The Rise and Fall of the Compact 33 Record

billboard 1961 0106-compact33After a little research, I have found several articles and advertisements that give a general indication as to the introduction to the the relatively quick demise of the Compact 33 format that RCA Victor records had introduced. This has proven to be an interesting little research project as it was somewhat obvious that the Compact 33 format lasted for just over a year, but the reasons were not so clear, until now.

The majority of this Compact 33 historical account is heavily weighted toward the RCA Victor product line. Where there were many large manufactures at that time that were also in the business of the Compact 33.

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This research is a basis for understanding the reason for the extreme values attached to artists such as Elvis Presley Compact 33 singles.

November 21, 1960
Billboard Magazine, pp 1,2,22 by Paul Ackerman

RCA Victor announces the introduction of the Compact 33 record format. Here is a summary of the article.

In 1960 was a lackluster year with 45 RPM single sales, so January 1961 the Compact 33 RPM will debut. The logic is that most record players offer a potential for playing 33 singles which didn’t exist until a year earlier.

A promotion with Dr. West, the world’s largest manufacturer of toothbrushes, will launch with at least 25 Compact 33’s in a Highlighter (one side monaural and the other stereo) featuring hot RCA Victor artists Sam Cooke, the Browns, Neil Sedaka and Rod Lauren. With an initial order in the million figure, the Highlighters wil be available at over 60,000 outlets at 84 cents which include an attached toothbrush. Media promotion through Life, Seventeen, Ingenue, Playbill, Ebony, Parent’s Magazine, and key newspaper markets. Dealers will be made available a 350 Compact 33 display. The cost of this promotion is nearly $750,000 ($5,363,000 in 2009 dollars).


This is an example of the Dr. West promotion SP/SPS 33-99. This compact 33 was issued with one side regular (monaural) and the other side in stereo. Notice the residue on the side where a toothbrush was likely affixed.


The same single was likely released later rather than simultaneously. The sleeve above differs in that the Dr. West promo is removed with Tunes for Teens. The price is increased.

SAM COOKE – Hey There
THE BROWNS – Who’s Gonna Buy You Ribbons
NEIL SEDAKA – Circulate
ROD LAUREN – Young and Warm and Wonderful

Compact 33s are to be offered in two forms. The Compact 33 single with two songs is offered at 98 cents and the Compact 33 double with four songs offered at $1.49.

George Marek, VP and GM of RCA Victor states the company will be going “all the way” meaning “all singles product will be issued simultaneously on the Compact 33 and 45. The long-term outlook is the 33 RPM speed will eventually phase out the 45 RPM. He also stated that “with the Compact 33, a market can be created for those who like pop music but do not wish to buy or cannot afford a 12-inch LP. The new record should also be appealing to those who want to sample a new artist thru a single and then, if pleased, acquire a long playing record of that same artist.”

Columbia Records has had some recent success using their Compact 33 for promotional programs, mailing stuffers, greeting cards, or specialy items. Their disks generally sell when placed on display at the dealer level.

December 19, 1960
Billboard Magazine, pp 34-35.

RCA Victor announces the introduction of the Compact 33 record format.

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RCA had quite a spread in this issue of Billboard where they introduce the Compact 33. Below are the couple of paragraphs that introduce the Compact 33 format.

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Dramatic Introduction of Compact 33

Basic to the growth of any industry is new product. RCA Victor starts 1961 with the all-important introduction of the Compact 33 single and double. Over a million homes will be introduced to this exciting new kiing of record by a Special Compact 33 made for a promotional tie-in with Dr. West toothbrushes, supported by a far-reaching national advertising and promotional campaign. This pre-selling of Compact 33 will open new marketing vistas for both Popular and Classical music for the entire industry.

Rebuilding the “Red Seal Singles” Market on Compact 33

RCA Victor believes taht the once profitable classical “singles” market on 78 RPM days can be built into an important segment of the business with the Compact 33. Repertoire will feature popular classics performed by favorite concert artists.

January 9, 1961
Billboard Magazine, p 2

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RCA Victor has shipped out the first Compact 33 singles to it’s dealers throughout the country. The first singles on the 33 RPM speed include Della Reese, Andy and the Bey Sisters, the Ames Brothers, Boots Randolph, and Barry Martin. The records are also made available on the 45 RPM format. For the moment, both formats will be shipping to the disk jockeys.


January 16, 1961
Billboard Magazine, p 57

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RCA Victor announces the NOW! “COMPACT 33” FROM RCA CUSTOM

This one page advertisement attempts to lure costumers into using the new Compact 33 format for their recording needs. After all, this approach had been documented to work for Columbia records months before.


January 30, 1961
Billboard Magazine, p88

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NARM, the National Association of Record Merchandisers is composed of approx. 50 large “record rack jobbers” throughout the country had announced their full support in the merchandising of the Compact 33 single.


March 27, 1961
Billboard Magazine, p14

An article written by Raul Matas titled “Singles in Spain Are on the Gain” writes that “RCA started a great press campaign for its Compact 33 … Connie Francis singing in Spanish and Italian …” The important reference to take from this statement is that RCA had hoped that since the Compact 33, particularly the double Compact 33 can hold more “data” then there could be an expansion as to what these singles hold.

A more recent example of this could be taking a DVD and then “upgrading” to a Blu-Ray disc as it will not only provide you with the same entertainment as the original, now being towted as a “standard” however can expand upon the entertainment experience.

June 19, 1961
Billboard Magazine

A production manager of WBUC, Buckhannon, WV writes an interesting perspective which likely sums up the many reasons why the Compact 33 is not a popular format.

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…”At first we thought the compact 33 single was a good idea inasmuch as it would cut down on the possibility of getting a record on the wrong speed when playing mixed shows using both singles and albums. However, we have fast changed our minds. Actually we can see no advantage whatsoever in changing from the present 45’s to anything! Since the compact 33 is the same diameter, it doe snot offer any advantage in filing. There doesn’t seem to be any noticeable improvement in fidelity. The 45 is so much easier to handle, since you can stick a finger through the holes in a whole stack of records and pick them up without dropping half of them. Both in picking out records for an air show and in using them on my record hops, I find 45’s handy as a pocket in a shirt, while the compact 33 is a pain in the neck. One 33 in the stack fouls up the shole stack or rack of disks.

July 10, 1961
Billboard Magazine

This review agrees with the the above assessment of the Compact 33 in that the industry does not want to change.

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Bob Kidd, KUZN, West Monroes, La., writes, “Would like to congratulate Dale Brooks of WBUC, Buckhannon, WV., for speaking up for the good old standbys, the 45 RPM disks. We agree, and think the industry should stick with the 45’s and leave the compact 33’s to the record retailers.” … Hy Lit, WCAM, Camden, NJ


Somewhere betwen July 1961 and 1962, the Compact 33 push had come to an end. The product had nearly become extinct.


September 22, 1962
Billboard Magazine

At this point, the Compact 33 dead and nearly forgotten. Here is an example of that sentiment where the Compact 33 is referenced with other failed experiments.

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After considering the concept as a retail entity, most diskers called last week were pessimistic. There were recollections of various experiments with new concepts in disks, such as RCA Victor’s compact 33-speed singles, Columbia’s stereo 33, introduced some time before, and others. In none of these cases, did the disks in question make a serious dent in the marketing picture. Fault, in most cases, was laid at the doorstep of Mr. Average Record Dealer, whose problems of inventory were already compounded by the necessity of stocking both stereo and monaural versions of the same LP titles.