Who knew that some noises would eventually become as extinct as the dodo? Depending on your age, you or your kids or grandchildren may have heard some of the following sounds only in old movies, if at all.
1. Rotary Dial Telephone
The formerly familiar swooosh as the caller rotated the dial clockwise to the “finger stop” and then the click-click-click as the dial returned counter-clockwise to the start position is now a novelty application that you can install on your iPhones for nostalgic yuks. Adolescents standing nearby will wonder what the heck that sound is.
2. Manual Typewriter
Manual typewriters had an entire subset of unique sounds that made them immediately identifiable. The keys clacked loudly as they struck the paper, the carriage lifted up with a distinct clunk when the shift key was employed, and then there was the ping of the bell warning you that you were nearing the end of the line. That meant you had to lift your left hand from the keyboard and swipe at the carriage return lever, which caused a sort of ziiiiip noise as you pushed the carriage back to the starting position.
3. Coffee Percolator
If steampunk had an aural definition, it would be the bloop-hissss of an old-school coffee percolator.
4. Flash Cube
The loud rapid-fire click-clack of an Instamatic camera equipped with a flash cube was a common background sound at any social gathering in the 1960s. It was a technological breakthrough to be able to snap off four—count ‘em, four!—photos in rapid succession without having to pause and install a new flash bulb after every shot. Even back then, eco-minded individuals were concerned with the amount of waste flash cubes created, so it became a common holiday craft project to repurpose the used cubes into trendy Christmas tree ornaments.
5. TV Channel Selector Knob
When announcers of yesteryear used to admonish viewers, “Don’t touch that dial!,” they were referring to the channel selector knobs found on TV sets. The standard TV dial went from 2 to 13, and you had to click on each number as you searched for one of the three channels that broadcast in your area. That meant a lot of clunk clunk-ing interspersed with the static-y sound of “snow” on the blank stations.
6. Record Changer
Record changers allowed you to stack a selection of albums or 45s (7-inch singles) for your longer-term listening pleasure. Each record would make a soft slap sound as it dropped onto the turntable; a series of clicks followed as the remaining records adjusted into place and the tone arm swung over and lowered the needle into the outer grooves of the record. You’d hear the slightest scritch noise as the stylus settled just so into the vinyl and then (finally!) the music began.
7. Gas Station Driveway Bell
Back in the days when all gas stations were full-service, the thin black pneumatic hose that snaked across the pavement was as familiar as the fuel pumps. When vehicles drove over the hose, a loud bell ding-dinged! inside the station, alerting the attendant that they had another customer. You can hear one here—and even order one for your home driveway if you really dislike your neighbors.
8. TV Station Sign-Off
Before infomercials were invented, television stations actually went off the air for a few hours each night. Some viewers probably experienced physical withdrawal symptoms when they heard the announcer intone, “We now conclude our broadcast day ... ” around 2 a.m. or so. The format varied little from station to station across the country; first a few technical details were announced (broadcast frequency, physical address of the station), and then a recording of the national anthem played, followed by the steady beeeeeeeeeeeeeep tone of the test pattern.
9. Cash Register
Those chunka-chunka push buttons were clumsy, but veteran cashiers could check you out just as fast with these old-style machines as their modern counterparts do with today’s scanners.
10. Film Projector
One of the jobs of the classroom A/V squad captain was to run the film projector on movie days. The rapid tick-tick-tick of the sprockets really was that loud and usually accompanied by shouts of “Turn it up!” and, of course, “Focus!”
11. Broken Record
Remember when you’d beg Mom over and over for something and she’d finally yell, “You sound like a broken record”? She wasn’t referring to pops or hisses, but the repetitive effect that happened when the needle got stuck and played the same few notes over and over and over again.
An earlier version of this article ran in 2011; it has been updated for 2023.