RCA Victor 45 RPM Phonograph story from Downstairs Records

From http://www.downstairsrecords.com

by Steve Kelsay. (Mr. Kelsay repairs and restores RCA Victor 45 RPM players and is an expert on their repair and maintenance)

The vinyl microgroove 33 1/3 RPM 'LP' record was developed and first marketed by Peter Goldmark and his engineers of Columbia records in 1948. Prior to the retail release of the first 33 1/3 'LP' record, Peter Goldmark invited David Sarnoff, the head of RCA, and his engineers to tour the Columbia record labs and view the new 33 1/3 RPM disc and record playing system. David Sarnoff accepted the invitation, and he and his chief engineers were ushered through the Columbia labs by Peter Goldmark, shown the entire new microgroove record cutting lathe and record pressing system and treated to a sound quality demonstration of the new 'LP' disc.


The new vinyl disc was a light years leap ahead in sound quality compared to the only other disc recording medium of the day, the 78 RPM shellac record. The new 33 1/3 RPM 'LP' records provided greatly extended frequency response of 50 to 12,000 cps (cycles per second), compared to the average 8,000 cps top frequency limit for current production 78 RPM discs - plus, the new microgroove records made of vinyl provided very low surface noise, and for the first time quiet music passages were not drowned out by the hiss and scratch surface noise inherent in shellac 78 discs. In addition, the new vinyl records were not breakable, unlike brittle shellac 78 discs - and, a 12 inch vinyl disc weighed a fraction of the weight of a comparable old fashioned 78 disc --- saving the record producer, record shipper and retail record store the hassle and monetary loss from broken 78 discs and a great savings in lowered shipping costs.

David Sarnoff and his engineers politely expressed their approval and admiration for the 'new' recording medium developed by Columbia, but following the tour and demonstration, David Sarnoff ordered his engineers in marketing and research to bring into production the previously developed RCA Victor 45 RPM system (which had been kept a carefully guarded industrial secret for nearly 10 years).

RCA Victor was able to bring their entire 45 RPM record system out of mothballs and into production by early 1949. The first advertising for the new '45' system appeared in Billboard magazine in April 1949, and the first of the new 45 RPM discs and automatic record players appeared in retail record shops in June of 1949. Peter Goldmark and his Columbia record engineers could not understand or believe RCA Victor could develop and bring to market an entirely new disc recording medium in only a few months - and, they did not know for several years that RCA Victor had invented and developed a ready for market 45 RPM record and automatic record changer in 1938 / 1939, a full ten years before Columbia developed the microgroove 33 1/3 system.

RCA Victor was the largest producer of electronics in the 1930's, and a leader in the field of research and development, owning many of the critical electronic patents. The company developed new vacuum tube technology which improved radio transmission and reception, and helped develope the first commercially available TV cameras and TV receiving sets. America was recovering from the effects of the great depression by the late 1930's, and RCA was forging ahead with new state of the art electronic inventions, including a beautiful 12 inch screen console TV set demonstrated in the RCA Worlds Fair pavilion in 1939.

One of the new electronic inventions and innovations developed by RCA in the 1930's, was a new disc record system. In 1938, David Sarnoff ordered his engineers to develop an entirely new disc record and automatic record changer. The only recording medium of the day was the 78 RPM record, which had many technical limitations. The 78 shellac discs were heavy, fragile, breakable, had high surface 'white' noise, limited frequency range and very limited playing time. Added to the limitations of the shellac 78 discs was the quality of the automatic record changers of the day, which were quite mechanically challenged (mechanically poor quality), and routinely either broke the fragile 78 discs, chipped off large chunks from the outer edges or gouged out the 'hole' in the center of the disc. All of the damage was caused by poor quality auto changer mechanisms of the period.

David Sarnoff wanted a completely new disc record system which would 'cure' or eliminate all of the problems associated with 78 RPM discs and auto record changers. To accomplish this, a team of RCA engineers began designing a new disc record and automatic record changer. The 45 disc record was designed from the ground up, and featured entirely new innovations and improvements never before featured in a disc record. The RCA engineers developed a 'crystal' phono cartridge which could track a microgroove record at only 10 or 12 grams needle pressure (then a very light tracking weight), and to protect the new vinyl disc record from abrasions or surface scratches from other records stacked above and below each other on the automatic changer spindle, the RCA engineers designed the new 45 disc having a raised center, so the discs could not contact each other during the playing cycle.


Also, the RCA engineers designed the new 45 disc records to produce the least amount of distortion, by aligning the recorded tracks across the area of the disc which produced the least tonearm tracking error (thereby reducing the amount of sound distortion). In addition, the RCA engineers designed the new 45 disc featuring the large center 'hole' to prevent the stress and damage common to the shellac 78 disc small center 'hole' by a combination of the records weight and mechanical auto changers. The new 45 RPM disc records would not suffer either surface or 'hole' damage, would not slip against each other while playing, would be unbreakable, would have no surface noise and would feature extended frequency range for greatly improved music quality. While the new 45 disc record technology was being developed, another team of RCA engineers was developing an entirely new automatic record changer. The automatic record changers of the day had many mechanical shortcomings - very heavy tonearm tracking weight, a tendency to jam during the reject cycle and routinely damaging the fragile 78 discs.

In 1939, the entirely new RCA Victor 45 RPM system was developed, tested and ready for production - but, David Sarnoff the CEO of RCA, postponed the introduction of the new recording medium, because he believed the American economy had not fully recovered, there would not be enough free money for the general public to purchase the new system (and, the 78 disc system had been in use for 40 years and he did not want to rock the boat). The RCA Victor 45 RPM system was shelved and its development and technology kept a carefully guarded industrial secret (until the new Columbia 33 1/3 RPM system rang the competition bells in the RCA Victor boardrooms in 1948).

On the RCA Victor 45 RPM auto record changer and players - the first two 45 RPM record changer models were manufactured by RCA Victor in 1949 and 1950 - these are the very small changers featuring a heavy diecast metal turntable and tonearm, and either a small slide reject button on the right top surface of the bakelite changer base, or a small pushbutton on the right front surface of the bakelite changer base. Also, the early production model RP-168 45 auto changers manufactured by RCA Victor featured a single idler wheel / motor drive system and a pneumatic cylinder assisted tonearm lowering device for gently lowering the tonearn onto the record.


These first two production models are better built quality than the model RP-190 introduced in 1951. RCA Victor stopped manufacturing the model RP-168, because of the production costs associated with the large number of component parts (85 total parts), and began ordering / buying the model RP-190 from a private company (this is the reason the RP-190 auto 45 record changer is found in certain models of Decca, VM and other early 50's American record players). The RP-190 auto 45 record changer is the model most frequently seen in the different RCA Victor line of 45 players. It is a very simple design having few moving parts, either a pot metal turntable, or black plastic turntable and tone arm, the functions controlled by an idler wheel and a reject cam wheel. The phono-cartridge used in all the RCA Victor 45 RPM player models from 1949 thru 1955 are the quote 'crystal' type, which are not working today, because the Rochelle salt crystal was sensitive to heat and humidity - and, the crystal phono-cartridges "died" years ago.


Beginning in 1956, RCA Victor began using high quality 'ceramic' phono cartridges made by Sonotone (the hearing aid company). The Sonotone model # 1-P ceramic cartridge IS NOT AFFECTED by heat or humidity, and today the Sonotone ceramic cartridges are still producing beautiful music. Also, the Sonotone model # 1-P cartridge featured a 1 mil Saphire stylus tip, which provided 50 hours playing time, where as the prior crystal cartridge used from 1949 thru 1955 featured a 1 mil Osmium stylus tip which only provided 10 hours playing time (also, the old style crystal phono cartridges tracked at 10 or 12 grams needle pressure which greatly shorten the life of the vinyl discs compared to the lighter 6 gram needle pressure weight of the Sonotone ceramic cartridge.

RCA Victor sold a full model line of 45 RPM players from 1949 thru 1958, the last year of production. The least expensive was the 45 changer only, mounted on a bakelite base, A/C power cord and RCA plug audio cable equiped, which retailed for $15 in 1949 (this was the entry level machine which introduced many Americans to the new 45 RPM record and an automatic record player - many American brand table radios, clock radios and even television sets came factory equiped with an RCA jack for connecting one of the new outboard record changers). Other RCA Victor 45 RPM player models included small open case bakelite players featuring a 3 tube amplifier and speaker (model # 45-EY2), a closed lid "Art Deco" style player featuring a 3 tube amplifier and speaker - single volume knob, no tone control (model # 45-EY-3) and top of the line 45 players featuring a built in AM band radio such as the models 9Y51 and 45-Y11, plus fancy two tone case models featuring white spindle caps, reject button and tonearms such as the model 8-EY-4FK, which featured a 4 tube amplifier, large 8" speaker and great sound quality.

Prices for unrestored "as is" condition RCA Victor 45 RPM players ranges from around $25 for the RP-168 and RP-190 changer only on bakelite base models to around $200 or higher for any of the rare players designed for children featuring a white painted base and either Roy Rogers, Howdy Dowdy or Snow White color decals on the exterior of the base.

Prices for fully mechanically and electrically restored RCA Victor players range from $250 to $1,200 - the models featuring an AM band radio, and the models designed for Children bringing the highest prices.

The RCA Victor brand 45 RPM players manufactured by RCA and later by a private company can ALL be electrically and mechanically restored and can be made to play either monaural or stereo 45 discs. The fully restored 45 players are popular with juke box collectors, 45 record collectors and people who owned one as a child in the 1950's - and, today want a fully restored player for nostalgia reasons.

The 45 record changer on bakelite base are the most popular and usable for 45 record collectors, because the compact 45 players can be directly connected to modern
component stereo systems (right and left channel stereo jacks / cables), and collectors can play and hear their favorite 45 RPM records playing in full high fidelity stereo.
RCA Victor 45J



Note:  This article was written by Steve Kelsay.  The original document is located  at http://www.downstairsrecords.com Please do not modify any of Steve’s work and links to the Downstairs Records site.




The PhonoJack