Gramophone records have been made in Bulgaria since 1934. In the next decade, only a few recordings were released on several small labels using poor equipment. In 1947 Lipha Records, Simonvia, Harp and Micherphone were merged into a mutual enterprise called "Bulgaria". In 1951 a separate building was constructed and equipped with six semi-automatic pressing machines for shellac gramophone records. In 1952 the annual production was 150,000 discs offering two sides of about four minutes each.
The first state company for the manufacture of long-playing records was established in 1952 under the name "Radioprom". The factory was equipped for all aspects of record manufacturing from recording and pressing to printing the cover - all under the name "Radioprom". 1958 saw the first long-playing record manufactured: 25 centimeters in diameter with four recordings totaling 12 minutes per side.
In 1962 the company changed their name to "Balkanton". In the same year, the first long-playing records were produced on vinyl chloride and vinyl acetate. The first LP of PVC material had the catalog No. 500 and offered two compositions by the Bulgarian Petko Stainov, "Thrace - Symphonic Poem" and "Thrace Dances." Annual LP production soon reached 750,000 discs.
A new building was constructed in 1963 for LP manufacturing. The first solo PVC folk album was number BHA 597 and featured the famous folk singer, Vulkana Stoyanova. The first stereophonic LP was manufactured in 1969 as No. 1073 featuring Nicolai Ghiaurov in an opera aria recital. This was licensed to the Decca Record Company and appeared in the U.S. on the London label.
Multi-channel sound recording was introduced in 1972 with equipment purchased from England. Audio-cassette manufacturing began in 1980. In 1982 Balkanton received its own digital recording equipment. The first digital recordings were complete recordings of Puccini's Tosca and Madama Butterfly produced in co-operation with the German company Academica Studio.
The first licensing agreements were with the French company Harmonia Mundi for recordings of the Dimov Quartet. In 1988 the first CD under the Balkanton label appeared and was distributed in Germany and Austria as well as in Bulgaria. The first compact disc was "Bulgarian Opera Voices". In 1989 a joint effort with Stara Zagora was initiated with a compilation featuring the Sofia Philharmonic, Suzanna Klincharova -harp, Anatoli Krustev - cello, the Gusla Male Choir, the Pirin Folk Ensemble and others. Interestingly, the first digital recording of Verdi's Attila was made by Balkanton.
In forty-eight years Balkanton has made many recordings of such famous Bulgarian opera singers as Boris Christoff, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Raina Kabiavanska and Nicola Ghiuselev. Old Bulgarian Church Chants and popular liturgical pieces, Bulgarian folk singers and instrumentalists enjoying world renown have been preserved for generations to come. The music library contains over 25,000 titles of the best of recorded Bulgarian art.
Systems of numbering:
In fact in the period 1958-1962 Balkanton is the label of Radioprom factory (the labels combine both names – larger Балкантон and smaller ДИП Радиопром – the enterprise) and the shellac releases inherit the numeration of Radioprom (some earlier Radioprom releases were repressed under the label Balkanton).
Meanwhile the start of the production of vinyl records in 1958 introduced a new system of catalog numbering. Till 1962 only records of 10” size were issued. Then the production of LPs, SPs and EPs began. Initially the release numbers consisted only of digits starting from 101. Till the end of production of 10” format, it shared common sequence with the releases of 12” record. Until 1966 the latter were indicated with an additional zero in front of the number - for example 179 is a 10", while the next number 0180 is a 12". SP format received the numbers starting from 2501 (at the end of the production in the early 90s the numbers have reached around 4000), the EP format – from 5501 (at the end of the production in the mid-70s the numbers have reached around 6600) . Meanwhile specific EP records with educational content appeared, which received numbers of the 60000 series; and one-sided picture-records (“Phonocards”) took numbers from the 10000 series.
In those days the export versions of the releases for the Soviet Union were categorized in groups according to the genre/content following the Soviet manner. This was marked on the labels of the records as "1 гр." or "3 гр." for example.
In 1966 the cat. number took a literary part in front, consisting of three letters indicating different data about the release. The used letters were intentionally graphically common in Cyrillic and Latin alphabet for compatibility.
On first position stayed always B – abbreviation from Balkanton/Bulgaria;
On second position – the genre/content: in most cases it is an abbreviation in Bulgarian: T-танцова (dance music – in fact the wide meaning of popular music – pop, jazz, waltz, schlager, rock); Н - народна (Bulgarian folk music, including written music in folk style and “urban folklore” in the style of the interwar schlager); М - малцинствата/международна (folk of the minorities, of other peoples); К - камерна (chamber); Х - хорова (choral); О - оперна (opera); Р - опеРетна (operetta); А - художествено слово (spoken word, nothing to do with A, probably symbolically the first letter of the alphabeth); Е - дЕтска (for the children)
On third position – the format: A (LP); B (picture disc); K (SP); M (EP); H (10").
For example: BTK - popular music on SP format; BOA - opera music on 12" LP format; BAA - spoken word on 12" LP format; BPM - operetta music on EP format, etc.
Pre-1966 reissued releases now received the appropriate index. In 1967-8 the production of 10” records was over and appeared LP compilations consisting and combining some of the recordings from two or three 10” releases and bearing the digit part of the cat. number of one of them. For example the 1968 release ВНА 118 is an 12” compilation of folk songs from several earlier 10” compilations: A2, A3, A5, B1, B2, B3, B6 are from former 10” BHH 111 (or simply 111); A1, A4, A6, B4, B5 are from the old 10” BHH 118 (or simply 118). The new LP release takes the number of one of the 10” records that was based on.
By 1970 the production of flexi postcard-records has been stopped. In 1973-4 stopped the production of EP 33 1/3 RPM.
In late 1970s appeared the first Maxi-Singles, receiving format index C. At the same time Balkanton started to issue releases under license of western companies, mainly western pop and rock.
In the first half of the 1980s began the issuing of recordings on compact cassettes under the format index MC. The audio cassettes received numbers in the 7000 series.
In the early 1990s some of the releases on records were issued under a new catalog sequence. The reason for that was the establishment of a daughter company "Balkanton Trading", which has cat. numbers prefixes undoubtedly in Latin letters - first three letters always BT ("BalkanTon Trading"), next small letters t - pop, rock, h - folk, o - opera (the same letters and meaning like on the standard prefixes 1967-1992, but small), finally L (for LP), S (for SP) => BTTtL, BTToL and other. This new manner of numbering was applied for the self-produced releases (in contrast to the ordinary state-produced releases) in the first years of the liberalization of the economy and culture after the end of socialist regime.
In 1989-1990 the first releases on CD appeared. The CDs received an independent from the records and compact cassettes numbering. In 04XXXX, 05XXXX, 06XXXX and 07XXXX series.