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What is a Jukebox?

By S. Mithra
Updated May 23, 2024
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A jukebox is like a large, coin-operated stereo that contains a set of albums and the mechanism to select and play songs. Originally, jukeboxes played vinyl LPs of every size, but newer models use CDs or even digital music files.

During their heyday in the 30s-60s, jukeboxes were installed in restaurants, dance clubs, diners, and bars to blast out their popular tunes so young people could dance and be coaxed into spending more money. Nowadays, a jukebox is more likely to be a valuable collectible in a private collection than entertaining people at the corner soda fountain.

The advent of the phonograph, an instrument that could play and amplify sound from an album, changed the way people experienced music. A modernized version of the phonograph which had to be operated by hand, was the jukebox. In the early 1930s, several companies began manufacturing these automatic phonographs that could be stocked with dozens of albums. It could play any single song off the album as soon as you rolled a coin into a slot and pressed the right button. The songs were listed on cards that corresponded to different combinations of buttons, such as D-4. Various models could play both 45s and 78s.

Dance halls in the Southern United States were the first to establish the jukebox as a great way to earn extra money by giving young people some control over the amplified music. It's believed that "juke" became a nickname for the coin-operated phonograph because dance halls were already being called "juke joints." That was probably derived from African-American slang where "jook" meant an excitable pandemonium of dancing kids.

Of course, the jukebox design took on many colors, sizes, and shapes over the years. However, one model has become emblematic of the classic jukebox. This is the Wurlitzer Bubbler, named because air bubbles floated up through glowing tubes of water along its sides. The top was curved and similarly outfitted with jewel-tone glass vials and shiny, chrome trim.

Today, you can find a vintage jukebox as a retro diner or collector's home. In fact, the word "jukebox" has evolved with the digital age, and is much more likely to refer to a computer program that manages your digital music files. Like its mechanical counterpart, this tool helps you select, arrange, and mix songs in your library, giving you full control.

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Discussion Comments
By Vincenzo — On Dec 01, 2014

@Markerrag -- What's wrong with putting up entire compact discs? Those just give people more choices. Also, CDs increase the capacity of the machines because they don't take up as much space as old records. That means more music can be offered. Usually that means a bunch of different genres are represented and you have classic rock on hand, too.

As for owners not changing these often enough, that is the fault of the people that own the machines and not the jukeboxes themselves. Besides, perhaps these aren't changed as much because they are not as popular as they used to be. Jukeboxes used to be all over the place, but they are comparatively rare these days. Why spend a lot of time and money maintaining something that probably isn't bringing in a lot of customers?

By Markerrag — On Dec 01, 2014

I haven't seen a "record" jukebox for years as everything has moved to compact discs. I am not sure that is a good thing because entire albums are put up instead of just singles and "B" sides (the way things were done when records were on these) and people don't seem to change the music as often.

This may be the case where older is actually better.

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