The 'Q' Stands for 'Quality'

How Queen City Album got its groove back

Apr 16, 2014 at 12:58 pm
click to enlarge Bryan Dilsizian demonstrates QCA's plating process (Photo: Taylor Stanley)
Bryan Dilsizian demonstrates QCA's plating process (Photo: Taylor Stanley)

Jim Bosken is a keen businessman and comes by it honestly. His father, Edward Bosken, was a printer by trade when he started Queen City Album in the early ’50s, recognizing the opportunity to capitalize on the burgeoning popularity of the 12-inch LP (short for “long play”) just as 78s (10-inch records that play at 78 revolutions per minute) were being replaced.

According to Jim, none of the record pressing companies were set up to print a full-colored jacket. So his father did something that he would take a cue from nearly 60 years later — he took a chance on the recording industry.

But it took more than 20 years for Jim to change his tune.

“If you’d asked me in 1992, ‘Is (vinyl) going to come back or even hang on?’ I would’ve said, ‘No, the record is as dead as the slide rule,’” Jim confesses during a March tour of the same building in Camp Washington that QCA has occupied since the early ’60s.

Even after hearing that Gotta Groove Records (GGR) in Cleveland was getting into the vinyl business, Jim remained skeptical. Looking back now, he says, “I thought, ‘These guys are crazy! It’s a fad; it’s not gonna last.’”

But after watching GGR’s success and speaking with his two twentysomething daughters about why they still wanted to “borrow” his vinyl records (ones that they often already had in MP3 form), the baritone-voiced electrical engineer decided to reconsider the benefits of vinyl production.

QCA (which continues to offers CD and DVD services, among other related things) is not pressing vinyl again, however. What they’re doing is called “plating” — creating the master plates used to press quantities of vinyl records later. Last August Jim hired Bryan Dilsizian — a singer and avid record collector with 17 years of experience as a chef and nearly as much time under his belt wrenching on scooter engines — to help him set up a plating center.

Plating is much more technical than the pressing of a vinyl “biscuit” between two nickel-plated stampers. It requires a crucial eye for minute details such as temperature fluctuations, chemical levels and the angle of aim on the spray-head that controls the precarious mixture of silver nitrate and sensitizer on the face of the lacquer. Restarting the plating process requires a commitment to utilizing, and quite often refabricating from scratch, post-World War II-era tools and parts. So Dilsizian’s experience was actually right in line with what Jim needed.

Even though Jim took a lot of chemistry courses in college for his engineering degree and the business owner managed skilled plating technicians for decades, he never actually performed the plating task himself before shutting down QCA’s vinyl processing in 1992. He didn’t need to; he had some great people on staff.

One of the reasons Edward Bosken broke into the music business in the first place was because two of his friends left their jobs at King Records after a dispute with the notoriously tyrannical owner, Syd Nathan.

The brothers, who had 20 years experience between them, helped Edward set up plating and pressing equipment and ended up working for QCA for decades. In fact, Jim divulges, the son of the guy who walked out on that job retired from QCA only two years ago. So to say that QCA has a legacy as a family operation is not an understatement.

“In the old days,” Jim says, “QCA did everything — recording studio, mastering, printing, pressing, plating. Every aspect (related to the release of an LP) could happen in this building prior to 1992.

“But,” he notes, “that was the exception, not the rule.”

Most pressing facilities — even in larger vinyl production centers like Nashville — specialized in niche markets. One plant might only press 7-inch records but not 12-inches, for example, and very few did all their own plates, not to mention any of the sleeve printing, which in those days involved much more hardware than the digital technologies used in graphic design today.

“Everybody had their own little niche because they’re all completely different fields,” Jim explains.

But the recording industry in Cincinnati allowed — if not encouraged — a certain level of vertical integration. Legendary independent label King Records was known for handling its entire production process in-house. Jim also notes the legacy of Powel Crosley and his eponymous broadcasting corporation. Crosley’s highly successful radio manufacturing company made its own broadcast transmitters, hired the on-air talent and sold the machines you listened to them on, practically guaranteeing the business some level of success.

Jim was just beginning his first year of college in Athens, Ohio, in 1977. Around that time there was a nationwide shortage of pressing capacity and QCA got demands for orders from major labels, something they had not done in the earlier years.

Although the company’s typical client was the small local Gospel choir, during the height of vinyl production in the late ’70s, QCA was running shifts at the plant non-stop, day and night. That is until economic recession hit in the early ’80s and major labels pulled out of contracted presses like QCA. But, Jim says, “We took (the business) while we could, just like we do today.”

When Matt Earley of Gotta Groove Records called Jim out of the blue one day to pick his brain about troubleshooting some issues the company was having with one of their plating contractors — an issue QCA’s engineers had resolved more than 30 years ago — Jim reassessed his earlier opinions about the longevity of vinyl.

Currently, QCA does plating (as well as label printing and 7-inch jackets) for Gotta Groove, which is one of only about a dozen pressing plants in the U.S. Beginning this past December, after the company had tweaked and honed its plating process, QCA started doing more and more billable jobs — not at the volume that they’d like to, Jim is quick to point out, but they’re getting there.

Ten years away from retirement, the business owner doesn’t expect vinyl to ever return to the volume of its glory years. But he does want to provide music connoisseurs (people who want to sit down and actively listen to an album in the order in which the artist intended) with a quality product.