The expansion in capacity also meant that a wider variety of records could be available. Country and western and rhythm and blues could finally live in the same jukebox with Perry Como, Bing Crosby, Bill Haley and Elvis.
Unquestionably the biggest change to hit the jukebox industry came in 1948, when RCA introduced the 45.
Not only did they sound better than the 78s. but they were lighter, smaller, and the center hole was large and more suitable for automated operation.
In short, it was the perfect record for a jukebox. The 45 in the jukebox of the 1950s would become the focal point of the teenager and the first line source of rock and roll.
Until television forced radio to reinvent itself, radio was the mass medium, and with few exceptions had generally ignored blues, country, and other regional or “fringe” music. The jukebox filled this void.
In the 1950s, it was the jukebox where teenagers would find the latest in music. They were doing what Teresa Brewer suggested - “put another nickel in…” - but they were selecting Chuck Berry, whose advice was to go “up to the corner and round the bend, right to the juke joint you go in. Feeling the music from head to toe, round and round, and round you go. Hail, hail, rock and roll! Deliver us from the days of old!”
The tabletop jukebox - personalized music from back in the day. (click to enlarge)
Teresa didn’t know it, but Chuck was saying her days as a pop artist were numbered, as was the style of recordings she made.
These machines were more than music delivery systems, their external designs were trend setters in the art deco movement and an important aspect of their popularity. They offered the latest music at a time when most of the public could not afford to buy a record, much less their own playback system.
A Wurlitzer magazine ad. (click to enlarge)
The jukebox was key to the popular spread of country, hillbilly, rhythm and blues, and of course the development of rock and roll music. For a generation, the jukebox at the local hang-out was the only place that some of the “hippest” and latest rock and roll could be heard.
Their significance has declined over the last few decades but in the 1940s through the early 1960s they were an important focus for the young. Rock and roll might have been beaten down by the establishment if it had not been for the existence of jukeboxes in every bar, hamburger drive-in, bowling alley and malt shop where young people congregated.
For some of those who were there, Buddy Holly and Bill Haley will never sound better then when they were first blasting from a jukebox after inserting a nickel in a Wurlitzer. For those who weren’t there, its hard to capture it all, since it wasn’t just the jukebox that held the sound, it was where it was happening in time and place when teenagers and rock and roll were being invented.
As a 1950s Wurlitzer ad stated, “For millions, the jukebox was ‘America’s favorite nickel’s worth of fun’.”
Currently residing in Australia, Tom Lubin is an internationally recognized music producer and engineer, and is a Lifetime Member of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (Grammy voting member). He also co-founded the San Francisco chapter of NARAS. An accomplished author, his latest book is “Getting Great Sounds: The Microphone Book,” available here.
More from Tom Lubin on PSW:
You Make Music You Say? So, You’re In The Fashion Industry