The 45 rpm vinyl single is a fragile black platter, 7 inches in diameter, with a doughnut-hole center and concentric ridges. To baby boomers, it brings back memories of living-room bashes and junior high make-out sessions. To anyone under age 20, it's as foreign as a rotary phone.
But its current irrelevancy hasn't deterred Bill Windsor, a 54-year-old Dunwoody, Ga., entrepreneur, from compiling one of the largest collections of 45s around. At his Web site, www.45s.com, collectors can buy almost every vinyl single that charted on the Billboard 100 from the 1950s to the '90s, most for a modest $5.
"Except for Sinatra, the Beatles and Elvis, most of my 45s aren't worth that much," Windsor says. "I bought most of the records at flea markets, junk shops, real cheap at record shows."
His priciest single is a rare $300 1965 Beatles EP with songs such as "I'm a Loser" and "Mr. Moonlight." But even among 185 different Presley 45s he offers, only eight are priced above $18
"There's that time-warp effect when you take a 45 and throw it on a turntable and crank it up," says Walter Zmija, 57, a Detroit police officer who regularly buys 45s from Windsor. "I enjoy the pops and crackles and hisses."
Windsor has amassed more than 400,000 platters over 47 years. His biggest score came when a record store owner sold him 200,000 for a mere $2,500 in 1998.
His very first singles came from his dad, owner of a Texarkana, Texas, radio station, who brought home boxes of them in 1956, including Presley records.
As a teen-age radio DJ, Windsor picked up hundreds of early rock 'n' roll classics, including "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and the Shirelles' "Soldier Boy." In 1978, his wife, Barbara, bought him a jukebox, giving him an excuse to buy even more singles. Then, in 1990, he found a book which listed the top 3,000 charted songs of all time. For fun, he and his son Ryan decided to collect them all.
That took less than a year, so he took it a step further by seeking every song that ever hit the top 100, from "A Team" by Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler to "Zorro" by The Chordettes. By 1998, the Windsors had gotten close to their goal, owning 98 percent of the 20,000-plus tunes. In 1999, he put them up for sale.
Windsor keeps his core collection in a windowless basement room with blue plaid wallpaper. Each single is meticulously labeled with song title, artist, estimated value and chart information. Boxes, kept alphabetically, include incongruous combos such as "Barbie Benton-Biz Markie" and "Bon Jovi-Pat Boone."
He keeps duplicates and unsorted 45s in three air-conditioned storage rooms, covering nearly 600 square feet. He says he probably has more than 100,000 singles that he's not even partially alphabetized.
Windsor, who moved with his wife to Atlanta in 2001 from Cleveland to be near his daughter, is a self-described "serial entrepreneur." He's run a student bail bond service, a T-shirt company and a trade show/Internet jobs Web site company, 1-Jobs.com, which he sold off for millions of dollars two years ago. He recently founded a doughnut franchise called Hotties, opening his first store in Orlando last year. The 45s.com site is more of a hobby than a business.
Still, he says, "I hope that baby boomers stay alive long enough to let me do this as a supplement to Social Security and savings."