ARC/CBS/Sony Notes

A Short History of ARC/CBS/Sony Records in Australia

CBS had its beginnings as the Australian Record Company or ARC – its official company name until 1977. ARC had its origins as a merger between two Sydney radio production companies around 1938 that produced 16″ transcription discs of radio serials. ARC also did custom pressings for individual artists, who like todays MySpace operations promoted and sold their own music. For a short time ARC pressed and distributed German classical 78RPM records from masters made in Germany. However the outbreak of the Second World War meant a swift end to that, with the Australian government banning all German imports. Whilst the radio transcription discs continued, the commercial music operation was moth-balled until 1949. When ARC resumed commercial releases they did so with two labels – Pacific and Rodeo. Pacific specialised in popular and jazz, whilst Rodeo concentrated on Country and Western. By 1951 ARC had the rights to two major American labels – Capitol and London. However, the Capital deal was short lived, as in March 1956 EMI took over Capital America. ARC responded by buying the rights to the CBS catalogue that was being pressed and distributed in Australia by EMI.

EMI owned the Columbia name in Australia, so the Coronet name was used by ARC. Coronet quickly became a market leader and was also well known for the unique octagonal label on it its 45s and 12″ LPs. The concurrent release of many of the 45s on 78RPM discs lasted around two years, but production of 78s seems to have ended about 1958.


From about 1960 support grew for local Australian artists, and Coronet recorded acts such as Johnny Rebb, Diana Trask, and The Delltones. As television killed off radio quiz, drama and comedy shows, ARC was able to fall back on it’s commercial music division and successfully rode the early Top 40 radio formats together with Astor, EMI, Festival, and W&G.

The Top 40 format was a roaring success in the United States at the time and there was equal potential in Australia. In April 1960, the complete board of ARC resigned and four Americans and two Australians took over the company. The Americans were directors of Columbia in the United States. This occurred not long after Festival was bought out by Rupert Murdochs’ News Limited, meaning all the major Sydney record company’s were now effectively overseas owned. With the clout of the American parent, ARC started the distribution of Warner, United Artists, and Chess. With operations now on a parr with giant EMI, there was enough turn over to support the development of local talent.

It seems that the CBS takeover was actually a good thing for Australian music. They installed Norwegian born Sven Libaek as A&R manager and he signed some of the best groups and solo artists of the 1960s including The Atlantic’s, Lynne Randell, and the The Groop whilst in the job between 1963 and 1968.

However, there was a hiatus in the recording of Australian acts from 1968 to 1973 when CBS concentrated on its American catalogue. It is from this period that most of the compilations listed come from, and there is a complete lack of local artists present on any of these releases. Nevertheless, CBS did many of the custom pressings for companies such as Majestic/K-Tel, Now, and many others during this time, and these often featured Australians.

By the mid 1970s CBS were again a major force in the production of local artists and their later compilations reflect this.

This page currently lists the locally pressed “samplers” from the late 1960s and early 1970s. Other material to follow.

ARC parent company, CBS, reorganised the company in 1977 and the ARC name was retired in favour of CBS, bringing it into line with the other international operations. When Sony bought the parent organisation in 1988, the CBS branding was slowly retired except for legacy reissues.

Under Sony management vinyl pressings were phased out in favour of the Compact Disc.  The last vinyl pressings seem to be from around 1990.  Sony still issues K-Tel style compilations under the So Fresh branding, and issues older music compilations from time to time.


Please note: this is work in progress.