Photo Gallery | WJJW's 'The Vinyl Show'
NORTH ADAMS - Ryan Walters, a junior at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, is station manager for the college's radio station, WJJW, but it's as host of The Vinyl Show on Tuesday nights that he reveals his true music obsession: Vinyl records.
His last count totaled 700 records in his collection, but that was awhile ago.
"Records are more popular than CDs right now," Walters said. "Maybe not universally, but definitely within circles. Nobody is buying CDs anymore. That's how it's been for me for the last five years. I don't remember the last time I bought a CD. And it's starting to move that way with a lot of other people too."
Walters, 21, first started listening to vinyl in high school.
"It's the classic kid finding the albums story," he said. "I was searching through the attic one day and found all my father's old records. We didn't have a player in the house so I earned some money to buy a phonograph."
That first batch of 100 albums gave Walters a base, and it was no problem building up his own collection from there.
"When everybody in my extended family learned that I was getting into them, they decided to palm off all the ones they didn't want anymore," said Walters. "A very good day was when my Uncle Paul said, ‘Here, take these 200 albums home.' Stuff like that happened a lot."
This led Walters to record stores, thrift shops, antique stores, tag sales, even head shops, to discover new sounds. In the beginning, though, he thought he was alone in his enthusiasm.
"I had no idea that when I was starting to get into it, a lot of other people were at the same time," he said. "I didn't realize that until about a year or two in."
The music industry reports that vinyl sales have leaped 32 percent since last year, with new record stores opening and more artists making their new releases available on vinyl. Vinyl accounts for just 2 percent of all music sales, but digital music fell 6 percent the same period vinyl rose. Meanwhile, CDs have been on a downward sales slide for years. Amazon announced that, since 2008, vinyl sales on its site have soared an astonishing 745 percent. The actual number of new vinyl sales, not even taking into account the used market, is expected to reach 900,000 this year.
Luke Germain, owner of Tune Street in Great Barrington, confirms these statistics, and said the upswing in vinyl sales has made owning a record store fun again.
"We made a decision to bring vinyl back in the store," Germain said. "It brought kids back in the store."
Germain said that used records constitute 80 percent of the store's vinyl sales -- up to 300 albums a week. Now Tune Street is expanding their vinyl section, with more new releases, as well as a selection of turntables, which Germain notes are currently outselling CD players.
Hal March, who owns Toonerville Trolley Records in Williamstown, agrees that LPs are on the rise.
"CD sales have fallen way off," March said. "These days I would say I sell like 75 percent LPs to 25 percent CDs in the store."
Record stores benefit from people like Walters, a devoted browser. He said he enters a record store with no intentions, other than to peruse the stacks at his leisure and decides on purchases because of pre-knowledge, cover art and other factors.
Walters' attitude toward collecting has spilled into his radio show, which he said is stylistically all over the place, though governed by a mood each time he sits down at the mike. He also likes to make use of the station's two turntables to get creative in his presentation, mixing spoken word albums with instrumental ones for something completely new. On any given Tuesday, you might hear the story of "Winnie the Pooh" or the speeches of John F. Kennedy mixed with the music of Brian Eno.
Walters said that one of the big advantages to collecting vinyl for him has been the lesson in music history it has provided, a more tactile and experiential way that's in contrast to this era's overwhelming digital dump.
"I've connected more of the dots through records than I ever did before," Walters said. "I've always liked music, but I didn't really understand the past, how things happened. It's definitely easier to find all this history online, you can do it in five minutes. You can figure out the whole trajectory of how things happen. I would say those who care more do it through records because while it's not easier, it sticks with you more. It's not something you quickly forget, just because it meant a lot to you when you finally found that moment."