Giving it a spin Ex-scribe’s vinyl-focused YouTube channel resonates with music fans, far and wide
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WEST ST. PAUL — Tone-arms up if you belonged to Columbia House, a mail-order service that rose to prominence in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, by allowing registered members to build a music collection on the cheap, through heavily advertised deals such as “13 records or tapes for $1!” or “8 CDs for a penny!!”
Frank Landry joined Columbia House at age 16, a set of circumstances he discussed around this time last year for Channel 33 RPM, his immensely popular YouTube channel wholly devoted to “vinyl, gear and more.” The married father of two daughters hoped the eight-minute episode, one of hundreds he has produced, edited and hosted since he launched the channel in October 2014, would appeal to his close to 57,000 subscribers, yet even he was surprised by the response.
The moment “Unraveling the Mysteries of Columbia House” aired, his comments section blew up, to the tune of 1,700-plus messages. Loads of people mentioned being introduced to artists they might not have discovered otherwise, thanks to the music club’s ample bargains. Others laughingly admitted to adopting fake identities to snag even more cut-price titles. And pretty much everybody touched on Columbia House’s negative-billing model, which required one to dutifully mail back a card, to avoid being charged for that month’s pre-chosen selection.
“I can never guess what’s going to resonate. Sometimes I’ll think a topic is a sure-fire winner, and it doesn’t do well at all. Other times I’ll do what I consider a throwaway, like Columbia House, and it goes bananas,” says Landry, seated in a converted bedroom in the lower level of his and his wife Sheri’s West St. Paul home that, on top of housing close to 2,000 vinyl albums and CDs, also serves as “Channel 33 RPM world headquarters.”
“A few months back I reviewed a record player put out by Ikea and the video got something crazy like half a million views,” he continues, sporting jeans and a black, Channel 33 RPM T-shirt, one of a dozen he offers for sale. “I was like, what’s the appeal: me or Ikea? You don’t have to answer that.”
Landry, 49, caught the music bug at age 10. He distinctly remembers his parents escorting him to the third floor of the downtown Eaton’s store in 1983, where he spent part of his monthly $12 allowance on his first full-length album, a copy of Quiet Riot’s Metal Health.
What stayed with him most about the transaction was how a set of teenagers openly mocked his purchase, referring to the record as “lame,” when he placed it on the counter. (The heavy metal outfit got the last laugh; Metal Health, which included the top 10 smash Cum On Feel the Noize, topped the Billboard 200 chart, that same year.)
Landry continued buying records, and later CDs, into his late teens. He largely took a break from the hobby to attend the University of Manitoba, and, later, Red River College Polytechnic, where he studied Creative Communications.
Following his time at Red River, he worked as a political reporter for the Winnipeg Sun. In 2005, he and Sheri packed their bags for Edmonton, where he had been offered a job covering city hall for the Edmonton Sun. Not long after their first daughter was born in 2008, they were shopping in the Alberta capital’s trendy Whyte Avenue district when he eyed a music store. “Hey, let’s pop inside,” he said.
To his surprise, the shop was well-stocked with vinyl albums, among which was a shrink-wrapped, 180-gram copy of Alive by Kiss, one of the formative albums of his youth.
Because he’d been so focused on his career, he hadn’t realized companies were still issuing new records. He turned the double-album over in his hands a few times, at which point Sheri asked if it was something he’d be interested in for Father’s Day, which was right around the corner.
“I told her, ‘Yes, 100 per cent,’ only she didn’t realize what a big mistake she made. Practically overnight, I was back into records, big time.”
By 2014, Landry had left the newspaper biz for a media relations position with the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. Meanwhile, Sheri was managing a set of online businesses in the evening, after the two of them put the girls to bed. He’s never been a “big TV guy,” so with time on his hands while she was working, he began to Google “record collecting,” and quickly became involved with what was being referred to online as a “vinyl community.”
As time went along, he would spot amateurish videos people posted about cherished albums, or accessories they’d recently picked up. Hmm, he thought; he had a video camera they’d bought to chronicle their daughters’ early years. Also, he knew a thing or two about researching a topic and forming it into a narrative, from his journalism days.
“I also kind of missed the connection you have with an audience, when you’re putting something out into the world, for others to read or see,” he goes on. “I always joke I had a face for radio and a voice for print, but I decided, what the heck, let’s make a few videos and see what happens.”
Over nine million views later, Landry, who returned to Winnipeg in 2017 (yes, he centred an entire episode around the trials and tribulations associated with moving exceedingly heavy boxes of records across three provinces), has made a bit of a name for himself, owing to a sharp sense of humour combined with a studied approach to whatever subject matter he’s covering.
His word also carries some weight.
Mike Sarazin, founder of Vinyl Storage Solutions, a Winnipeg enterprise that turns out high-quality record sleeves, has credited Landry with helping his once-fledgling operation turn the corner, after Landry touted his wares in 2019. Additionally, a Missouri company called UbeCube, which turns out stackable, modular crates for storing records, let him know their sales jumped noticeably, after he spoke glowingly about UbeCube’s utilitarian designs, in October of last year.
No word if the number of people scouring for beat-up copies of 20 Explosive Hits, Canadian Mint or Goofy Greats skyrocketed, in the aftermath of a 2021 piece called “The Rise and Fall of K-Tel.”
Better than all that: from time to time, Landry is the recipient of handwritten cards and letters, such as a sheet of paper he keeps in a shoebox that begins, “My son and I love your videos, they are very entertaining and informative.”
That people, from as far away as Australia, Japan and Europe, take the time to put pen to paper, to get in touch, warms his heart immensely, he says, and inspires him to come up with interesting talking points, from week to week. (Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t: a card he received along with a reissued copy of the first Plastic Ono Band album reads, in part, “Dear Frank, With the Plastic Ono Band albums, John and I liked the idea of this really raw, basic, truthful reality that we were going to be giving to the world. Love, Yoko.”)
“If there’s one thing I try hard to do, above all else, is encourage young people to get into the hobby,” he says, noting both their daughters, ages 11 and 14, know their way around a turntable. One even has a compact disc player in her bedroom, which served as the inspiration for a recent piece, “Are CDs cool again?” Spoiler: according to him, the answer is yes.
“To me, good music is good music, and who am I to comment negatively on what somebody else likes, the way those guys did when I was a kid, picking up Quiet Riot,” he continues, cuing up a copy of an album by Ian Blurton’s Future Now, a “kind of hard boogie, hard progressive” outfit from Ontario, that he scooped up at Selkirk’s Hi-Tone Records, one of his regular haunts.
“It’s not like there’s any money to be made from this aside from a tiny amount of ad revenue… it’s definitely hobby territory. Still, it’s been such a kick, and continues to be, especially when you consider I’m just a guy with time on his hands and a video camera, who happens to like music.”
Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.