Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


GOLDMARK, Dr Peter Carl

(b 2 December 1906, Budapest; killed in a car crash 7 December 1977, near Westchester NY) President of CBS labs; credited with inventing the long-playing microgroove record. He obtained a physics degree at the U. of Vienna and built a receiver there for John Logie Baird's historic BBC TV transmission from London in 1926. He worked on TV for Pye in Cambridge, then went to the new CBS TV lab in New York and soon became president of it. He built the first successful colour TV system in 1940; it worked better than RCA's but failed because it was incompatible with monochrome transmission: by the time the FCC approved colour broadcasting there were already millions of b&w sets in use and RCA had spent millions developing their system (but it used a valve [vacuum tube] invented by Goldmark and they had to pay him a royalty). Goldmark's colour TV system was used in closed-circuit systems where it didn't need to be compatible with anything else.

An enthusiastic amateur musician, Goldmark did not own a record player; he was irritated by the clicking and thumping of a record changer while listening to music at a friend's house in 1945. At least that was the story.

In fact, Bill Paley, President of CBS, had bought a record company in 1938 because he was in egotistic competition with his opposite David Sarnoff at NBC, which owned RCA Victor. Paley had hired Edward Wallerstein away from RCA to run his newly revived Columbia label, and it was Wallerstein who believed in the long-playing record, which Paley wanted because RCA's long-playing record experiment had flopped in the early 1930s, and Paley was also smarting because of RCA's success in the fledgling TV industry. Goldmark and his team had fooled around with the idea of a microgroove plastic record, but distracted with television they were not getting anywhere, so Paley took the project away from Goldmark's lab and gave it to Columbia Records. Wallerstein had brought Jim Hunter with him from RCA as chief of engineering, and he hired Bill Bachman from General Electric. An engineer at RCA, Fred Barton, had made microgroove records in the mid-1930s, but they would not hold up on the playback equipment of the time; Hunter perfected the method of pressing microgroove records out of vinyl, while Rene Snepvangers (b 17 April 1910, Belgium; d June 1967) worked on a lightweight pickup. Bachman invented the heated cutting stylus for making the master discs, and later the variable-pitch technique which allowed longer playing time by cutting the groove spiral closer together where the music was soft (and still later worked on a stereo cartridge). Howard Scott (b 31 May 1920, Bridgeport CT; d 22 September 2012, Reading PA) was a musician who could read scores, and helped with timing the transfer of 78 sides to the new medium without tape, which wasn't in use yet: four 12-inch 78 rpm sides for the first movement of Brahms' First Symphony, for example. (But Columbia actually had a headstart in this department, because Wallerstein had long since ordered all recording to be done on 16-inch 33-1/3 discs as well as on 78 masters, so they had a ten-year backlog of good technology for transfer to the new medium.) One story was that at first there were problems with mysteriously noisy surfaces on the new records, which turned out to be caused by over-zealous sweeping of the floor in the factory, raising dust that was then pressed into the plastic grooves.

Paley insisted on Goldmark and the CBS labs getting all the credit for the long-playing record, rather than the ex-RCA employees at Columbia. The new product was launched ahead of schedule in June 1948 because of rumours in the trade; Philco was behind schedule making the new record players and there were none available yet. But there were 200 LPs ready to be released, and a famous photograph of Goldmark holding a stack of LPs standing next to a towering pile of 78 rpm albums with the same amount of playing time. When Sarnoff saw the new record he was furious. Columbia issued long-playing records at 33-1/3 rpm in 7", 10" and 12" sizes, for singles, pop and classical albums respectively; but Sarnoff ordered the development of the entirely unnecessary 45 rpm disc with its own player, all to be incompatible with Columbia's discs.

It was the original cast recording of Rodgers & Hammerstein's South Pacific that really launched the LP: from May 1949 it was in the Billboard album chart for over 400 weeks; it was available on all three speeds, but everybody in New York bought the LP, and that was the beginning of the end for the 78. Goldmark was happy to take the credit; allegedly, the Soviet Union sent him a copy of each new LP issued there for many years. He retired in 1972 holding more than 160 patents, and published a ghost-written memoir, Maverick Inventor: My Turbulent Years At CBS, the next year. See also entries for Columbia, Recorded Sound, and RCA.