RMIM Archive Article "24".
From the RMIM Article Archive maintained by Satish Subramanian
# RMIM Archive.
# Subject: 78 RPM records-history. Preserving Old Echoes.
# Posted by: Gopal Kondagunta
From the RMIM Article Archive maintained by Satish Subramanian
1. Preserving Old Echoes - 78 RPM records
This article traces the history of Indian 78 RPM records and
old gramophone recordings. This also talks about the aims and
achievements of SIRC which was set up recently in Bom- bay.
The aim of the Society of Indian Record Collectors (SIRC) is
to salvage the wealth of recorded music and other material on
78 rpm records from total obscurity.
Also there was a posting about the address of the SIRC
organization, where one can get more information about their
publications etc. An excerpt from that posting follows:
~Subject: ADDRESS of "Society of Indian Collectors" (Bombay)
~From: firstname.lastname@example.org (David Graham)
~Date: 5 Jan 1995 02:53:36 +1100
This is the address of the secretary in Bombay (no email
address). The S.I.R.C publishes 4 (low tech) journals a year
and has meetings in Bombay each month. The cost was $10. When
you write or fax Suresh, he can let you know if it has gone
The society is dedicated to cataloging and preserving the
rich treasure trove of Indian music. I post the address as
there may be people looking for such a society or even have
old (78's) in the attic that their parents have sitting in a
trunk and would like to trace them.
contact SURESH CHANDVANKAR
207 PARASHARA TIFR HSG COLONY
NAVY NAGAR, COLABA
BOMBAY 400 005
INDIA Phone 91 22 218 9876
Preserving Old Echoes --- 78 RPM records
The sound of music is certainly changing as the market gets
flooded with the state-of-the art equipment like compact disc
recorders and digital tape recorders. But even as the
acoustic revolution goes high-tech, a group of music
enthusiasts is working to revive interest in an equally
important phase in India's audio history - old gramophone
recordings. Set up recently in Bombay the aim of the Society
of Indian Record Collectors(SIRC) is to salvage the wealth of
recorded music and other material on 78rpm records from total
Says Suresh Chandvankar, a Tata Institute of Fundamental
Research scientist who is the secretary of the record
collectors' society:"According to a rough estimate, five lakh
titles under 75 different company labels have been issued
since the early 1900s. If we can preserve even one lakh
titles, it will be quite an achievement. "
Not that the entire treasure of records is restricted to film
music. It is in fact, a virtual audio history of India-
Hindustani and Carnatical classical music, theatre songs,
plays and satires, folk music, religious discourses, poetry,
children's stories and songs, speeches by various leaders and
even poems recited by Sarojini Naidu.
In an effort to preserve gramophone records, the SIRC has
begun by identifying 250 people around the country with major
collections. SIRC President Narayan Mulani's personal
collection itself contains 3000 records. In Bombay alone
there are atleast 70 serious collectors, including
Chandvankar whose 1000 78 RPMs collection includes several
unusual recordings like a Zoroastrian religious discourse
under the Young Iran label. Among other well known collectors
is Prabhakar Datar whose collection of 6000 records includes
an invaluable selection of old Marathi songs. Then there is
Mukund Acharya-a tobacco and snuff shop owner-with a 3000
strong collection of records with old Hindi film songs. Says
Acharya: "My interest goes back when I was fascinated with
operating the hand- cranked gramophone. "
Though none of the collectors now play the 78 RPMs on the old
gramophones - as its heavy pickup arm and thick needle
shorten the life of a record -that Does not detract from
their value. Instead, they use modern four-speed changers in
order to reproduce rare recordings.
India's best known record collector is V. A. K. Ranga Rao,
a music writer of Madras. His collection of 28, 000 78 RPMs
contains songs and other recordings in 50 Indian and foreign
languages, besides Hindustani and Carnatic classical music
from 1903 to 1974 when the 78 RPM records were finally
discontinued. Says Rao:"I think they contain the history of a
country and its culture, at 78 revolutions per minute. "
Or to be precise, 78.26 revolutions per minute. The
overwhelming number of 78 RPMs were issued in 10inch diameter
size, with each side playing for 3. 5minutes. Then there
were the 12 inch 'longplay" version lasting upto eight
minutes. While the smallest size was five inches, the largest
records were 24 inches in diameterand were made only for the
All India Radio signature tunes and revolved at 80RPM
The history of recorded music in India began not long after
the invention of the gramophone by the American Emile
Berliner in 1888. One of Berliners associates set up the
Gramophone Company in England in 1898. Three years later ,
the recording company opened a branch in Calcutta, initiating
a golden era of 78RPM gramophone music which lasted till the
The earliest Indian recordings, like those of Gohar Jan and
Janki Bai in 1903, were pressed into discs in Europe, until
the Gramophone Company of India set up its Calcutta factory
in 1908. Its original label, depicting an angel writing on a
disc, was later replaced by the dog listening to a
gramophone- a logo which made the His Masters Voice (HMV)
label synonymous with the Gramophone Company.
So complete was the Gramophone Company's monopoly over the 78
RPM record business that its Dum Dum factory was the only in
India till the German Polydor Company set up its unit in
Bombay in 1969. Neveretheless, several entrepreneurs
attempted to break the HMV stranglehold, producing records
which today are a collectors delight.
Some independent companies did create quite a stir-Bombay's
Broadcast Records, for instance which lured away some of the
major classical singers like Siddheshwari Devi, Kesarbai
Kerkar and Mallikarjun Mansoor from HMV, or T.
S. Ramachander's Ramagraph Records which issued nearly 5000
titles till 1940. All these recording were forced to get
their records pressed in Germany or Japan, except for a few
like Hindustan Records and Megaphone which received HMV
backing since they exclusively recorded two major singers -
K. L. Saigal and Begum Akthar.
But the biggest challenge to HMV came from the Young India
label promoted by the film maker V. Shantaram in 1936. Young
India's logo expressed the dominantnationalist sentiments
prevailing at that time - a tricolour over the map of
India. Some of the best Prabhat Film Company music was issued
under this label.
Collectors today treasure such old records which form part of
the history of recording companies - the earliest one-sided
discs, cardboard records, plastic postcard records, canary
yellow Bulbul label discs, records which play from inside to
out, souvenir label records given free with cinema balcony
tickets, and the intriguing varying the starting point on the
Collectors have picked many of these historic records from
places like Bombay's Chor Bazaar, which has junk shops
specializing in old gramophone recordsand 78 RPM records.
According to Anwar Hussein, a Chor Bazaar dealer, only about
30 per cent of the records collected from homes by
'kabariwalas' are good for listening, while the rest are
resold for children and street artists to paint on. Most 78
RPMs can be bought for between Rs3 and Rs 10 each. But rare
records in mint condition can fetch upto several hundred
rupees. Says Hussein: " But the supply of records is much
less than a decade ago. "
Which is why SIRC wants to make sure that information on old
records is collated before the supply dies out completely. It
also plans to function as an "information exchange" on old
records, at the same time ensuring that record collections
are not thrown away by disinterested family members after the
death of a collector.
The move to set up SIRC was, in fact, initiated by an
Australian discographer, Michael Kinnear who has just come
out with the first of a multivolume catalogue of Indian
records since 1903. Kinnear's interest in Indian 78 RPMs
began when he was a recording engineer with HMV in Bombay in
the 60's. Eventually, the society would like to set up a
National Sound Archives, on the lines of the Pune film
The National Centre for the Performing Arts(NCPA) in Bombay
has already taken a step towards creating a music archives.
"We have nearly 10,000 old discs, and an ongoing programme of
recording contemporary classical artistes on tape, " saysNCPA
Programme Officer Vasanth Dandavate, the younger brother of
the veteran politician Madhu Dandavate, whose 78 RPM
collection contains 700 vintage classical vocal records.
Music of course, has the power to delight generations of
listeners. Even old film songs continue to enrapture
audiences, and are constantly revived. By ensuring that the
old 78 RPMs do not get destroyed, record collectors are
playing an important role in preserving an invaluable part of
India's cultural heritage.