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Originally, Rhino was in the 1970s and 1980s as a reissue label, releasing compilation albums of Pop Music, Rock & Roll, and R&B hits from the 1950s through the 1980s. They were also known for releasing retrospectives of famous comedy performers, including Richard Pryor, Stan Freberg, Tom Lehrer, and Spike Jones. Starting in the early 1990s, Rhino transititioned into a full-fledged entertainment unit specializing in home video/DVD re-issues of television shows and compact disc releases of select artists and movie soundtracks.
Rhino started as a record shop in 1973 by Richard Foos. It became a record label five years later thanks to the effort of then-store manager Harold Bronson. Their early releases were mostly novelty records and some punk rock singles; the difficulties involved in getting airplay and distribution for such material eventually caused Foos and Bronson to take the label in other directions. By the mid-1980s most of their releases were reissues of previously released recordings licensed from other companies. Superior sound quality (remastering of the original tapes was done under the direction of Bill Inglot) and creative packaging made Rhino one of the most respected reissue labels, getting rave reviews from music collectors, fans, and historians. Rhino was quick to get into the Compact Disc market, releasing dozens of oldies CDs at the dawn of the CD age in 1984. Their retrospective compact disc releases are often remastered to restore or improve upon the original analog release’s audio quality.
They also continued to produce new music, with releases on subsidiary labels such as RNA (Rhino New Artists) and Forward, as well as the main Rhino label. However, the labels' artists tended to generate more critical acclaim than public interest; sales totals in the low five figures or less were routine for Rhino-produced albums, and the less costly, less risky reissue business remained the company’s primary revenue stream. One exception was the late-1986 hit "At This Moment" by Billy Vera & The Beaters, a 1981 song that unexpectedly made it to the top of the U.S. Billboard charts after being featured in a 1986 episode of the hit NBC-TV series Family Ties.
In 2003, longtime Rhino executives Richard Foos and Harold Bronson left Rhino, reportedly due to frustration at being unable to release compilation albums in an increasingly-competitive market. Soon after, Foos inaugurated a new label, Shout Factory, which began releasing dozens of CDs and videos mirroring the original early-1990s Rhino philosophy. It was perhaps due to this philosophy that caused MST3K to change to Shout Factory as their distribution company beginning in 2008.
In the beginning, Rhino released episodes as solo ventures on video cassette, and eventually a few solo episodes made it to DVD. As the "TV on DVD" format began taking off, they instead began releasing them in sets; four episodes, or three episodes and a shorts collection, would be the standard for each volume.
At the beginning of 2010, Satellite News announced Rhino no longer had the rights to distribute most of these episodes. As of January 8th, 2010, if it is not available on their website, it is considered out-of-print.