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Saturday, June 07, 2008

Did you ever choose a record to play from a Jukebox?





I have just seen the movie, "My Father, Romulus" written by Raimond Giata. In the movie, the protagonist's mother dropped a coin into a jukebox and played a song for him. There was only a short dialogue. As a young boy, hundreds of emotions went through him just at that moment of pyschological confrontation.

The movie starring Eric Bana with an Australian cast, inspired me in many ways.

And one of my responses is writing this article.

I used to say this to a friend,"Nothing is more nostalgic to me than seeing a jukebox in a clean light place (Ernest Hemingway) like a good family coffee shop in Sibu ." I remember seeing the jukeboxes , when they were fashionable in the 60's,in the coffee shops along Central Road, Raminway, and the corner shop at Pulau Road, now opposite the Sanyan Building, and the Chung Hua Kindergarten.
I used to frequent the Ban Chuan Coffee Shop, Raminway, on the ground floor of the New World Hotel with my Hockey Team mates after a good morning's practice, to eat the Jelly Pisang and have a bit of lime juice (30 cents and 10 cents). While eating our goodies, others would pay for the songs from the jukebox. It was 20 cents a song. Most of the time, Malay songs were played. Occasionally we were lucky to have Cliff Richard or Elvis Presley. One of my dreams in life then was to have my very own jukebox, to listen to, in my private music room. Alas, it never materialised. But it was a good dream.

Perhaps, many younger readers do not know what a jukebox is. A jukebox is a partially automated music-playing device, usually a coin-operated machine, that can play specially selected songs from self-contained media. The traditional jukebox is rather large with a rounded top and has colored lighting on the front of the machine on its vertical sides. The classic jukebox has buttons with letters and numbers on them that, when combined, are used to indicate a specific song from a particular record.

Coin-operated music boxes and player pianos carved out a place for automatic pay-per-tune music in fairgrounds, amusement parks and other public places (such as train stations in Switzerland) a few decades before the introduction of reliable coin-operated phonographs. The first jukebox was an automatic phonograph produced in 1927 by Rowe International, then known as AMI. Some of these automatic musical instruments were extremely well built and have survived to this day in the hands of collectors and museums. But commercially they could not compete with the jukebox in the long run since they were limited to the instrument (or instruments) used in their construction, and could not reproduce the human voice.
The immediate ancestor of the jukebox, called the "Coin-slot phonograph", was the first medium of sound recording encountered by the general public, before mass produced home audio equipment became common. Such machines began to be mass produced in 1889, using phonograph cylinders for records. The earliest machines played but a single record (of about 2 minutes of music or entertainment), but soon devices were developed that allowed customers to choose between multiple records. In the 1910s the cylinder gradually was superseded by the gramophone record. The term "juke box" came into use in the United States in the 1930s, derived either from African-American slang "jook" meaning "dance" or from a name given to it by critics who said it would encourage criminal behavior, this came from the fake family name Juke. The shellac 78 rpm record dominated jukeboxes until the Seeburg Corporation introduced an all 45 rpm vinyl record jukebox in 1950.
During the 1960s and '70s, wall box remote selectors were popular in restaurant booths. The most famous is the Seeburg 3W1. Wallboxes didn't have a record mechanism inside; instead they took coins and selected a tune to be played by a jukebox or remote unit elsewhere. The large cabinet was relegated to a back room out of view, and all 160 selections (Rock-Ola and Wurlitzer) or 200 selections (Seeburg) were available in the customer's booth. Small speakers in the wallbox played only your selections, then went quiet while others enjoyed theirs. Since songs were played in the order of the mechanism rather than the order chosen, judicious choice of your songs enabled listening to other patrons selections while awaiting your final song. Multiple purchases of a song simply toggled the selection on - it would only play once, thus satisfying everyone who had paid for it all at the same time. Simply leaving one credit unplayed until late in your meal meant you could hear all songs played until none were left. Some jukeboxes during this time were able to play special 33 1/3 rpm discs that were the same diameter as 45 rpm discs, so a longer song was available, or even multiple songs (an EP, or extended play record) for a higher price. These specialty records, and the familiar white labels used were provided by the unique vendor that supplied records to the operator. Those decades also produced models with ornate lighting, disco and psychedelic effects, and other cosmetic improvements while the reliable internal mechanisms remained moderately stable by comparison. "Popularity" counters told the operator the number of times each record was played (A or B side didn't matter) so popular records remained, while lesser-played songs were replaced with the latest hit song. Wurlitzers were unique because they could play the A side and then the B side of a record then go to the next; Rock-Ola and Seeburg played all the A sides chosen, then all the B sides, then stopped.
Starting in the 1980s, compact discs became the norm for modern jukeboxes. Towards the end of the 20th century several companies started introducing completely digital jukeboxes which did not use CDs, downloading the tunes securely over the Internet or through a separate, proprietary transmission protocol over phone lines. In addition to automatically downloading a potentially larger selection than what is available on CDs in a single machine the digital jukeboxes also send back information on what is being played, and where, opening up new commercial avenues. One example of a digital jukebox company is TouchTunes.
Jukeboxes and their ancestors were a very profitable industry from the 1890s on. They were most popular from the 1940s through the mid-1960s, particularly during the 1950s. Today they are often associated with early rock and roll music, but were very popular in the swing music era as well. As a result, stores and restaurants with a retro theme, such as the Johnny Rockets chain, include jukeboxes. On Sirius Satellite Radio, one of the channels called, Totally '70s plays cheesier songs from the 1970s which are spotlighted in the bottom-of-the hour feature called the "Jukebox From Hell".

2 memories:

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