The following narrative was told by Edward Wallerstein (1891-1970)
about the development of the LP record in 1948.
IN 1938 I HAD persuaded William S. Paley, president of the Columbia
Broadcasting System, to purchase the old American Record Corporation,
which controlled Columbia Records, for the sum of $700,000. On
January 1, 1939,this purchase became final, and I found myself
president of the newly acquired company. As soon as we had moved
from the small place American Records had at Broadway and Fifty-seventh
Street to 799 Seventh Avenue, there was discussion of a joint
rese arch project with CBS for the purpose of making a longer-playing
record. Nine years later this was to culminate in the LP.
Such records were not new to the record business, of course. RCA
had made them in 1932 and, as a matter of fact, when I became
general manager of the Victor Division of RCA on July 1, 1933,
my first act was to take them off the market. The idea was good
and they might have sold, but there were technical problems. Most
of the records were made from Victorlac, a vinyl compound developed
by Jim Hunter; the pickups available at that time were so heavy
they just cut through the material after several plays. The complaints
from customers all over the U.S. were so terrific that we were
forced to withdraw the LPs. If you could get a new pressing of
one of these records today and play it with a modern lightweight
2-mil pickup, it probably would sound pretty good.
In 1933 records had fallen into disuse to such an extent that
the problem was to find some way to get people to listen to them
again. RCA developed at Camden the Duo Jr. player, which could
be attached to your radio. There were by this time 20 million
radios in the U.S., and it seemed to me that this was our big
hope in trying for a comeback of the business that had shrunk
nationally to probably only $10 million. It worked beautifully,
and the little attachment, which was sold at our cost, $9.95,
was instrumental in revitalizing the industry. Years later I was
able to use this idea again with the LP.
When we were getting ready to move to Seventh Avenue, we were
pondering the type of recording equipment to use. Thinking ahead
to the longer record, I insisted that our setup be built so that
everything that was recorded at 78 rpm was also done at 33 rpm
on 16-inch blanks. This gave Columbia a tremendous advantage over
its competitors, who, when LP finally appeared, were forced to
make copies from their old, noisy shellac records for any material
predating tape. RCA issued many of these old records with words
of apology for their poor quality printed on the jackets. Columbia
had masters of good quality going back almost ten years, and this
made a great deal of difference in our early technical superiority.
We were able to work on the longer record for only about a year
until the outbreak of World War II. Despite the interruption,
the staff that was working on the project in 1939 was pretty much
the same as the one that finally finished it in 1948.
From Columbia Records there were Ike Rodman,Jim Hunter, Vin Liebler,
and Bill Savory. I had persuaded Bill Bachman to leave General
Electric and come to Columbia just before the work had to be stopped.
Bill's contribution was tremendous. CBS was represented by Rene
Snepvangers, who concentrated on the problem of developing the
lightweight pickup that was a key factor in the success of our
plans. Peter Goldmark was more or less the supervisor, although
he didn't actually do any of the work.* I want to emphasize that
the project was all a team effort. No one man can be said to have
"invented" the LP, which in any case was not, strictly
speaking, an invention, but a development. The team of Liebler,
Bachman, Savory, Hunter, and Kodman was responsible for it. If
one man is to be singled out, it would have to be Bachman, whose
work on the heated stylus, automatic variable pitch control, and
most especially the variable reluctance pickup was a starting
point for a great deal of what was to come. Very quickly they
went to work on what eventually was the final approach: the I-mil
groove and more lines per inch. Even a I-mil groove was not unique.
When I was at RCA, engineer Fred Barton asked me if he could cut
some I-mil records. That was in 1935 or '36. He did a number of
sessions, mostly with Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra,
which we used to record in the old Church studio in Camden. But
the records wouldn't stand up after he made them, because he didn't
have the proper equipment to play them on.
When the war was over and the project began again, the health
of the record business was excellent. Columbia Records' sales
had increased from about $1 million when CBS purchased it to $10
million or $12 million by 1945. Columbia's artist list had grown
greatly as well. I managed to get the New York Philharmonic-Symphony,
the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Pittsburgh Orchestra, the Chicago
Symphony, and the Cleveland Orchestra, and on our pops list were
Benny Goodman, Mary Martin, Frank Sinatra, and Eddie Duchin. The
time was ripe for the introduction of something new into the industry.
Every two months there were meetings of the Columbia Records people
and Bill Paley at CBS. Hunter, Columbia's production director,
and I were always there, and the engineering team would present
anything that might have developed. Toward the end of 1946, the
engineers let Adrian Murphy, who was their technical contact man
at CBS, know that they had something to demonstrate. It was a
long-playing record that lasted seven or eight minutes, and I
immediately said, "Well, that's not a long-playing record."
They then got it to ten or twelve minutes, and that didn't make
it either. This went on for at least two years.
Mr. Paley, I think, got a little sore at me, because I kept saying,
"That's not a long-playing record," and he asked, "Well,
Ted, what in hell is a longplaying record?" I said, "Give
me a week, and I'11 tell you." I timed I don't know how many
works in the classical repertory and came up with a figure of
seventeen minutes to a side. This would enable about 90% of all
classical music to be put on two sides of a record. The engineers
went back to their laboratories.
When we met in the fall of 1947 the team brought in the seventeen-minute
record. There was a long discussion as to whether we should move
right in or first do some development work on better equipment
for playing these records or, most important, do some development
work on a popular record to match these 12-inch classical discs.
Up to now our thinking had been geared completely to the classical
market rather than to the two- or three-minute pop disc market.
I was in favor of waiting a year or so to solve these problems
and to improve the original product. We could have developed a
6- or 7-inch record and equipment to handle the various sizes
for pops. But Paley felt that, since we had put $250,000 into
the LP, it should be launched as it was. So we didn't wait and
in consequence lost the pops market to the RCA 45s.
It was decided to have the record ready for the fall of 1948.
We made a rapid investigation to see whether we could manufacture
our own players and very quickly discovered that we had neither
the skills nor the time to develop them. Consequently we talked
to othef manufacturers about making a player. Although several
were willing, Philco was chosen to make the first models. I was
a little unhappy about this, because I felt that all of the manufacturers
should be making a player of some sort-the more players that got
on the market, the more records could be sold. Philco did a good
job, and it really took some very fancy tricks to develop the
player and have it ready to go on the market in such a short space
of time. Our engineering group showed them how; in fact all of
the basic technology came from Columbia Records. In the field
of plastic engineering we had the advantage of having with us
Jim Hunter, who had developed Victorlac. Actually, for a short
time RCA had an exclusive on the use of vinyl from Union Carbon
and Carbide. Vinyl also had been used in the transcription business
by all manufacturers since about 1932. Its quiet surfaces made
it an ideal material for the purpose, and its short life, because
of the heavy pickups, was not important because transcriptions
were played only once.
Nothing much had to be changed at our Bridgeport, Connecticut,
plant. The same plating facilities and the same record presses
Scully lathes were used, as they are today. The cutting heads
were, of course, ours too. To Hunter must go a great deal of praise,
because it is one thing to build a prototype and quite another
thing to make a product in quantity, and this he managed to do
within an extremely brief period.
Apparently nobody in the record industry had any faint idea of
what we were doing. The only people who knew about it were those
directly connected with the project, and they had instructions
to tell no one. When we were pretty well ready to go I showed
the plan to an official of EMI and to Ted Lewis of English Decca.
Both were impressed, but EMI was in a spot because in most of
the world, except the U.S., it was tied up with both RCA and Columbia.
So it tried to stall. For that reason i was perfectly willing
to help Lewis as much as I could, because we felt that if he brought
these records on the market in Europe, it would force EMI's hand.
This turned out to be necessary, because, while English Decca
was the first major firm to accept LP, EMI was one of the last.
Sir Louis Sterlingl the onetime head of EMI, told me in 1950 that
the company had lost almost $4 million and were almost out of
the classical record business at the time they finally introduced
Columbia also had an advantage in that we were the first people
in the U.S. to use tape for master recording. Murphy was one of
the first to see a German Magnetophon tape recorder in newly liberated
Luxemburg after the war. He quickly packed it up and shipped it
back to CBS. Not long thereafter both EMI and Ampex came out with
machines, and we immediately placed an order for both. By mid-1947,
we were using them and had discontinued direct disc cutting. The
Ampex proved to be the better machine, so we sent the EMI machines
back. Of the originally issued LPs about 40% were from tape originals.
In April 1948, two months beforc the LP's first public showing,
Paley called David Sarnoff` of RCA and told him that we had a
new development in the record field that we would like very much
for him to see. A meeting was arranged in the board room of CBS,
and I demonstrated the LP. Not much was said, but I did have the
impression that General Sarnoff was pretty upset. In the silence
that followed, Paley said he'd be glad to discuss an arrangement
for licensing. Probably, when they left, Sarnoff's men told him
that there was nothing patentable about the dovice. In fact there
are no basic patents on the LP, so RCA was forced to do its own
research.They came back to us in a few days and said they weren't
intersted and I think it was a bit of a blow to Paley that he
wasn't going to make a lot of money in licensing.
Within a fcw weeks RCA in turn invited us to view what their developments
were. They laid partcular emphasis on tape on a consumer level.
Well, we had been working with tape longer than they had, and
we saw no prospects for revolutionizing the record industry with
tape, This was just a buff as they had nothing to show. As a matter
of fact they didn't even demonstrate a tape recorder to us- only
talked about it. The 45 wasn't even mentioned and prohably wasn't
on their minds at the time. Apparently it wasn't idea they had
come up with earlicr, discardcd, and then resurrected as some
sort of answer to Columbia.
I was glad it wcnt the way it did. Actually , I think that Paley
was badly advised on the possibility of a licensing arrangement
twhich was the only rcason he showed it to RCA. The only protection
that Columbia had for its new development was the term "LP"
itself. which I had originated and which we, had then copyrighted.
As a consequence., although many other firms could make long-playing
records only Columlia could make an LP. However, because of its
constant usage the term has since passed into the vocabulary along
with nylon and aspirin.
()n June 20, 1948, the first public demonstration was held at
the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. By this time. Bachman and the rest
of the team had managed to lengthen the LP to about twenty-two
minutes. As I stopped up to the podium to address the fiftv-odd
representatives of the prcss, on one side of me was a stack of
conventional 78-rpm records measuring about eight feet in height
and another stack about fifteen inches high of the same recordings
on LP. Aftcr a short speech I played one of the 78 rpm records
for its full length of about four minutes,when it broke, as usual,
right in the middle of a movement. Then I took the corresponding
LP and played it on the little Philco attachment right past that
break. The reception was terrific. The critics were struck nat
only by the length of the record, but by the quietness of its
surfaces and its greatly increased fidelity. They were convinced
that a new era had come to the record business.
At our annual sales convention a little later in Atlantic City,
Paul Southard, our sales manager, had a rather clever idea: He
designed his speech so that it ran exactly the length of The Nutcracker
Suite, which was on one side of an LP. When Paul began to speak
the stylus was placed on the record, which continued playing very
softly in the background. When the speech ended and Paul removed
the stylus, the distributors went wild. And the reception in the
stores was overwhelming. Columbia had a large stock of good will
with dealers, thanks to the fact that we had been responsible
for the renaissance of sales in both pops and classics.·
Columbia made its technical know-how available to any who wished
it, and it was not long until other companies began issuing LPs.
I believe that the first three to do so were Vox, Cetra-Soria,
and Concert Hall, with Columbia doing the pressing. But soon Capitol,
Mercury, Decca and indeed all of the other companies, large and
small, were issuing them. Columbia had to remain in the attachment
business for less than a year. We quickly reduced the price of
the attachments from $29.95 to $9.9S, which was our cost. As it
had been in 1933 so it was now: What we wanted were record sales.
We were not in the equipment business and were delighted to see
other manufacturers almost immediately begin to include LP-playing
equipment as a standard part of their lines. Before long the "Tombstone,"
as the first jacket design that was used on most of our LPs was
called, became a regular display at record stores.
The records sold right from the start. During the first two years
of sales, our profits were down, but we did always make a profit.
Up until February of 1949, nothing was heard from RCA. Then it
announced the 45-rpm record, which of course was fine for short
pops numbers but no good at all for classics. With both companies
firmly committcd. the battle of the speeds was waged. RCA especially
spent huge sums of advertising money trying unsuccessfully to
convince the public that the 45 was really a good thing for classics.
Our policy for advertising was not to compare thc products. We
were pushing LPs, and there was no comparison. Other things, too,
conspired against RCA. I was lucky enough to get the recording
rights to South Pucific with Ezio Pinza and Mary Martin, and the
rccord was released just about the time of the introduction of
the 45. It is still the third largest selling album of all time*
and was a huge hit in 1949 on LP. Then there were little things
like a meeting of dealers and distributors at the New Yorker Hotel,
with Joe Elliot of RCA and I answering questions. It must have
been embarrassing for poor Elliot, who had no answers. Actually
the introduction of 45s didn't touch the sales of LPs at all.
Columbia quickly began to issue single pops records on 45s, which
were and indeed still are, the accepted medium for singles.
I was amazed when I learned that during thc period in which RCA
held out against thc LP-that is, from June 1948 toJanuary 1950-it
lost $4.5 million.
It had lost practically all of its classical sales and was beginning
to lose its artists. Pinza, whose re-ords had been released by
Vic·or since the beginning of his career, signed an exclusive
contract with Columbia. And there were others. Rubinstein, Heifetz,
and other big-name RCA artists were threatening to leave. During
the same time, Columbia had cleared over $3 million. I don't remember
having any par·icular intcrest in RCA's announcement on
January 4, 1950, that it was making available its "great
artists and unsurpassed classical library on new and improved
Long Play (33 rpm) records." By that time the whole thing
Original Columbia "LP" Tombstone cover circa 1948 and
Original RCA Victor "Long Play" cover circa 1950
Ted Wallerstein, flanked by conductor Fritz Reiner and Goddard
then a recording director in the Masterworks Division- examine
of the early Columbia LPs. Conductor
George Szell listens intently.