Archive for Monday, July 14, 2014

Musical memories strong thanks to jukebox

July 14, 2014

Recently, I commented to a group of teenagers about how popular jukeboxes were when I was young. I pointed out that every restaurant where teenagers would congregate and many drug stores with soda fountains had jukeboxes. Almost every movie or TV show about kids in the 1950s featured a jukebox.

While it shouldn’t have surprised me, all I received were blank looks. Yes, some had heard about jukeboxes and that they played music, but that was the extent of their knowledge. It seems that the once popular jukebox has joined the ranks of dinosaurs and dodo birds. Quite simply, they are nearly extinct.

I mentioned that to some lunch companions and one asked how many teenagers have heard of a record changer. Another chimed in that he thought kids certainly didn’t know anything about records, eight-track players or, for that matter, a boom box.

I remember the time when you could listen to music on the radio. Those of us who grew up in eastern Kansas faithfully listened to WHB, which featured our favorite artists, such as Pat Boone, The Beach Boys, Al Hibler, Patti Page, The Lettermen, Nat “King” Cole and dozens of others. You’ll note that I didn’t mention Elvis Presley, since he didn’t vault into popularity until later. As far as I can remember the first big rock song was the theme from the movie “Blackboard Jungle,” which was about a teacher trying to deal with gangs in an inner-city high school. The song, “Rock Around The Clock” became the theme song for those of us who grew up in the middle 1950s.

In those long-ago days, every kid had a radio and hoped the DJ would play his favorite song or he could go to a restaurant, etc., and drop a nickel in the brightly colored jukebox and play his favorite. Early on you could hear six songs for a quarter. The jukebox was also known as a nickelodeon.

Actually the jukebox had a long history, although it wasn’t held in high esteem by some. I read that the name came from an African word meaning “misconduct” or “disorderliness.” Since the jukebox provided music that could lead to dancing, it was frowned upon by some religious leaders. You’ve got to be pretty long of tooth to remember a time when some churches did all they could to keep kids from dancing.

Actually, the jukebox was officially known as the “automated coin operated phonograph.” At the beginning or the 20th century, persons could drop a nickel into a crank operated machine and turn the crank and hear the music until the crank stopped. Louis Glass and William S. Arnold are credited with developing the first “nickelodeon” in 1889.

Though the 1920s, ‘30s and 40s, the jukebox reached the apex of its popularity. The jukebox became more ornate with flashing electric lights and more selections. Their popularity continued through the war years of the 1940s largely due to their convenience. That started to wane during the 1950s when more radio stations featured popular music and other electronic sound devices became more reasonably priced.

Changes in technology certainly led to the death of jukeboxes. The only place you can find 45 rpm records are at an antique store. Come to think of it, I doubt that many persons under 40 years of age know what a 45 rpm or 78 rpm record looks like.

I never was a big user of jukeboxes, since I was too tight to spend a nickel. But the music of my youth still brings back pleasant memories. Like the time I saw a beautiful girl while the jukebox was playing “The Twelfth of Never.” After more than 55 years that song is still one of our favorites.


Frank Bryant 3 years, 10 months ago


Today's kids and young adults don't remember juke boxes, however I suspect their musical memories will be just a strong or stronger. The iPod is the reason. It is rare to see a person under 25 without their ear buds in. Even in the workplace, this has become standard.

What they will not have is the shared musical memories. Juke boxes were so group oriented while iPods are completely private and personal. Neither seem better or worse, just different.

I always enjoy your articles. Thanks.


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