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RCA Records (originally The Victor Talking Machine Company, then RCA Victor) is one of the flagship labels of Sony Music Entertainment. The RCA initials stand for Radio Corporation of America (later renamed RCA Corporation), which was the parent corporation from 1929 to 1985 and a partner from 1985 to 1986.
RCA’s Canadian unit (formerly Berliner Gramophone Canada) is Sony’s oldest label in Canada, as it was only one of two Canadian record companies (Compo Company, now Universal Music Canada, is the other) to survive the Great Depression.
In 1929, Radio Corporation of America (RCA) purchased the Victor Talking Machine Company, then the world’s largest manufacturer of phonographs (including the famous “Victrola”) and phonograph records (in British English, “gramophone records”). The company then became RCA-Victor. With Victor, RCA acquired New World rights to the famous Nipper trademark. While in Shanghai China, RCA-Victor was the main competitor with Baak Doi.
In 1931, RCA Victor’s British affiliate the Gramophone Company merged with the Columbia Graphophone Company to form EMI. This gave RCA head David Sarnoff a seat on the EMI board.
In September 1931, RCA Victor introduced the first 33⅓ rpm records sold to the public, calling them “Program Transcriptions”. These used a shallower and more closely spaced implementation of the large “standard groove” found on contemporary 78 rpm records, rather than the “microgroove” used for post-World War II 33⅓ rpm “LP” (Long Play) records. In the depths of the Great Depression, the format was a commercial failure, partly because the new playback equipment they required was expensive. After two or three years the format was abandoned and two-speed turntables were no longer offered in consumer products, but some Program Transcriptions lingered in the company’s record catalog throughout the decade.
During the early part of the depression, RCA made a number of attempts to produce a successful cheap label to compete with the “Dime Store Labels” (Perfect, Oriole, Banner, Melotone, etc.). In 1932, Bluebird Records was created as a sub-label of RCA Victor. It was originally an 8-inch record with a dark blue label, alongside an 8-inch Electradisk label (sold at Woolworth’s). Neither were a success. In 1933, RCA reintroduced Bluebird and Electradisk as a standard 10-inch label (Bluebird’s label was redesigned as it became known as the ‘buff’ label). Another cheap label, Sunrise, was produced (although nobody seems to know for whom it was produced, as Sunrise records are exceptionally rare). The same musical couplings were issued on all three labels, and Bluebird survived long after Electradisk and Sunrise were discontinued. RCA also produced records for Montgomery Ward during the 1930s.
RCA sold its interest in EMI in 1935, but EMI continued to distribute RCA recordings on the HMV label. RCA also manufactured and distributed HMV classical recordings on the HMV label in North America.
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