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Eva-Tone CEO Richard Evans brought records inside magazines

Richard Evans’ Eva-Tone at its peak took in $45 million in annual sales, and had a long-running contract with the Library of Congress to produce audio materials for the blind.

JIM DAMASKE | Times (1993)

Richard Evans’ Eva-Tone at its peak took in $45 million in annual sales, and had a long-running contract with the Library of Congress to produce audio materials for the blind.

LARGO — Starting in the 1960s, readers opened magazines like Life or National Geographic to find flexible plastic records tucked inside. The thin-grooved sheets played just like hard vinyl on a phonograph.

They had a variety of uses: Music magazines used them to give away samples of popular bands. Advertisers recorded jingles and songs on them for magazine readers to listen to. They often were used to record famous sound bites of the time — John Glenn's trip around the Earth, Winston Churchill's funeral and Lou Gehrig's famous speech in Yankee Stadium among them — and given away to entice subscribers.

A promotion by Eva-Tone, the Largo company that manufactured the discs, used cornball effects like popcorn popping and baby chicks chirping to show advertisers how they could use the discs to lure customers.

Eva-Tone's chief executive, Richard Evans, had introduced the discs to the United States. He called them Soundsheets and trademarked the name.

Over the years, as the Soundsheets became obsolete, the company adapted to changing technology. It added cassette tapes, then CDs, CD-ROMs and DVDs.

At its peak a decade ago, Eva-Tone on Ulmerton Road employed 450 people and took in $45 million in annual sales, including a long-running contract with the Library of Congress to produce audio materials for the blind.

Mr. Evans, an inventor with a high school education who headed one of Pinellas County's oldest businesses, died Aug. 5 of lymphoma. He was 87 and had been living in High Springs for the last few years.

Mr. Evans was a year old in 1925 when his father, R. Evan Evans, founded American Evatype Corp. in Illinois. The company pioneered the use of lead type to make rubber stamps.

Mr. Evans served with the Army during World War II. He eventually took over his father's business.

He debuted Soundsheets in 1962 with recordings he made himself — a montage of television and radio broadcasts commemorating Glenn's orbit of the earth. Advertising Age magazine stitched the discs into 250,000 copies, demonstrating the power of the medium. He followed that up with Churchill's funeral in 1965, which reached 6.5 million readers of National Geographic.

Mr. Evans moved the company to Largo in 1979. He walked the length of his operations each morning from the loading dock through every department.

"I'm going to call him very much an entrepreneur, but he was also a benevolent dictator," said Carl Evans, Mr. Evans' son and the company's last chief executive officer.

Under his leadership, Evatone (the company dropped the hyphen several years ago) was always a family business, employing his wife, all five children and their spouses at one point or another. Because Mr. Evans believed in family-friendly products, the company turned down a lucrative offer from Playboy in the 1970s. By the 1990s, inspirational titles made up a third of sales, including contracts with the Promise Keepers and Focus on the Family radio ministry.

Family members in administrative positions worked together despite tempestuous moments. Shouting matches with Mr. Evans were soon forgotten.

"You could have just had a decisionmaking episode, then run into some kind of personal problem," said Carl Evans, 57. "Something involving one of my kids, for example. He would be right there to help you."

Mr. Evans began taking a less active role in day-to-day operations in the late 1990s, though he retained his title as CEO.

At home, he began work on a model railroad that filled up a room. He added layers and built multiple towns. "You could probably run nine trains at a time," his son said. "It took him years to put it together."

Then the company that had made its name adapting to technology met the Internet. Digital downloads displaced manufacturing. Sales of CDs and DVDs plummeted, as did a previously productive printing arm.

Deeply in debt, Evatone filed for bankruptcy in 2008. In 2009, Mr. Evans watched helplessly as the 84-year-old company his father had created closed its doors. "That was one of the darkest, saddest moments," his son said.

Mr. Evans, who had suffered some dementia in recent years, tinkered with everything he touched, and nitpicked the design of his motorized scooter. A couple of weeks ago, his wife Luckie Evans watched her husband of 64 years from beside his hospice bed.

Mr. Evans appeared to have been sleeping, she told family members. Then he opened his eyes and announced, "I'm inventing things."

Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or ameacham@sptimes.com.

. BIOGRAPHY

Richard Evan "Dick" Evans

Born: Feb. 22, 1924.

Died: Aug. 5, 2011.

Survivors: Wife Luella "Luckie" Evans; sons Mark, Kim and Carl Evans; daughters Susan Babcock and Linda Ball; sister Edith Carle; 11 grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.

Service: 3 p.m. today ; Chapel on the Hill United Church of Christ, 12601 Park Blvd., Seminole.

Eva-Tone CEO Richard Evans brought records inside magazines 08/13/11 [Last modified: Saturday, August 13, 2011 11:46pm]

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