Young collector gives vinyl records new life | St. Louis Public Radio

Young collector gives vinyl records new life

May 17, 2008

It all started, this fascination with vinyl record albums, says David MacRunnel, back when he was 2 years old.

"My mother (Linda) used to force me to listen to records, her music, Andy Williams and Johnny Mathis, 24-7," says MacRunnel of Creve Coeur.

David MacRunnel
Credit Provided by David MacRunnel

A mere 14 years later, the sophomore at Parkway Central High School in Chesterfield, is two-racks deep in his personal vinyl collection. McRunnel is up to about 1,200 albums, he says, and he'll add more when he's got a little extra change.

Not only was baby MacRunnel enduring "Moon River" and "Chances Are" at age 2, he already was calculating how to operate Mom's turntable. He wanted to listen to his own music.

"I started figuring it out around 2. We had a linear turntable. It broke when I was 5." My father (Dale, who's an over-the-road truck driver) said to throw it away, but I took it apart and learned how a belt drive works."

Learning how to play "Woodstock," the record he most wanted to listen to, wasn't the challenge. "The hard part was the receiver. It had 45 buttons. I had to learn to find Phono." And "Woodstock" didn't get the obsession started, that distinction goes to Styx's "Paradise Theater," which was a gift.

These days MacRunnel plays his records on a Technics turntable with an Onkyo receiver played through JBL speakers. The turntable "is a piece of junk. But it's hard to make vinyl sound bad."

'Vinyl gets its groove back'

MacRunnel and his passion for records was featured in "Vinyl Gets Its Groove Back," an article in the Jan. 21 issue of "Time" magazine. An e-mail he wrote to "Stereophile" magazine led a "Time" reporter to him.

The magazine, he says, "was more interested in the social aspects" of the resurgence of of LPs. "I am," he says, "all about sound quality. Vinyl sounds more rounded and natural and real. CDs tend to sound harsh and cold. But not in all cases. There is bad vinyl, and there are good CDs."

MacRunnel may be only 16, but musically he's an old soul. He likes show tunes and soundtracks. A recent trip to the Goodwill Store in Creve Coeur, where he pays 50 cents an album, landed him, in no particular order, the "Patton" movie soundtrack, a box set of Ella Fitzgerald, vintage radio shows and speeches by Winston Churchill.

He ticks off other treasures: The Beatles, "3 Dog Night Greatest Hits," Count Basie, Joan Baez and "Blues highlights from 1968-69." No, not B.B. King. "You know," he says, "the hockey team."

Asked to name one LP with especially high fidelity, he says without hesitation, "Dire Straits' 'Brothers in Arms.' "It sounds amazing. It was well done." He is particularly fond of Strauss' "Also Sprach Zarathustra," "The Dawn of Man" theme from "2001: A Space Odyssey."

Goodwill's half-a-buck going rate, lured MacRunnel away from Vintage Vinyl in University City, though he still checks out online sites. The price isn't what drives his buying decisions. The quality of his record purchases "has to be almost perfect. I am very finicky." And, "No rap, no country." (The tagline under his email address reads: Music is like candy, it's only good when you get rid of all the rappers.)

David has a Russco turntable, once used at a radio station, idling in his basement. It needs refurbishing. For the moment, he's restricted to doing his listening in his bedroom.

"My mother would not allow record playing in the living room. No stereo, no equipment in the living room. She doesn't like technology, not even microwaves or computers."

He's an enthusiastic reader -- everything from "the fourth book by Michio Kaku, the theoretical physicist, to Robert Ludlum to Tom Clancy."

McRunnel's friends and even some of his teachers call him "dMac." He has been proud to tell them about his moment of fame in "Time."

"I posted it on the internet and sent it to all of my friends. I posted it on Facebook and audiokarma.org."

The reaction from "dMac's" circle?

"Astonishment, amazement, especially by people who said 'Vinyl is dead.' And then I wind up in 'Time'

David aspires to be a recording engineer. He recently recorded ("on reel-to-reel and cassette") the live show choir and jazz band at Parkway's spring music show to convert to complementary CDs for graduating seniors and departing teachers.

Nonetheless, he's up early on a Saturday morning to enthuse about not only his passion for LPs, but more important, the eclectic music embedded in those dormant grooves.

He has a brand new copy (to replace his old one) of Steely Dan's "Aja" that he's "saving for just the right time. ... And I got a sealed Don McLean debut."

With "American Pie"?

"No," he says, " before 'American Pie.' I have American Pie."

Despite his limited budget, he's not immune to the occasional binge. "I bought five Little River Band albums in one day and played them all."

He stresses that he's not an archivist motivated by nostalgia-chic. Some vinyl enthusiasts, he says, rave about albums because of the artwork. "Or they say, 'It's so old, it's cool. So I'm cool.' I am not that kind of person."

Case in point: "I have an original, UK pressing of the Who's 'Tommy.' Part of the cover is shredded by a dog. But I don't care because it sounds great."

And what does MacRunnel do when he brings home a record album (no Johnny Cash or Willie Nelson) that he finds he just doesn't like?

"I try," he says, without a trace of irony, "to find good homes for them."

Paul Povse, Springfield, is a former columnist who's teaching journalism at Southern Illinois University - Carbondale.