The McCann Time Capsule: Behind Vinyl Record’s First Big LP Boom
“Record of the Year,” one of the many awards won by Adele earlier this week at the Grammys, doesn’t actually refer anymore to those big, round, flat plates of plastic called records since music now comes in multiple formats. But there was a time some 70 years ago when the long playing (LP) 33 1/3 vinyl record was a real physical innovation, and the job of introducing it fell to McCann.
Columbia Records introduced the LP in June 1948, and the McCann advertising campaign talked up the advantages of being able to listen to a piece of music uninterrupted by the need to keep making changes at the turntable. As it said in a 1949 ad headlined “No more broken-up Beethoven,” consumers could now “Hear music as the composer wrote it! Uninterrupted! Each movement complete. . . without a single pause not planned by the composer himself. Up to 50 minutes of music on 2 sides of a single Columbia Records Long Playing Microgroove Record!”
McCann NY had first won the Columbia Recording Corp. account, as the client was then called, in July 1946. The account actually involved multiple components, including not only ads but the production of radio shows based on Columbia’s stable of artists. And since Columbia Records had both a set of classical and popular music performers, there were two lines of the brand that needed to be supported.
After winning the account, McCann’s first activity was producing the new half-hour radio program called the “Columbia Record Shop,” which ran nationally on hundreds of stations and featured such major popular performers as Frank Sinatra, Dinah Shore, Cab Calloway, and Benny Goodman. In September 1946, the agency launched “Symphony Hall” on WQXR in New York, which featured classical performers who were part of Columbia’s Masterworks Series. Columbia’s classical side would innovate in such programming areas as recording a full Metropolitan Opera performance for the first time in 1947.
The popular music side would engage in its own set of programming acrobatics. In particular, the agency was very proud of one “very tricky program” in 1947 in which the NY-based emcee was interviewing Frank Sinatra in Hollywood, though through two separate scripts that needed to be edited together for the final product. As the agency commented in its newsletter, the McCann director of the radio program “spent many nerve-wracking hours synchronizing the turn tables.”
McCann’s sophisticated record marketing was also a source of pride for the agency. It pointed to one 1947 story that talked about “how Columbia Records’ advertising decisions were based on research plus top flight creative interpretation and ‘pre-testing.” The story ran in Tide magazine with a headline “The Boom in Phonograph Records.” Interestingly, contemporary headlines about the record business are not that dissimilar. Forbes magazine ran one two years ago titled “The Revival of Vinyl Records,” followed just last month by “Vinyl Sales Aren't Dead: The 'New' Billion Dollar Music Business.”