Friday, February 22, 2008

RECORD WEEK Part 5: Victor

Victor Records, also called Victrola, RCA Victor and the owner of the infamous HMV logo (His Masters Voice). They began in 1901 after the most dramatic start a label could possibly have.
First some preamble: Emile Berliner's Gramophone company started making 78s in 1889. These were mostly for toys, but quickly grew into the real thing. At the same time, Eldridge Johnson was running the Consolidated Talking Machine Company. that company made phonographs to play those aforementioned discs. So far all is well. Then this Zone-o-phone bastard Frank Seaman comes along. He steals design concepts from both companies. The infringements are blatant, and have no hope of standing up to normal legal scrutiny. So Frank goes for an innovative approach.Frankie sues Gramophone and the Consolidated Talking Machine Company for copyright infringement. This is as absurd as it sounds. Then he goes to Columbia records and convinces that their earlier patents are broader than they currently think. He proposes that he pay them royalties if they help with his insane plan. Normally this would be a loss, but Columbia also hopes that they can but Gramophone out of business and take seize some market share. It goes down. Together they actually get an injunction against Berliner and Johnson in 1900.
But they counter sue and they have the patents to prove that Seaman has chutzpaz but is also a nut bar. Columbia Records slinks off and sulks. Berliner and Johnson are victorious and thus form the Victor Talking Machine Company. In 1906 they start producing the very popular Victrola phonograph.
In 1928 Johnson sells his half of the company to RCA and it becomes RCA Victor. In the late 1940s they began releasing the first 45 rpm records. In 1968 RCA phased out the HMV logo and the Victor brand as part of a modernization for the company. The little dog nipper got a reprieve in 1976. In 1985 Bertlesman and RCA formed BMG. It was this company that revived the Victor brand in the late 1980s for the occassional oddball release.