Spring Grove Avenue is one of those great old Cincinnati streets with so much history that even if you don’t know the story behind the buildings, as you’re driving along you know that every warehouse and factory stores countless tales tracing back to the days when they were packed with workers and the wide, four-lane street where you now have plenty of elbow room was a lot more crowded. Some places have closed up shop—but not all of them, and you still see semis doing what they did decades ago.
It makes perfect sense that in the middle of all that sits the building belonging to QCA, a company that started making vinyl records in 1950. After all, making records is a mechanical process where you get your hands dirty in the same way that you do in a huge factory. The process involves nickel and silver and cutters and PVC pellets and electro-plating and machines that do everything from making the stamper to ensuring the spindle hole is dead center. The technology of music reproduction has changed a lot since 1950. Some of it has gone away—and some of it has returned. The fact that it in this case the inevitable race to obsolescence wasn’t so inevitable surprised everyone, but that’s what happened after a resurgence of popularity for vinyl. Along with equipment that was used for scrap metal or converted for use in other industries, entire pressing plants have disappeared since vinyl records seemed to have gone the route of dinosaurs.
QCA (Queen City Album) is still here, however. Since 1950, the company has been making records, first as vinyl albums, then cassettes and CDs. Once, like King Records, a soup-to-nuts facility that offered everything from a recording studio to album covers, QCA switched its focus when demand for vinyl plummeted. As vinyl returned, QCA jumped back in, and it’s now involved in several steps in the process of putting together a record. It creates labels for both LPs and 45s, make record sleeves for 45s and is involved in the design of album covers, and I should add that because UltraSuede Studios is in the building, you can once again record on the same premises where your vinyl record might be pressed. And QCA once again masters and creates stampers for vinyl records. Those stampers get sent to Cleveland’s Gotta Groove Records, which means that when it comes to creating a vinyl disc, you can get it all done in the same state.
During vinyl’s initial golden age, Cincinnati was blessed to have QCA, King, Shaw, and Rite cranking out LPs and 45s, a situation that’s extremely rare for a medium-sized city. As a decades-long record collector, I’ve treasured many of the albums and 45s that were recorded and/or pressed at these facilities. Of those businesses, QCA is the only one still going. It’s a place I’ve wanted to visit for some time, but I never had an excuse to go there—not until yesterday, when a friend who’s releasing an album on vinyl invited me to tag along as he talked business with Jim Bosken, the president of QCA. Even with the vinyl revival, newly-recorded classical music seldom comes out on wax. As the music editor of The Absolute Sound, I will write about the making of this record partly because of the unique New Classical + Vinyl combination, but also because Mark Lehman has long been involved with the magazine and I want to spread the word about my friend’s album. I snapped some photos during my visit yesterday, and while I’ll swing back around and say more later about this experience, this is already a lot of words – and besides, the pictures have their own story to tell.