Sunday, December 1, 2013

The short lived and unsuccessful RCA Victor Program Transcriptions One of many of the less than successful LP recordings

In the first 60 years in the history of sound recording there have been many attempts at long playing records. Most of them have been less than stellar. All the way back to the days of the early wax cylinder playing at speeds of 100, 125, 150 and finally 200 RPM. Each time the speed went up the quality improved. However, each time the speed went up the recordings were shorter in length. The 100 RPM cylinder would play close to four minutes while the improved cylinder doing 200 RPM would play just 2 minutes!

 Columbia tried a long playing cylinder that was over 6 inches long. There were the 14 inch disc recordings made by Victor and Columbia in the first decade of the twentieth century. These monstrous and easily breakable recordings would play at 60 RPM. But they would afford about 7 minutes of music.  

The one we often hear about was the Edison Long Playing Record. This travesty of sound recording was in the works for a long time. I remember Theodore Edison telling me about making the needles for the Long Play records. They were shaped like a canoe and slightly bent. The success rate for these needles being finished was around 25%. The rest were rejected. 

The Edison LP records were 10 and 12 inch and required a whole new system of gearing to play them. Plus at being recorded at several hundred grooves per inch made recording and playback very difficult. The Edison LP records were made at the Columbia Street Studio and there was a system of two standard players of Edison records. From each of these players came a playback horn that connected to another horn that recorded the LP record. The Edison LP was nothing but transcriptions of standard 10 inch records. Being that the grooving was very tight and LP was acoustically recorded from acoustically recorded discs, led to a rather less than great sound. They were soon discontinued.

In 1931 the newly formed RCA Victor (founded in 1929) announced that they were going to set the music world on it's collective ear by bringing out long playing records!  Now this sounded like a really well thought out idea. But was it?  The new speed for these recordings would be 33 & 1/3 RPM. 

One of the lesser known facts about the Victor and later RCA Victor was that starting in 1926, the Victor Talking Machine Company started to press the records for the Vitaphone talking pictures. There were many records pressed by Victor for the talking pictures. The Warner Brothers has introduced the first successful talking pictures. These talking pictures were silent film timed to match the records. These recordings were 14 inch records that were recorded at 33 1/3RPM. 

 The Warner Brothers introduced the first full length sound picture, the "Jazz Singer" to the movie public at the Winter Garden Theater at Broadway and 50th Street in New York City. All of the records made for this movie and every other movie or short were made by Victor, So it was a large and new business in a new speed. 

By 1930 the sound on film system was becoming the norm and the long play records made for Warner's were trickling down to a halt. It was at this time that RCA Victor started to create a new system for the public that would play at the same speed as those Vitaphone discs. The new discs would be in 10 and 12 inch sizes. Many popular numbers would be put out on one sided records. This was reminiscent of the one sided records put out by years earlier. It was not really the best of ideas. The records would be made like standard 78 RPM records. The same grooving, just a lower speed.

The first long play was issued with an all star cast headed by MC Frank Crumit. It was recorded live and direct onto the long playing record. It was a great recording. Sadly, it would be one of the few that was done that way. The rest of the recordings in the RCA Victor Program Transcription series were dubs made from standard 78 records. Sadly very much like the Edison LP six years earlier. However with much better fidelity. But still dubs of standard recordings.  The few that were recorded directly are quite good. Sadly it was a good idea at the wrong time.

There was much against these records....  First it was the beginnings of the Great Depression. Secondly, the machines to play these records cost $250.00 in 1931-33! Lastly the records wore out and broke easy.

They were quite unique and were recorded till 1933. However the records were available for purchase till the beginnings of WW2. 

It would not be till 1948 that a Vinyl Microgroove LP was developed and released by Columbia that a successful format for long playing had arrived. The microgroove record developed by Peter Goldmark, would become the standard LP till the age of the CD.

 A RCA Victor Program Transcription from 1931

On the back of this one sided LP is the old marking that was put on late Red Seals in 1922-23

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