We may think the ability to download music and podcasts to our phones is a newfangled way to access these media. But that would be incorrect. As Alasdair Wilkins discusses, “People were “downloading” music from their phones way back in 1892.” In 1892, Scientific American had an article on the theatrophone in Paris, which had already been in use for two years. Wilkins states “the theatrophone allowed people to call into a theater and hear music played right over their phone”–something of an iTunes of the 1890s. The listeners were even charged 50 centimes for 5 minutes of music, according to Wilkins, citing Karmelek.

Wilkins draws from a Scientific American ” post “In 1892 Live Music Was Just a Phone Call Away” by Mary Karmelek. Like podcasts today, listeners could even subscribe. According to Karmelek, “One could either subscribe to receive the service in home or utilize one of the theatrophones set up in various locales such as hotels, restaurants, vestibules, and cafes throughout the city.”

Pretty cool. But telephones have been used for music from almost the beginning. In fact, some people argued that calling in to listen to music was a better use of the telephone than that silly conversation we more recently moved to. According to Forrest, James, and Wotring:

The first uses of the telephone included such broadcast-like episodes as: 1) a band playing the “Star Spangled Banner” in Boston while being listened to by an audience of 2000 in Providence, 2) a singer performing “The Marriage of Figaro” in Providence for an audience in Boston, and 3) 800 people in the Grand Union Hotel in Saratoga listening to a concert by telephone wire from Madison Square Garden

So, music on phones is not such a new idea. In fact, it is as old as phones!


Forrest, Edward J., Michael L. James, & C. Edward Wotring. “Multimedia Musings – Media Myopia.” Interact, Volume 3, No. 1, 1991.

Karmelek, Mary. “In 1892 Live Music Was Just a Phone Call Away.” Scientific American.  posted May 20, 2011.

Wilkins, Alasdair “People were “downloading” music from their phones way back in 1892. i09 posted May 22, 2011.

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