|MILESAGO: Australasian Music & Popular Culture 1964-1975
THE AUSTRALIAN RECORD COMPANY (A.R.C.)
LOCATION: Sydney, NSW
Although now virtually forgotten, the Australian Record Company (ARC) was, alongside Festival Records, Astor and EMI, one of the leading recording and distribution companies in the Australian music industry from the 1950s to the 1970s. The company's long history began in the golden era of radio and from its inception in the late 1930s to the present day it played a significant role in many aspects of the local industry, as a recorder of local artists and a major distributor of local and international recordings, as well as being a major producer of radio content from the Forties to the Sixties. In 1960, ARC was taken over by the recording division of the giant US media conglomerate CBS, and in the late 1970s the company was renamed CBS Australia, which itself was taken over by the Japanese media-electronics conglomerate Sony in 1988.
ARC: The Early Years
The Australian Record Company was formed in the late 1930s thorugh the successive mergers of three Sydney-based radio production companies. On 15 October 1936, a new company called Featuradio Sound Productions (NSW) Pty Ltd purchased Featuradio Sound Productions Pty Ltd and all its assets, and opened recording studios at 92 Pitt Street, Sydney. Featuradio's main business was the recording, pressing and distribution of 16-inch transcription discs of serials and commercials for broadcast on radio stations around Australia, plus some custom pressing operations for local clients -- usually small run pressings of recordings which popular artists would commonly sell themselves.
Another company also involved in the radio production business was The Australian Record Company, based in studios at 29 Bligh Street, Sydney. According to the ARC history on the Sony Music website, on the 19 September 1938, Featuradio Productions P/L and The Australian Record Company P/L officially merged under the name of the Australian Record Company Limited.
However, research by Australian record label historian Hank B. Facer's uncovered the fact that on 14 December 1937 Featuradio had notified the NSW Registrar that its trading address was also 29 Bligh St, suggesting that the merger had begun some time earlier than was officially notified, and Facer also notes that the Board of Directors of both companies had four common members between 1937 and 1939.
The newly merged ARC continued with the production of radio dramas and commercials, but in 1939 it also began to manufacture and distribute commercial 78 rpm gramophone records, which it released on its Macquarie label. Most of their releases were recordings of classical music by German orchestras, pressed from masters made in Germany, but this series of releases lasted for only a few months. In September, with the declaration of war against Germany, the Australian Government prohibited all German imports. When World War II began, ARC completely discontinued its commercial recording activities and for the next decade it concentrated entirely on its radio transcription services. It finally resumed commercial record distribution in 1949 when it establishing two 'house' labels, Rodeo and Pacific.
Pacific specialised in popular music and jazz and while Rodeo produced country-and-western music or -- as it was known in those days -- "hillbilly" music. Both labels proved popular with consumers and both featured Australian artists. Orchestra leader Les Welch -- who became Festival's first A&R manager and its recording artist in 1952 -- was one of Pacific's most successful performers, and Rodeo featured pioneering Aussie country music performers such as Tex Morton, Tim McNamara and the young Reg Lindsay. ARC's radio production work also flourished, and it employed many famous actors including Rod Taylor, Peter Finch, Ruth Cracknell, Bob Dyer and future Channel 7 (Sydney) new anchor Roger Climpson. All their 78 rpm discs and 16" radio transcription discs were manufactured at the pressing plant in Harrington Street, The Rocks.
In October 1951, ARC acquired the distribution rights to two important American labels, London and Capitol. Capitol had been founded in Los Angeles in 1942 by Glenn Wallichs, Buddy DeSylva and songwriter Johnny Mercer. It became one of America's most successful recording labels in the Fifties and Sixties, with a local roster that over the years included Nat "King" Cole, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis and Kay Starr. Capitol provided ARC with some of its most successful releases in that period. The first Capitol 78 release in the USA (CP001) was "How High The Moon" b/w "Walkin' and Whistlin' Blues", by the celebrated husband-and-wife team of Les Paul and Mary Ford. It was released in the USA in late 1951 and probably in mid-1952 in Australia. ARC released several hundred Capitol recordings over the next four years although its local releases did not follow the same order as Capitol in the USA.
Distribution for ARC was carried out by G.J. Aitken & Co., located at 335 Dowling Street, East Sydney. Mr G.J. Aitken was also General Manager of A.R.C., so there was clearly a direct corporate link between the two firms. ARC's Managing Director was Mr Dudley M. Fegan. In October 1953 ARC became a publicly-listed company on the Australian Stock Exchange, under its new name The Australian Record Company Limited, and at this time they also produced their first LP and 45 rpm 7" discs for the local market. The LPs were initially 10" diameter and ran for 15 minutes per side, but these were subsequently replaced by 12" LPs, which became the dominant record format until they were eventually superseded by the Digital Compact Disc in the late 80s. In 1953 ARC opened a new manufacturing plant located at 15 Waltham Street, Artarmon and in 1954 the original Harrington Street plant at was closed.
In March 1956, the British-based music and electronics company EMI acquired Capitol Records, ending ARC's licencing agreement. During the 1960s Capitol released and distributed EMI pop acts including The Beatles and The Hollies in the USA, and this in turn gave EMI the international rights to Capitol pop-rock acts including The Beach Boys and The Band. ARC was given a three month sell-off period before handing over the distribution to EMI.
The loss of the Capitol rights was undoubtedly a serious blow to ARC's revenue, but they responded aggressively and in May 1956 they signed a pressing and distribution agreement with CBS Records, which up until then had been pressed and distributed by EMI in Australia and New Zealand. However, EMI owned the Columbia trademark in Australia, so ARC was obliged to create a new imprint for its Columbia products: the Coronet label. Coronet quickly became ARC's flagship imprint. Immediately recogniseable by its famous octagonal label, it was apparently the only label of this shape in the history of the industry worldwide. There were four series, each indicated by a specific prefix -- Popular (KP and KS), Western (KW) and Children's (KK).
Coronet's "Popular" series was divided into two groups -- the "KP" series (issued on 78rpm) began around the middle of 1956; the "KS" (45rpm) series began some time after, in late 1956 or early 1957. Coronet's Popular catalogue covered a very wide variety of styles, as was typical of the period. Most of its releases were by popular CBS artists like Doris Day, Johnny Mathis, Rosemary Clooney, Frankie Laine, Vic Damone, Marty Robbins, Guy Mitchell, Tony Bennett, Bing Crosby, Debbie Reynolds, Andy Williams. CBS star Johnny Ray thrilled audiences and broke box offices records on his legendary Australian tours promoted by Lee Gordon, which exerted a huge influence on the young Johnny O'Keefe. Also of interest are a number of recordings by American rocker Crash Craddock, who scored several major hits in Australia and made a hugely successful concert tour after being 'discovered' by Lee Gordon, although he remained little known in his homeland.
Coronet also released many "MOR" vocal, instrumental and light orchestral recordings by popular American acts of the period like The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Percy Faith & His Orchestra, Ray Conniff & His Orchestra, Ferrante & Teicher and The Mitch Miller Orchestra. A notable name in this category was polka star and band-leader Frankie Yankovic, the uncle of musical satirist and polka freak "Weird" Al Yankovic. There were also jazz releases sourced from CBS-Columbia's famous jazz catalogue, including recordings by Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Errol Garner, Carmen McRae and Dave Brubeck (including his groundbreaking 1961 hit "Take Five").
Other notable US artists whose recordings came out on Coronet in Australia include Les Paul & Mary Ford, Johnny Cash, film star Sophia Loren, gospel legend Mahalia Jackson, and a very early (1961) CBS jazz-vocal release by future Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin. Coronet even released the theme song to the Z-grade '50s sci-fi fave The Blob (Steve McQueen's first film), performed by a group calling themselves "The Five Blobs". Coronet's other two series were Western (KW) -- pictured at the top of the page -- and Children's (KK). Although the Coronet label carried the CBS logo, and the bulk of Coronet's Popular releases were American recordings sourced from CBS, music historian Hank Facer is unequivocal in declaring Coronet to be a bona fide indigenous label.
The first Coronet Popular 78 rpm release (KP-001) was "The Bible Tells Me So" by Mahalia Jackson; the exact date of release is uncertain, but it was probably mid-1956, soon after the agreement with CBS was signed. The first Coronet 45 rpm single was "Ninety Nine Years" by Guy Mitchell. This was released on both 45rpm (KS-001) and 78rpm (KP-023) disc and many subsequent Coronet releases were issued on both formats over the next two years. The first Coronet 12" LP was Presenting Father MacEwan. Coronet's biggest selling LP in Australia was the soundtrack of My Fair Lady, featuring Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews, produced Goddard Lieberson, who was also President of Columbia Records and who was soon to play a major role in the ARC story.
For about two years, from 1956 to 1958, ARC produced many of its Coronet Popular releases on both 78rpm and 45rpm discs, but the KP 78rpm series was evidently discontinued at the end of 1957, and from 1958 on all Popular releases were issued only as 45rpm singles. In all there were just over 200 titles in the KP (78rpm series, many of which were issued concurrently on 45 -- and around 550 titles in the KS (45rpm) series, which continued until 1963, when the new Australian CBS pop label was inaugurated.
Although overseas releases continued to provide the vast bulk of Coronet's output, ARC also began recording and releasing material by local artists, and according to Hank Facer ARC was second only to Festival in terms of support for local artists in the Fifties. This was at a time when, according to Facer, other companies were restricting local releases to one every four to six weeks, and the popularity of the Coronet local releases forced other companies to meet the growing demand by increasing their local content. Most of these artists, who were released on the KW "Western" series, performed what was then called "hillbilly music" -- what we know today as Country & Western. Although the Popular catalogue was dominated by American acts, around 1960 a handful of local names began to appear including Ray Price, Diana Trask, The Delltones and Johnny Rebb.
On 16 September 1956 the first Australian television broadcasts took place in Sydney and Melbourne. Over the next decade the local radio market was drastically reshaped, with TV completely supplanting radio as the main family entertainment medium and the main outlet for popular drama, serials and game, quiz and variety shows. As demand for these genres on radio evaporated, production contracts were cancelled or not renewed. Some companies, such as ARC in Sydney and Crawfords in Melbourne, were able to move into different areas of business. ARC was able to expand its record business, and Crawfords was one of the lucky few independent radio producers that made a successful transition into TV production. Most other radio production companies simply went out of business, and by 1964 drama, comedy game shows and variety on commercial radio in Australia had almost completely disappeared.
In place of its former staples, two major new programming formats emerged. By the mid-Sixties almost all Australian commercial radio stations had adopted either a Top 40 pop (or mixed-music) format, or a news-talk-talkback format. These fundamental changes in the market led ARC to abandon its radio production activities and close its radio studios. Fortunately it was able to fall back on its record production activities and it now concentrated its operations entirely on the manufacture and distribution of commercial music recordings to meet the growing demand from pop music radio, and it was able to utilise its extensive distribution network to capitalise on the tremendous growth in the record market over the next decade.
The CBS years: 1960-77
ARC's recording facilities were transferred from Bligh Street to Artarmon sometime in 1960, but the most important event in the comany's history took place on 29 April of that year, when the entire board of directors resigned. Some of the outgoing directors had been on the board since the 1940s -- General Manager Dudley Fegan and board member Reginald Denison had joined the board in 1940, and Leslie Denison had joined in 1944.
In their place, two Australians and four Americans were installed to direct operations. According to Hank Facer, all four American board members -- Goddard Lieberson, Richard Salant, Harvey Schein and Herbert Greenspon -- were executives with CBS and/or Columbia Records. Lieberson (himself a former musician and critic and a noted record producer) had been apppinted President of Columbia Records in 1956; Salant went on to become President of CBS News in the Sixties and Seventies, and in 1972 Schein was appointed the first American president of the Sony Corporation's American division.
Although rarely discussed, the CBS acquisition of ARC was a significant landmark for the local industry, since it came only weeks after the January 1960 aquistion of Festival Records by News Limited, the newspaper and publishing company owned and controlled by budding media tycoon Rupert Murdoch. These takeovers meant that, within four months, the two largest Australian-owned independent recording companies had both become wholly-owned subsidiaries of major media organisations, and although News Ltd was still at that time an Australian company, ARC had now fallen under the control of the American-owned CBS Records, the record division of one of America's largest and most powerful media conglomerates, with interests in film, TV, radio, recordings and much other areas. Neither Hank Facer nor Sony histoprian Mel Mayer describe this explicitly as a "takeover" but it is clear that CBS-Columbia obtained a controlling interest in ARC and that from then on ARC was the de facto Australian division of CBS, even though the company did not officially change its name until the late 1970s.
Later in 1960 (and no doubt facilitated by its new American parent company) ARC acquired the manufaturing and distribution rights to two more famous American labels -- Warner Brothers Records and United Artists Records, both of which became strong sellers. ARC retained the rights to the Warner catalogue until 1972,about a year after Warners set up their own local subsidiary. This was followed by the purchase of the rights to the legendary Chicago blues label Chess, as well as the Hickory and Kapp labels. With this expanded roster, ARC was soon challenging the well-established dominance of industry leader EMI.
On 10 February, 1961, the registered office of ARC moved from 29 Bligh Street to 11-19 Hargrave Street, East Sydney. Meanwhile, G.J. Aitken & Co. changed its name to Coronet Records, and also transferred all its facilities to Hargrave Street. Not long after these changes took place, a new company, The Australian Record Club, was incorporated at Hargrave Street. It sold records direct to the public by mail order, and was operated in line with Columbia Record Club of USA.
ARC/CBS began to establish a local pop music roster around 1963, followiing the appointment of Norwegian-born musician-compser Sven Libaek as the company's new A&R manager / house producer, and they began releasing pop-rock recordings on the new Australian CBS label. One of the first local groups signed was Sydney surf legends The Atlantics, who released a string of superb surf-instrumental singles and LPs including the international hit "Bombora", which is now recognised as one of classics of the surf music genre. There were more important local signings over the next few years including leading Melbourne soul band The Groop and top female singer Lynne Randell. Sven Libaek remained with CBS for four years and left the company ca. 1968 to become a freelance producer-composer-arranger.
In mid-1967 A.R.C. installed automatic pressing machinery in its vinyl plant at Artarmon. All the 12" and 7" pressing equipment was designed and manufactured by Columbia USA, although many components (where possible) were made locally in Australia. The first LP pressed on the "auto" line was Camelot for Warner Bros Records.
In 1969 ARC became one of the original shareholders in the
Phonographic Performance Company of Australia Ltd (PPCA),
which was set up to represent record companies and music publishers,
administering broadcast and public performance rights and royalty
payments in sound recordings and (later) music videos. It was
established by a consortium of the Association of Australian Record
Manufacturers (the predecessor of ARIA), Actors' Equity and The
Musicians' Union, in the wake of the Copyright Act 1968 which
legislated broadcast and public performance rights in sound recordings.
The PPCA's other original shareholders were Electronic Industries (the
parent company of Astor Records),
PolyGram Records, RCA, EMI Records, Festival Records and W&G
Record Processing (later replaced by WEA Records).
There were more significant changes to ARC's company structure and operations over the next decade. Between July and October 1970, Warner Bros Records established its own local subsidiary, Warner Brothers Australia (later renamed WEA and now known as Warner Music Australia) under the management of Paul Turner. Warner Bros Aust. retained the existing distribution arrangements with ARC for the first two years before taking over its own distribution in 1972.
Also in 1970 A.R.C. established a printing plant at Artarmon, on Sydney's north shore. Another new subsidiary company was created, CBS Musical Instruments, also located at Artarmon. It was set up to distribute Fender guitars and Rogers drums among many other hundreds of musical instruments and accessories. This was a direct outcome of the 1965 acquisition of the Fender and Rogers companies by ARC's parent, CBS (USA). ARC opened up a retail outlet in Oxford Street, Sydney, the Fender Sound House, which sold musical instruments and electronic equipment. ARC's central Record Warehouse relocated from Hargrave Street to Artarmon, and on Easter Tuesday, 1973 a cassette manufacturing facility was established, also located at Artarmon.
On 17 October 1977, CBS finally formalised its control over ARC and changed the company's name to CBS Records Australia Limited. Over the next few years CBS Australia expanded and reorganised the company structure, and the local CBS label enjoyed tremendous success, thanks in large measure to A&R manager and house producer Peter Dawkins, who signed and produced one of the biggest and best Australasian rock bands of the period, Dragon. Another major CBS success in the early 1980s was the band Eurogliders.
In the late '70s CBS's Printing Division and Record Warehouse moved from Artarmon to 10 Carter Street, Lidcombe, CBS Musical Instruments and the Fender Sound House were both closed and the Australian Record Club was sold to Record Clubs of Australia. The Lidcombe warehouse closed and a new distributor called EDC -- a joint-venture between CBS and EMI -- took over all distribution for both companies. EDC was located at the old EMI complex at Parramatta Road, Homebush. In the 1980s compact discs were introduced to the Australian marketplace. Initially these were manufactured for CBS externally. Cassette manufacturing was moved from Artarmon to Lidcombe and manual compact disc assembly was introduced at Lidcombe.
On 5 January 1988 there was another dramatic change when the Sony Corporation of Japan purchased CBS Records on a worldwide basis. All manufacturing and administration of CBS affiliates was now under the umbrella of the giant electronics and entertainment conglomerate. Three years later, on 11 January 1991, CBS Records Australia became Sony Music Australia Limited. It has since become the biggest record company in Australia, under the guidance of Chairman and CEO Denis Handlin.
By 1991, with the compact disc now firmly established as the primary consumer music format, sales of vinyl had fallen to a tiny fraction of their former level, so on the 28 June 1991 the Artarmon Vinyl Plant finally closed its doors, although the Sales Division and Mastering Services remained on the office level of the building. Shortly after the closure of the vinyl plant, EDC vacated its Homebush premises and set up operations at the new Huntingwood complex in Victoria.
In 1990 Sony Corporation of Japan also negotiated an agreement with EMI to gain exclusive worldwide use of the Columbia name. This had long been a problem area for both companies. EMI had bought the American Columbia label in the early 1930s but was later forced to divest it because of anti-trust concerns, and it was taken over by CBS in 1935; CBS owned the rights to the name and operated the Columbia label in the Americas and Japan, but EMI had retained its rights to the Columbia name in most other countries, including Australia and New Zealand. Several very prominent overseas artists (e.g. Bob Dylan, The Byrds) were signed to Columbia USA but for the reasons outlined above, this label could not be marketed locally in Australia, so those releases locally in Australia came out on the CBS label. Many people will still own imported Columbia USA recordings from that time on which the 'Columbia' name had to be obscured by marker-pen or a sticker.
In December of 1992, Denis Handlin opened the Hi-Tech CD Manufacturing Plant at Huntingwood. At the end of March 1993 the remaining Lidcombe operation was phased out. Printing and cassette manufacturing moved to Huntingwood. Not long after, the CBS mastering services moved from Artarmon to Huntingwood. On 23 February 1995 Sony Music Australia Limited became Sony Music Entertainment (Australia) Limited. Since that time the company has been renamed CBS Sony (Australia).
In 2004, Bertelsmann (currently one of the three largest media conglomerates in the world) and the Sony Corporation merged their music holdings into a joint venture called Sony BMG -- a move which, ironically, united the former CBS labels with those of its long-time competitor RCA, which had been acquired by Bertelsmann in the late 1980s.
Rodeo Records discography - Globaldog Productions
Pacific Records discography - Globaldog Productions
Coronet Records discography - Globaldog Productions
For information on the CBS label please see our page on CBS Records (Australia)
References / Links
Milesago is indebted to the work of Hank B. Facer and Mal Mayer for the information contained in this article, and to Globaldog Productions for their efforts in compiling catalogues of the Rodeo, Pacific and Coronet labels.
"The Australian Record Company"
Logo, Vol. 3, No. 4, August 1981
Sony Music Company History
Columbia Records History
ketupa.net media profiles
Caslon Analytics profile - copyright collecting
History of Music Clubs