The Omega Story
In 1954 an ambitious jazz aficionado named David Hubert formed the International Pacific Recording Corporation. Few at the time contested the fact that reel tapes offered audio quality that was superior to vinyl LPs. But reels were less convenient than plopping a disk on the turntable, and--more importantly--were costlier than 'long playing' records. Hubert announced that he would neutralize the cost differential by offering tapes at prices competitive with LPs: $5.95.
Using 5' reels for half-track mono recordings, Omegatapes initially concentrated on classics (licensed from the UK label Concert Artist, headed by William Barrington-Coupe), while Jazztapes offered dixieland and, of course, jazz. The first release offered 12 classical titles, 3 jazz, and a $1 demonstration tape that sold over a thousand copies at the 1955 Los Angeles Audio Fair. By August 1955 another line was added: Alphatapes, 4' reels priced at $3.95.
Omega's first stereo reels soon appeared (at $7.95), and the Omegatape/Jazztape mono line (now numbering 24 titles) increased in price to $6.95. Omega kick-started interest in two-channel sound with a series of 'demonstration tapes' offered for $5.95 (about half the cost of a full-length stereo reel). One of these would be the label's first stereo classical reel: Beethoven's 5th Symphony, the fruit of a licensing arrangement with the Club Francais du Disque. Omega signed contracts with several record companies (including Carlton, Golden Crest, and Crown) to release their product on reel. For original content Hubert produced a number of jazz recordings and beefed up the label's two-channel inventory by going to Belgium to record a series of big band tributes led by Francis Bay. Even today these tapes still impress with their sharp performances and vivid, lifelike sonics.
Hubert realized that stereo sound would render mono reels obsolete, so he devised a scheme to help push that process along. He offered a trade-in plan for dealers: send us two tapes (any brand or condition) and get a $5 discount on an order of ten Omegatapes. It resulted in a 25% boost in business for Omega. Hubert said returning unsaleable reels would mean that 'stereo tapes can be properly sold and exploited', adding that dealers shouldn't be 'panicked' by the talk of still-impractical stereo LPs, because two-channel vinyl would 'broaden the interest and potential for the tape market rather than hurt sales'. That was true for Omega: as of April 1958, they boasted of using 10 million feet of tape per month. Almost all of that was the Omegatape line; the Alphatape/Jazztape imprints fell into disuse.
Just one month later, Omega announced that it would begin its own line of mono/stereo LPs. Omegadisks hit the market on May 25 1958, priced at $5.95 (mono)/$6.95 (stereo). The first releases were given deluxe packaging: hinged boxes lined with gold foil, pressed on colored translucent vinyl. These upscale features were quickly abandoned, and a little over a year later Omega cut the prices for both mono and stereo LPs to $3.98, described by Hubert as 'a more realistic price structure'.
1959 bought more change to the reel market: quarter-track stereo tapes. Omega quickly joined the bandwagon and by April of 1960 the new format accounted for 50% of their sales. Half-track stereo reels listed at $9.95, while the equivalent quarter-track version sold for $6.95. Added later was a one-hour 4-track double-program series that combined two releases on one reel for $9.95.
It was probably early 1961 when Omegatape, Hollywood ceased to exist. What happened remains murky, but after a brief hiatus Omegatape resurfaced--this incarnation was now headquartered in New York instead of California. The new management revived the old Alphatapes imprint and cheapened the releases. Notes were replaced by generic blurbs, and dubbing quality was inconsistent.
Things got worse when the quarter-track library was issued a second time (the STF-7 series), now with tracks dropped to save costs on tape, and sloppy packaging that often misattributed titles and performers. The management ventured beyond Omega's catalog and seemed to put out most anything the producers could lay their hands on. STF-7 reels started appearing as STF-3 (3.75 ips speed), and in a particuarly bizarre move as mono (MTF) tapes. Eventually the abbreviated STF-7 reels would recirculate again, on cheap Hallmark / Empire / Turnpike / Sentry reels, produced by a division of Keystone (the home movie projector people). Sentry, who also sold accessories for tape enthusiasts, split from Keystone, eventually abandoned the tape business, and still exists today.
Omega's LP line did not fare any better—again the details of how it happened are unclear. But in 1961 Francis Bay recordings started showing up on Directional Sound (a product of the penny-pinchers at Premier Albums) attributed to 'John Evans'. The west coast Sutton label (list price 99 cents) reissued some Omega titles without pseudonymns. This company had an Omega alum on its board, and Sutton replicated some of Omega's slogans and blurbs. Meanwhile, somebody (we have been unable to determine who) continued to press LPs under the Omegadisk imprint. They cut every corner possible, right down to the absence of notes, cheap covers, and increasingly shoddy pressings. The Omegadisk catalog was extended out to OSL 149, turning it into a dumping ground for material from the likes of Spin-O-Rama and Coronet (both owned by Premier Albums), often rampant with misattributions and other incompetencies. Of course, these disreputable discs quickly outnumbered genuine Omega LPs, burying the label's reputation in a sea of ersatz pretenders.
In 1961 David Hubert began a new label: Horizon. It would eventually be absorbed by Vee-Jay, and a spin-off of Horizon (Surrey) was created to re-use the Horizon masters. There one could find several albums by the 'Surrey Brass'--in fact Omega recordings by Francis Bay, Lloyd Mumm, and others. For his part, Hubert found his way to Herb Alpert's A&M, where he was head of the label's international division. After 12 years with the company he left in 1979 to create David Hubert and Associates, and was still active in the production of recordings well into the digital age.