Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: Your coverage of the invention of the LP (Columbia, 1948) and then the 45 rpm (RCA Victor, 1949) reminds me of an attempt in the late 1950s or early '60s to eliminate all speeds except 33.

They succeeded with the 78, but the 45 obviously lived on.

What do you know about this bold maneuver?
—Lawrence Finnegan, Terre Haute, Ind.

DEAR LAWRENCE: By 1965, when support of a “one-speed industry” peaked, the 78 format was long gone.

The phasing out, in the late 1950s, of the 78 single had nothing to do with the industry's desire for a one-speed world, and much to do with production logistics; increased handling, packing, and shipping costs; and far greater losses due to breakage of the fragile 78s, when compared to the 45 single.

The sole objective of the mid-'60s campaign was the elimination of the 45 rpm.

Considering the overwhelming support behind the one-speed campaign, it's hard to believe they were not successful.

During what was at the time the record industry's top news story, here are just a few of the comments made by prominent executives and widely quoted in trade publications:

“Our company sold 60,000 of a 33 single at the [1964] New York World's Fair, without a single complaint. It's time our industry converts to one speed, and that's 33.”
—Jimmy Johnson, Disneyland Records

“I'm in hearty accord with the theory of one speed [for all records] … I definitely think it would be better for all concerned to adopt the 33 speed. Dot Records supports the elimination of the 45 rpm. It's an educational process which has to be accomplished.”
—Randy Wood, Dot Records

“We've been in favor of one speed for years, but it's a tough thing to get done. It could be accomplished in one year if all the majors [labels] and several of the independents would agree. There is no need for the 45. It is senseless.”
—Mike Maitland, Warner Bros. Records

“There is no good reason for multiple speeds. The LP speed [33] is the one with the greatest growth potential. Having one speed would also reduce confusion.”
—Irwin Steinberg, Mercury Records

“We agree, it makes all the sense in the world to have just one speed. It is ridiculous to have both 45 and 33 speeds.” Referring to the late '40s format battle between RCA Victor (45s) and Columbia (33s), “You can't deny that 33 has taken over. Now, it shouldn't be too difficult to get RCA to get in step with the rest of the industry.”
—Mo Ostin, Reprise Records

“We are very much in favor of the idea and always have been. There should be an industry move to just one speed. The biggest complication is the millions of homes with equipment that cannot play singles with a small, LP-size [quarter-inch], hole. There's no doubt that one speed is a great idea, and the only way to accomplish it would be joint action by all the manufacturers to cease issuing 45 singles. To simultaneously release 33 and 45 singles only creates a third inventory category rather than narrowing a two inventory situation down to one.”
— Alan Livingston and Stan Gortikov, Capitol Records

“We favor a single speed, which would be good for the industry throughout the world. I don't think it would affect the cost of records very much, though it might affect the price of record players. Still, one speed will be difficult to institute because the two-speed situation has now become a habit.”
—Georges Meyer, Philips Records

“There is no reason for two speeds, and never has been. Our company would support an industry drive to eliminate the 45 speed, though convincing record retailers and juke box operators could be a very slow process.”
—Al Bennett, Liberty Records

“A single speed is ideal for the coin machine industry, and 33 is the only speed that makes sense. Most 45-only machines are old now and approaching the junking age.”
—A.D. Plamer, Wurlitzer

“I would love to see all records on 33. It would cut down on our inventory, which is now double having to stock both 33 and 45 speeds. Stereo is gaining momemtum every week. I feel in the future there won't be anything but stereo.”
—Harry Rosen, Philadelphia Rowe-AMI Juke Box Distributor

“One speed is a good idea, which we could support. However, there is a negative aspect because of the many machines specifically designed to play 45s.”
—Orris Keepnews, Merchandising Manager, Colpix Records

“We favor having all records play at 33, one reason being that the spindle adapter to play 45s is a real annoyance. Columbia once hoped everything would play at 33, but now it may be too late to change people's indifferent attitudes.”
—Abe Diamond, Record Distributor

“There's nothing we'd like better. The cost differential would be minimal but the performance of the players would be improved. One of the biggest sources of customer complaints is with the 45 adapter.”
—Carl Gates, Admiral

“We'll produce whatever the public wants. A one-speed player would give better performance; however, it would be only slightly cheaper. In manufacturing, when you add it costs a lot, but when you take away you don't save much.”
—Phil Wood, Zenith

“We have no objections at all. The problem lies with the equipment, but the benefits will be large if we can all travel down the same road together.”
—Jack Burgess, RCA Records

“If we eliminated the 45 speed on our changers, we would surely have some disgruntled buyers.”
— Richard Hanselman, RCA Consumer Products

“One speed could broaden the market for singles. Consumer education is the difficult part, the equipment is not the problem to worry about.” Bill Gallagher, Columbia Records

“An overwhelming majority of record executives are of the opinion that the conversion to one speed would benefit the entire industry. Billboard reiterates its position, that in the face of such strong opinion in favor of a one-speed industry, the RIAA should move quickly to implement it.”
—Billboard Editorial

With an avalanche of support for one speed (33) from literally every faction of the music industry, it appeared “the little record with the big hole” (45) would soon go the way of the 78 speed.

But the record-buying public could not be swayed, and, against all odds, the underdog 45 not only survived but triumphed as the dominant speed for singles during the vinyl era.

For me, of all the one-speed discussion, one moment of wishful thinking, mentioned only as an aside, stands out: While offering support to the movement, Kris Jensen, a leading maker of phonograph needles, casually made a wish.

In March 1965, Jensen expressed hope there would “one day be a practical device that will select and play an individual song or track from an album.”

It took a little over 15 years, but with the laser compact disc came the technology to do exactly that.

IZ ZAT SO? Conspicuously absent from all of the comments made by all of the label heads quoted is that most of them had recently produced and promoted 33 speed singles, none of which even made a dent in 45 sales.

For four years (1959-1962) most of the majors simultaneously issued 45 and 33 speed singles, especially for their big hits and top artists.

Losing that challenge by a landslide still didn't dissuade the one-speeders from trying again just a couple of years later.

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