I got chatting to a customer the other day about juke boxes. So I thought I would write and bore you again. Always been fascinated by Juke Boxes. Probably goes back to when I was a kid wandering around in my Grandfathers’ friends restaurant, peaking into the back of what seemed to be this massive machine, watching the records selected and played.
In later years, after I had tried to grow up, I serviced quite a few juke boxes. I never really understood how these could have been made, and sold at a profit. Most were not bought out right by the venue in which they played. Rental companies would own the machine, supply it to the venue and collect the takings of the coin box a few times a week. They also would provide the records and repair service. They were a complicated mix of electromechanical wizardry, valves, lights, records and loads of luck. The bit that fascinated me was the record selection and the memory system of what to play and the sequence. Different manufacturers went about this in their own ways. Big drums with little pegs that were moved in and out by solenoids depending on which button you selected. The other end of the drum was connected to a big cage containing all the records. The drum rotated and stopped (hopefully) when the selector peg reached the switch that told the record deck to slide the record out and put in on the turntable. If things went wrong, all hell broke loose with records being jammed, scratched and so on. It was common for the manufacturers to use parts, switches, gears, selectors etc. from the aircraft industry. Rotary Ledex selectors and so on.
Different manufacturers had their own styles and characteristics. In the ’70s and 80’s Juke Boxes were not as popular as they had been. Their styles were less flamboyant and the mechanisms were not on show. Some manufacturers did go back, however to showing the mechanism in action, but this of course was with CDs and nowhere near as exciting as seeing a needle placed in the grove.
In the late ’30s and ’40s, records of course were 10″ 78s. Seeburg and Wurlitzer were popular American machines. In 1938 for example, a Seeburg had a wooden cabinet, nice rounded corners, looking a bit like a large radiogram. Wurlitzer on the other hand was typical brash US through and through. Loads of lamps, oil filed pipework with bubbles flowing and a mechanism that raised the record to be played from the bottom of the cabinet up to the pickup arm. Carrying on the theme of the cinema organ rising from the pit. In the ’50s Wurlitzer went through a phase of having a system where the records were played upright, on edge so to speak, instead of laying down. The pickup arm had to defy gravity and was not easy to set up. Looked “cool” though. RockOla made good machines. Some, in keeping with the US obsession with UFOs, looking like Robots out of the ’50s sci-fi films, others looking like Sputnik the satellite. All had nice valve amplifiers and big floppy loudspeakers. Johnny Restivo and “The shape I’m in” could never sound better. Bal Ami produced relatively boring looking Juke Boxes and mechanically basic as well. Mechanism adjustment was simple; Hammer (aka Birmingham screwdriver), oil can and a box of elastic bands.
True story this one. Years ago, I was asked to attend a Juke Box in a retirement home for the elderly. The Box had been there for years, packed up ages ago, but the owner thought having it working would be good for the guests. The Box was a lovely RockOla Regis 1488. After 3 hours, I had the box working. Cleaning fluid, new valves, oil, relays you name it. I had been aware of an elderly gent wandering around in his jim jams, watching what I was doing from time to time, thought nothing of it. Now, in those days, I had one of those 3 tier cantilever tool boxes with all my nice tools, toys, meters, bits and so on. Well, I had my head in the back of the Juke Box when I started to hear, what sounded like water pouring. I turned round, only to see this dear elderly gent in his jim jams, relieving himself in my bloody tool box. For once in my life, I was lost for words. One of nurses hurried over and apologised profusely, saying that he gets very confused. “I’ll give him confused” I said, or words similar I think. Spent the next hours washing and drying my beloved tools. Got an extra tenner though.
So, if you want your Juke Box fixed, you can contact me through the Contact Us page, but can I ask that you make sure your elderly relative is chained up outside.
Oh, by the way, just to prove how sad I am, if you fancy a mp3 sound clip of a RockOla box selecting a record, click here You’ll be playing it all day.