A Brief History of ARG

Volume 1, Number 1 is dated May, 1935. Its cover says, “THE AMERICAN MUSIC LOVER, a review for the modern home”. It has 32 pages plus covers, and the size is 6 by 9 inches, as now. The Editor is Peter Hugh Reed; Assistant Editor Philip Miller.

Offices were on East 22nd Street in New York. A single copy cost 15 cents, a subscription $1.50. The magazine dealt with records and radio—there was a radio listing for years. That was why it was called The American Music Lover rather than record guide. By the way, that first magazine also had an ad from a young British magazine called Gramophone.

The American Music Lover was itself a successor to the Music Lovers’ Guide. From what we have been able to find out, that was started only in 1934—not by the same people—and was short-lived. From the middle of 1936 to the middle of 1940 the American Music Lover was published in a larger format—7 by 10 inches. Then it returned to 6 by 9. Only once more in its history did ARG again try a large format: from the middle of 1955 to the middle of 1957 it was 8-1/2 by 11.

In September 1944 the name was changed to The Listener’s Record Guide. An editorial explained that records were becoming more important than radio to the music lover. It was also explained that “American” was dropped because of recent political emphasis on a good neighbor policy toward the rest of North America and Latin America. At this point the magazine was not publishing a table of contents, though the articles took up as much space as the reviews. Peter Hugh Reed continued his stimulating editorials.

The very next issue had a new name on the cover: The American Record Guide. The editorial explained that subscribers “created a furore” about the dropping of the word “American”. That issue had an ad for war bonds and an article by “Pvt Leo Goldstein” about the Rome Opera, which he had a chance to visit a number of times on leave while serving in Italy.

In May 1957—after 22 years—Peter Hugh Reed stepped down as Editor but remained on the masthead as Founder and Editor Emeritus. James Lyons became Editor. Another name on the masthead was Shirley Fleming, listed as a reviewer along with Philip Miller, Igor Kipnis, and CJ Luten (among others). The magazine was already describing itself as “an independent journal of opinion”, and independence has remained part of our identity. ARG has never been owned or run by anyone connected with the record industry and has always maintained the distance between advertising and editorial that is still with us. Even then that was uncommon, and the American magazine industry is to this day mostly run by advertisers, for all intents and purposes. True independence is very rare.

At the end of 1972 American Record Guide ceased publication because James Lyons died. Mr Lyons was a high-profile editor, and the magazine was really his “baby”. It was he who had brought the almost unknown little magazine much notice and prestige. No one was prepared to step in and take over. During this period of non-publication, a similar magazine was started, called Fanfare.

In 1976 a man named Jerry Fox (still with us at ARG) called a friend of his who was in charge of press relations at the major New York and New Jersey airports—Milton Caine—with the news that Mr Lyons’s widow was willing to sell the American Record Guide.

Fox tried to get Caine to buy it, but he took a lot of persuading. To try to bring ARG back to its former eminence was a real challenge, and Mr Caine had just finished a publishing venture that ended unhappily (though the publication is still flourishing) and wasn’t inclined to take on another in addition to a full time job at the airports. It was probably Mrs Caine (Elaine) who talked him into it, volunteering as production and business manager.

The former reviewers were brought together. Most of them were delighted at the prospect of seeing the magazine functioning again and being a part of it. Jerry Fox became Assistant Editor. Notices were sent to the magazine’s former subscribers, many of whom said they were excited at the prospect of seeing it back in print. As an editor Milton Caine made use of almost all of our senior reviewers, as known to current readers—about a dozen of them are still with us.

In 1981 ARG was sold, and the March issue (it was still a monthly) announced that the new publisher was a foundation: the Helen Dwight Reid Educational Foundation (Heldref) in Washington DC. This organization published small, specialized journals that could not make ends meet financially. At first Heldref named John Cronin Editor, but in 1983 Doris Chalfin took over.

In 1985 ARG was sold again to Grace and Stanley Wolf, who maintained its independence and expanded its size and reviewing staff. Personal matters led them to sell it two years later. They sought to sell it to one of the writers to keep it independent, and they refused to consider any offer that would fold it into another magazine or family of magazines. Finally a remarkable set of coincidences made it possible for me to buy ARG (I had never had any money) and move it to Cincinnati in the fall of 1987. I had been writing for the magazine since 1983, and I knew I could handle the editorial part.

The business part I was less sure of, but within five years we had increased circulation to ten times what it was when we took over. In 1992 Shirley Fleming returned to ARG when Musical America ceased publication, and ARG adopted that magazine’s subscribers and writers and editorial content, adding a section called Music in Concert to keep alive national coverage of classical music in our country.