World War II, when shellac supplies were extremely limited, some 78 rpm records were pressed in vinyl instead of shellac, particularly the six-minute 12-inch (30 cm) 78 rpm records produced by V-Disc for distribution to US troops in World War II. In the '40s, radio transcriptions, which were usually on 16-inch records, but sometimes 12-inch, were always made of vinyl, but cut at 33⅓ rpm. Shorter transcriptions were often cut at 78 rpm.
Beginning in 1939, Dr. Peter Goldmark and his staff at Columbia Records undertook efforts to address problems of recording and playing back narrow grooves and developing an inexpensive, reliable consumer playback system. The 12-inch (30 cm) Long Play (LP) 33⅓ rpm microgroove record album was introduced by the Columbia Record Company at a New York press conference on June 21, 1948. In February 1949, RCA Victor released the first 45 rpm single, 7 inches in diameter, with a large center hole to accommodate an automatic play mechanism on the changer, so a stack of singles would drop down one record at a time automatically after each play. Early 45 rpm records were made from either vinyl or polystyrene. They had a playing time of eight minutes.
On a small number of early phonograph systems and radio transcription discs, as well as some entire albums, the direction of the groove is reversed, beginning near the center of the disc and leading to the outside. A small number of records (such as Jeff Mills' Apollo EP or the Hidden In Plainsight EP from Detroit's Underground Resistance) were manufactured with multiple separate grooves to differentiate the tracks (usually called 'NSC-X2').