The Early Days: 19th Century - 1940's
Back in 1857, a man named Leon Scott invented the phonoautograph, the first device to record sound. He was followed shortly by Thomas Edison's phonogaphic cylinder which first allowed for playback of recorded sounds. The first audio radio broadcast came in 1906, and the first ever disc-jockey took his place in history in 1909. Ray Newby of California was only 16 at the time, and he played records from a small transmitter while he was a student in college. By 1910, radio broadcasting had become a normal, yet still exciting part of life.
The term disc jockey wasn't coined until the 1930's. The World's first DJ dance party was thrown by Jimmy Savile in 1943, who played jazz records for his guests. A few years later, Savile became the first man to use turntables to keep the music in continuous play. The first discoteque opened in Paris, Whiskey A Go-Go, in 1947.
The Disco: 1950's - 1960's
In the 1950's, radio djs would appear in person to host sock hops for kids all over the country. In Kingston, Jamaica, promoters calling themselves DJs would throw gaint dance parties in the streets, and djs would blast their beats from huge PA systems. Jamaicans called these party entrepenuers Sound Systems.
Discoteques continued to spawn themselves throughout the United States and Europe. New equipment hit the market, such as the mixer, allowing djs to have more control over their tunes. In 1969, a dj by the name of Francis Grasso began popularizing beatmatching, seamlessly mixing his songs so the dancing never had to stop. But the popularity of djs in clubs began to slump in the late sixties, and the party was moved to the streets.
The Streets: 1960's - 1970's
The buroughs of New York City became the breeding ground for experimentation. In 1973, DJ Kool Herc made a name for himself as the "father of hip-hop," laying down the jams for huge block-parties, mainly in the Bronx. It was Kool Herc who started mixing two identical records together, at the same time, extending the parts of the records he thought had the best booty-shakin' beats. This technique was called "break."
This was the time when turntablism really grew into it's own. No longer were djs simply picking out songs and playing them. They were now artists and musicians of their own, manipulating songs to create new and exciting beats for people to enjoy for hours. Bands were formed who produced their music electronically from beginning to end, a totally new concept.
Hip-hop and electronic music blended, bringing in the disco era of the 1970's. These new dance clubs were pioneers in that they did away with live acts completely, leaving djs to do their thing all night.
In 1975, a hip-hop DJ called Grand Wizard Theodore accidentaly discovered the scratching technique, when a dj manually moves the record up and down on the needle, warping the sound.
The Warehouse: 1980's
In the early 80's, a club in Chicago called The Warehouse opened up, and the djs that spun there began to create a whole new sound. It was called house music, after the club, and was disco-inspired and heavily electronic. Resident dj was Frankie Knuckles. House music remaisn today one of the biggest and brightest genres of electronic dance music. It usually keeps it simple with a 4/4 beat, and heavy use of drum machines and samplers, and of course, a solid heavy bassline.
Not to be outdone, Detroit began creating a sound of it's own, known to us all by now as straight techno. Techno is different from house music in that it takes the disco out of itself almost completely, leaving the listener to enjoy pure electronic noise.
In 1985, the Winter Music Conference formed in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, becoming a mecca of sorts for djs of all kinds and styles to come together and compare techniques. To this day the conference is a week of ongoing parties, culminating in the 2-day Ultra Music Festival held in Miami. There's really nothing like it.
The Big Time: 1990's - Turn of the Century
By the early 90's, rave was the scene and acid house was the dance music of choice. Acid house is quite like house music, but with a lot of emphasis on repetetive hooks and trance-like sounds. The popularity of the rave scene, especially in Europe, brought djs into celebrity status.
Digital music was expanding. CDs became quiet popular in the 90's, which in turn led to the creation of the mp3 format. Internet radio found it's start in this decade as well. Electronic music began to bleed into other genres, and it became common place for rock bands to haev their own dj member on the 1s and 2s.
In 1998, a program called Final Scrath was released, which allowed djs to work with mp3 files on their turntables by using special coded vynils. Although it took some time for djs to adapt to the new technology, this jump would become a revolutionizing moment for dance music lovers of all kinds.
What It Is: 2000's and Beyond
A program called Serato Scratch Live hit the stage in 2004, and has sense become the standard for turntable djs who want to blend their vynil collection with their extensive mp3s. in 2006 the program came out with it's own mixer to make the process even smoother. There is even a plug-in for the program that allows djs to manipulate music videos the same way they work their records!
But you don't even need to work the old turntables anymore if you don't want to. Many djs work their music by mp3 alone, with special electronic tables that are worked and manuevured just like real recors, only there isn't anything on them.
Dance music continues to evolve it's sound. These days house music djs are experimenting with different filters and effects to create jarring, noisy dance beats. Mash-up is hitting the scene hard as well, in which a dj will mix two songs together, the beat from one and the vocal track from another most often, to create a catchy new sound. And now, with DJ Hero hitting shelves of game stores everywhere, it seems the world of djs will never stop growing.