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JUKEBOX HAS SPUN ITSELF A COLORFUL, MUSICAL, PROFITABLE HISTORY

SHARE JUKEBOX HAS SPUN ITSELF A COLORFUL, MUSICAL, PROFITABLE HISTORY

A San Francisco saloon owner applied some imagination to one of Thomas Edison's inventions a century ago and developed a machine that has nickeled-and-dimed generations of Americans out of billions of dollars.

Some 7,000 members of the Amusement and Music Operators Association gathered in Las Vegas recently to pay homage to that innovation, the jukebox, now listened to by 75 million Americans each week.Owners, distributors and manufacturers of coin-operated amusement, music and vending equipment attended the convention to see what's hot in separating Americans from about $7 billion annually in spare change. Industry sources say the 225,000 commercial jukeboxes in use bring in nearly $1 billion of that.

The convention showcased the latest in video arcade games, but the jukebox was the star of the show as the industry geared up for the music machine's 100th anniversary.

On Nov. 23, 1889, Louis Glass fitted a coin slot on an Edison phonograph machine that played a song recorded on a wax cylinder. Glass installed listening tubes in the phonograph at his Palais Royale Saloon in San Francisco. He called his innovation a "Nickel-in-the-Slot" machine and the idea gave birth to arcades featuring 19th century jukeboxes. The arcades became a forerunner to today's video game arcades.

Just as the music has evolved, so too have jukeboxes changed.

Among the 50 to 100 machines featured at this year's show were jukeboxes in a modified tail section of a 1957 Thunderbird automobile, in the cab of a Chevrolet truck and in the stern of a boat.

Original jukeboxes offered a tune for a nickel, then later for a penny as the fad caught on, but most of today's machines require at least a quarter - and many of them accept $1 and $5 bills.

The jukebox has evolved from wax cylinders to vinyl 78s to 45s and now compact discs. Some players offer video hits, an idea that isn't as revolutionary as it might seem.

"Edison came out with a machine in 1906 in which glass slides would flip in time to the music," says jukebox historian Charley Hummel of Wayne, N.J. "That was really the first video-type machine."

A gala banquet honored some of the top names in the music industry - including Dionne Warwick, Johnny Cash, Tammy Wynette, Conway Twitty, Frankie Valli and the late Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison - with "Legends of the Jukebox" awards.

The jukeboxes were the sentimental favorites at this year's show, but traffic was heavy at booths featuring coin-operated games.

Industry sources say video games rake in 59 percent of the $7 billion annual coin-op business, jukeboxes 14 percent, cigarette vending machines 12 percent and other machines the remaining 15 percent.

Visitors to this year's show included owners of restaurants, arcades, resorts, bowling alleys, bars, hotels and motels, nightclubs and others who use coin-operated machines.

Judging from the crowds, the hit of the show was a new pinball game by Chicago-based Bally Mfg. dubbed "Elvira and the Party Monsters." The famed vamp was on hand to sign autographs.

Some 1.5 million pinball machines are in operation across America today, Bally spokesman Roger Sharpe said.

"The pinball machine is a fantasy world under glass," he said. "It's for the young and the young at heart."