What is: the Drive In movie sound system

What was: The concept for the first drive-in movie business originated with one man in the late 1920s. Richard M. Hollingshead, Jr. came up with the concept of watching movies from one’s car. He was looking for an alternative for his mother who was very uncomfortable in movie theaters. Hollingshead thought sitting in a car might be better for her and for others.

The best place to experiment with this possible plan was in his own driveway.  Taking a white bed sheet, he tacked it up between two trees in his backyard. He parked his car facing the sheet.  Next, he placed a projector on the hood of the car. He was delighted to see that once it became dark, it was relatively easy to watch a movie against the bed sheet.

Sound was the next issue he needed to address. If everyone was sitting in separate cars, how could music and dialog reach them?  For an answer, Hollingshead contacted the RCA Victor Company and described his concept for an outdoor theater. The fellow assured him that three good-sized speakers placed around a lot where cars were parked could provide adequate sound.  (When drive-in theaters first opened, they all relied on big speakers well placed around the drive-in lot.)

To make money, Hollingshead’s needed his business to accommodate many cars. He envisioned rows of cars with an elevated screen so cars parked further back would still be able to see the screen. That meant for more comfortable viewing, the cars needed to tilt back ever so slightly. To accomplish that, he planned on short, low ramps to elevate the front of the car slightly.  That way passengers leaned back a bit to look up toward the raised screen.

Hollingshead received a patent for his plan on May 16, 1933. By this time, he had enlisted a couple of investors and found a 400-acre lot in Camden, New Jersey. He named the company Park-In Theatres.  The next step was ordering a custom-built 40 by 50-foot screen.

By 1941, RCA introduced a new speaker system for use in outdoor theaters. The ground needed to be wired so that posts with two speakers could be installed between cars. Drivers would pull up into the parking places between the poles. The speakers could be removed from the pole and hung over the windows of the car. That way each family had a speaker and could control their own volume for the film.  These initial speakers were a bit tinny in sound, but the sound quality improved over time.

Today speaker set and pole can be purchased online for about 350.00

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