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Put Another Nickel In…

The history and development of the jukebox, and how it kick-started the beginning of rock 'n' roll

On the home front during World War II, there was a growing juvenile delinquency problem with so many parents unable to pay attention to their teenagers. Dad was away at war, and Mom was working in a defense plant.

During the early 1940s, throughout America, youth centers were opened for after-school and weekend activities. To bring in the teens, free jukeboxes were brought in, turned up, and rarely turned off. The program was successful.

But, by the late 40s, the jukebox had fallen out of favor with the conservative establishment and was increasingly considered a corrupting influence. One prominent critic wrote in 1948 that the jukebox was responsible for “the musical tastes of America’s youth starting on a steady decline.” That year Frank Sinatra was the most popular artist in the country. For such critics, things would get far worse.

For many Americans in the early 1950s, rock and roll was the devil’s tool, and existed for no other purpose than to morally corrupt the youth. For the first time teenagers had their own beat, and it could be found blasting out of the malt shop jukebox.

The Wurlitzer Model 1015.

By 1956 there were somewhere around 750,000 jukeboxes swallowing dimes in America. Since most radio stations were only playing the most sanitized rock and roll selections, the jukebox was the source for the majority of rock music, particularly those machines in racially mixed neighborhoods. These machines had records of black artists who were singing rhythm and blues and early rock.

The public had heard from the pulpit and conservative press about the evil, passion firing sounds thumping from those machines sitting at the end of the bar or in the middle wall of the malt shop, but when Evan Hunter’s book, The Blackboard Jungle, was made into a movie in 1955, the older public was convinced. They had not beaten Hitler to see their children’s minds lost to the devil’s music.

The Rowe RPM45.

When you added up the title song “Rock Around The Clock” with the images in the movie, it was obvious to anyone over 30 that rock and roll equaled teenage delinquency. The jukebox had become an integral part of rock and roll imagery.

In many areas of America, the government required a sticker on the jukebox stating that “minors are forbidden by law to operate this machine,” but generally, the jukes remained uncensored.

However, the jukebox operators were frequently placed under suspicion of jukebox stacking, a form of payola where they would be paid to put a record in the machine. Those who operated jukeboxes didn’t kick this image until the 1970s.

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